David Shayt
September 11 Collecting Curator
Museum Specialist, Division of Cultural History

"So many people spoke by phone to each other that day..."
Telephone communication was really one of the stories we had to find ways to recognize and capture. So many people spoke by phone to each other that day, or tried to. Thousands and thousands of calls erupted after the attack. Cell phones pulled out, discarded. Other phones used, pay phones, telephones, answering machines in houses, offices far away.

How best to address that? Obviously one of our initial hopes was that there would be a cell phone or airphone rescued from one of the airplanes. That was not to be. I sought to go to the other end of the communication trail--that is, to those receiving the calls. First, on Flight 93, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, to capture the heroic efforts of the passengers who stormed the cockpit--phones that received their calls. That's proven to be more difficult than I had hoped, so I sought another phone, the phone on which Solicitor General of the United States Theodore Olson received his calls from Barbara Olson, his wife, as her airplane headed to the Pentagon, asking him what to do, and explaining to him what was going on.

He received two calls on this phone. He has kindly agreed to permit the U.S. Justice Department to transfer that phone to us. I went to his office, unscrewed it from its console and itís now in the collections, representing not just his experience with the last calls and conversation he had with his wife, but all telephones, and all reassuring calls to find out that people in fact were safe, that they were not on those planes, or were not in those buildings.

So there is a broader use for these artifacts, than simply documenting a tragedy. One hundred years from now the history of the telephone will be very different from what we know today, and that adds another layer of meaning to these objects. Whether itís a squeegee, or a telephone, or a file cabinet, these all have future meaning as examples from our time of what our offices looked like.