Volume 20, Number 41 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 23 - March 1, 2011
Photo courtesy of the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Photos like the one above are featured in the 9/11 Memorial’s new, interactive timeline.
New timeline provides detailed account of 9/11
BY Aline Reynolds
The National September 11th Memorial and Museum is launching a brand new interactive timeline today that methodically documents the haunting events of 9/11.
The interactive, web-based graphic, which consists of video and audio clips, still images and written excerpts, tracks the minute-to-minute occurrences of 9/11 – from 5:45 a.m., when two terrorist hijackers boarded a plane at Portland International Jetport in Maine; to 8:30 p.m., when President George W. Bush delivered his solemn national address.
The timeline has compelling accounts from World Trade Center workers escaping the towers; chilling conversations between airplane passengers and their loved ones on the ground; and first responders’ accounts of running into the burning buildings.
The photographs feature eyewitness snapshots of the overwhelming fires that erupted in the top floors of the Twin Towers; frantic evacuations out of Lower Manhattan; and the enormous dust cloud that enshrouded the area following the towers’ collapse.
“We wanted to establish the arch of this full day we all went through,” said Jan Ramirez, chief curator at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
The curators also sought to correct false times published on various Internet sources of the falling of the towers and other significant happenings on 9/11.
“We feel it was really important for us to take a stand on these times,” said Ramirez.
She and the other curators, who selected the content for the timeline, tried to underscore the chaos and confusion that pervaded the city and country on that day, particularly in the moments before and between the first and second plane crashes at the W.T.C.
“We wanted to honor the fact that there was tremendous drama that already occurred by 8:46 a.m. in the air,” said Ramirez, noting how hijackers ambushed crewmembers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175.
Ramirez said she and her co-workers went to great efforts to procure the footage and photographs for the timeline, which belongs to the memorial’s nearly 5,000-piece permanent collection. Roughly one-third of the material has never before been seen or heard by the public.
The timeline is a preview for the content that will be on display at the future memorial and museum, according to Joe Daniels, president and chief executive officer of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
“I think it’s an incredibly simple yet powerful tool that helps organize one of the most chaotic days in the history of this country in a way that’s extremely accessible to people,” said Daniels.
The graphic will also serve as an informational tool, he noted, for youths born after 9/11.
Daniels acknowledged that the material is emotionally difficult.
“We want to express it in a sensitive way,” said Daniels, “but we don’t want to shy away from reminding people about what happened. It’s good to get the public conditioned to that a bit.”
The 9/11 memorial hired Archetype, a digital design firm based in California, to create the interface. The curators and designers began collaborating on the project last May, consulting the 9/11 Memorial’s vast archive and figuring out ways to visually portray the selected material.
“We wanted to give an immersive experience that would be interesting, and speak to a lot of different audiences,” said Archetype President Mike Lucaccini.
The timeline is three-dimensional, and becomes two-dimensional when the viewer clicks on the video and audio clips, some of which are accompanied by written text. The interface was designed to be compatible with kiosks and touch-screen monitors in addition to computers and, eventually, Smartphones.
While the curators made the editorial decisions, the Archetype designers made the final calls on the graphic’s layout, striving to highlight the content by de-emphasizing its digital features.
“The content itself is so compelling,” said Lucaccini, “we didn’t want the technology to obscure it in any way.”
Lucaccini said he feels privileged to have worked with the 9/11 Memorial team on such a momentous project. “It’s a moment in history that had a huge impact on this country and the world,” he said, “and any small part we can play was really an honor for us.”
Archetype previously worked with the 9/11 Memorial to create the digital version of Lady Liberty, a fiberglass imitation of the Statue of Liberty formerly stationed outside a midtown-west firehouse that lost 15 first responders on 9/11. The relic was since relocated to the 9/11 Memorial Preview Center, and is dressed torch to toe with uniform badges, condolence notes and other mementos of victims’ families and passers-by.
The lady liberty graphic, located on the 9/11 Memorial website, www.national911memorial.org, provides biographical information of the deceased featured in photographs glued to the statue and other background on the items in the collection.
The timeline, Lucaccini said, was an even more exciting and ambitious venture than the Lady Liberty project. “This was so much more immersive, and a richer application overall,” he said.
Ramirez and her team are now working to create a complete digital catalog of the 9/11 Memorial’s artifacts and multimedia collection. A preview of the catalog will appear on its website sometime next winter.