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Field Museum Exhibit Seeks To Ensure America Never Forgets 9/11

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Field Museum of Natural History is getting all ready to open its exhibit commemorating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the 10-year anniversary of the attacks comes in less than two weeks.

As CBS 2's Vince Gerasole reports, the exhibit, "Ground Zero 360: Never Forget" opens Friday at the museum.

Gerasole got a preview of the exhibit Tuesday morning. It includes iconic and still-unsettling images, such as firefighters and police officers walking through clouds of toxic dust and strewn debris in lower Manhattan, face masks covering their noses and mouths.

The photos depict those who went into harm's way to try to rescue people, to try to clean up the aftermath, and to try to help people cope.

Photographer Nicola McClean was a resident of New York City at the time, but had special access. She says she hopes people will be reminded of the gravity of the 9/11 attacks.

"The words 'never forget' are words that were often used in 2001, but they carry serious weight with me, and for me, these pictures, they are put together in an exhibition so that people really always remember," McClean said. "Ten years on, I want people to always remember, and never forget the 3,000 people that died down there that day."

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's John Cody reports


McClean's husband and co-exhibitor, former New York Police Cmdr. Paul McCormack, recounted again how he remembers Chicago Police officers coming to assist him.

"Everything was unfolding so quickly and there was so much going on that as a cop you don't; have time thing about it and digest it -- you just do your job," McCormack said.

Together the couple has assembled the photos along with granite from the twin towers, and its steel fashioned into crosses into a museum exhibit.

"I remember driving down to Ground Zero on the days thereafter. There were Chicago Police officers in their uniforms with their checkerboard hats directing traffic in Manhattan, as well as Chicago firefighters that had been working on the pile down at Ground Zero. It was a tremendous feeling to know that so many cops and firefighters had our back on that day, and the days thereafter," McCormack said.

The exhibit also includes audio recordings of police officers working in New York that day, and pieces of steel and granite wreckage from the World Trade Center that visitors can touch.

Some of the steel has been transformed into crosses, some of which Francis Cardinal George was able to bless before they went on display.

"What this exhibition tried to do is put you back in New York how it was that day," McCormack said.

They've also recreated the wall of the missing, with hundreds of posters made by those searching for their loved ones, the emotional impact still hits McClean.

"I can look at them but I can't read them I can't go there, can't keep my head above water when I get emerged in that," McClean said.

Also on display are the badge and uniform of New York Police Officer Brian McDonnell, who died at Ground Zero.

"If he had the chance to do it over I don't think he would have changed a thing," said his wife Margaret McDonnell-Tiberio.
She and their two children -- barely 3 and 8 when McDonnel died -- drove here from New York, not just for the dedication but for their commitment to keep the spirit of the sacrifices alive.

"If I can help everyone remember if everyone can remember one person who died that day then ti will help," McDonnell-Tiberio said.

For many teenagers, even those in the early 20's, 9/11 is more of a history lesson and less of a memory. For the rest of us it can be clouded by a decade of moving on. But those who put this exhibit together know there's something to be learned about the American spirit by keeping the memories of the sacrifices made that day alive.

While a decade later, so many people remain touched and feel the impact of the 9/11 attacks, McCormack and McClean are concerned that people could forget about them.

"Media cycles, you know how they go. People have short memories nowadays, with so much different stuff on television," McCormack said. "But this is such a historic incident, that when you see the 'missing' posters, and artifacts from police Officer Brian McDonnell, and fire Lt. Paul Mitchell, who were killed on 9/11 – their remains were never recovered. It's so important to the families that we never forget, and I think it resonates with the people. The response we've received in Chicago has been unbelievable so far."

"Ground Zero 360: Never Forget" opens Friday at the Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. It will be free with basic museum admission, and will run for the rest of the year.

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