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Photojournalist, cop bear witness to 9/11 in Field Museum exhibit

'Firefigthers Broadway September 11 2001' Phoby NicolMcClean. From exhibit 'Ground Zero 360 Degrees' Field Museum

"Firefigthers on Broadway, September 11, 2001" Photo by Nicola McClean. From the exhibit "Ground Zero 360 Degrees" at the Field Museum

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'Ground Zero

 Sept. 2, 2011-Jan. 1, 2012

 The Field Museum,
1400 S. Lake Shore

 Museum admission
(includes exhibit): $10-$29
 (312) 922-9410;

Special Section: Remembering 9/11
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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:42AM

The pictures are instantly recognizable.

A brother. A wife. A firefighter. An office worker.

All loved. All missing.

The first thing visitors see at “Ground Zero 360°,” an exhibit opening Sept. 2 at the Field Museum, is a recreation of the fences and train stations in New York City in the days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Covered in copies of actual missing persons posters, the “Wall of Missing” display recalls a defining moment in time.

Ten years have passed, and the impact hasn’t waned. That’s the point.

“People tend to forget after time goes by,” said Paul McCormack, a retired New York Police department commander who organized the exhibit with his wife, photojournalist Nicola McClean. “Our motto is never forget. Never forget the sacrifice.”

McCormack and McClean met in January 2001, when she was assigned to do a story for the “Irish Voice” on his promotion to commanding officer of the city’s 41st precinct, known as “Fort Apache.” Nine months later, the attacks of Sept. 11 happened.

Like so many others, their lives changed forever.

“Everybody grew closer to each other,” McCormack said. “Everybody felt a stronger bond to your family. Everybody reached out to someone special to tell them that they loved them.”

And by everyone, McCormack and McClean did not just mean family and friends of those directly affected in New York City, Washington D.C., and on United Flight 93, which went down in a Pennsylvania field. People all over the world were profoundly moved. The couple wanted a way for those outside of New York to share the experience.

Out of this came “Ground Zero 360° ,” a collection of McClean’s photos from lower Manhattan on 9/11 and the days that immediately followed, as well as relics from Ground Zero. While the exhibit makes its American debut in Chicago, a sister exhibit recently opened in Dublin. McCormack and McClean hope to tour the exhibit in the coming years.

At the Field, the exhibit is in the Marae Gallery, near the Maori meeting house. The Field offers programming related to community issues regularly in that second floor space. Janet Hong, the museum’s project manager for exhibitions, believed the “Ground Zero 360° ” display was a perfect fit.

“It’s a special space where we like to talk about community concersand human subjects,” Hong said.

Working with the 9/11 Memorial and Museum organization, McCormack collected items for the project, such as crosses made by ironworkers at Ground Zero and pieces of the wreckage. Cardinal Francis George blessed the crosses here in June before they were installed in a display case.

“They’re very moving,” Hong said. “It’s a beautiful tribute made to the victims just totally related to ironworkers who worked there nine months clearing away this mountain of debris.”

The uniforms of Brian McDonnell and Paul Mitchell, a New York police officer and fire lieutenant, respectively, who died Sept. 11, are on display, donated to the project by their families. An American flag that flew over Ground Zero was placed in the museum by local members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. McDonnell was a member of the Army unit.

There are pieces of granite and a steel beam from the World Trade Center visitors can touch, something McCormack said he believed was one of the most powerful moments of the exhibit.

“I think [visitors] feel closer and more attached,” he said. “The goal here is to keep the memory alive, to get the feel for what it was like on that day.”

Steps away from the exhibit is a listening dome where an hourlong audio recording of New York police calls from Sept. 11 can be heard. A digital book lets visitors share their 9/11 stories or reflect on the exhibit.

The museum is recommending the exhibit for those 10 years and older.

“Some of the material would need explaining from a parent or caregiver,” Hong said. She thinks the exhibit will be particularly appealing to teens and young adults.

“If you were an adult you remember exactly where you were and it felt like the whole world was going to be different,” Hong said. “But if you were a kid, a lot of people told me they grew up with that idea being normal. The idea that someone on the other side of the world hates them and wants to kill them. It’s just really interesting to go through there with someone who is a teen.”

Visitors to the Field Museum for “Ground Zero 360°” might consider spending time also at the Gold Star Families Memorial and Park, a tribute to Chicago police officers killed in the line of duty, Hong said. The memorial is located on the museum campus, south of the Field.

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