In our work as historic preservationists we strive to protect spaces and places, buildings and landscapes and communities large and small. As humans we hold onto objects from our past—things that may not mean something to anyone else, but are integral to our own personal identities. Whether it is a diary or a model airplane, a newspaper clipping or a photograph, these objects have the power to remind us of days long past and people we have lost.
Many times our work to protect these endangered objects and places provokes discussion such as the ongoing conversation regarding the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery or the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s active involvement with the preservation of the World Trade Center Vesey Street Staircase. Both the Tomb and the Staircase are objects that have a very physical connection to our historical (and recent) past, evoking and enshrining memories that are important on a national scale.
Each of us has an object or a place that will forever remind us of the events of 9/11. In honor of the seventh anniversary of September 11, PBS will be broadcasting a film on Monday, September 8, 2008 entitled Objects and Memory. As Kathleen Hulser of the New-York Historical Society states, this is a film that “reminds us all how precious memories cling tenaciously to ordinary things, offering shared moments across cultural boundaries and historical time.” Having seen the film at a conference earlier this year I found it both moving and relevant to our current and continuing roles as historic preservationists, and wanted to share it with you. For more information visit the film’s official website and check your local listings for the broadcast time in your area.
Of course our work is never complete, and the importance we place on these objects and places and the threat to their roles as keepers of memory is a moving target—which is why every year the National Trust releases a list of their 11 Most Endangered Places. The Vessey Street Staircase was one such entry in 2006, and it has now been moved and protected for eventual inclusion in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Priya Chhaya, Center for Preservation Leadership