Commemorating one of the most tragic and heroic days in American history, a Sept. 11, 2001, museum on wheels is on its way to Douglas County.
The 9/11 Never Forget mobile exhibit will set up a 1,000-square-foot display at the Douglas County Fair in August that tells the story of a firefighter who died while responding that day.
Its artifacts including steel beams from the World Trade Center towers, recordings of the first responder radio transmissions and documentary videos. It will also offer live tours by New York City firefighters.
"We knew many people, including myself, may never get to New York to see it," said Brad Brejcha, vice president of the fair board. "This is a great opportunity for people who may never get there."
The fair board also wants to use the display to recognize all emergency responders, including those locally, he said.
The exhibit will remain at the fair all four days, August 17-20, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. or a little later, depending on the line to get in. Visits last up to 20-25 minutes, Brejcha said. Fairgoers will not have to pay to see the exhibit, as the fair board is seeking sponsors to help cover the $16,000 cost to bring it here. The memorial is housed in a high-tech, 53-foot tractor-trailer that will stop in Douglas County on its way from southern Minnesota to Fargo.
The memorial is dedicated to Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who had just gotten off his shift when an airplane hit the first tower. He strapped on his gear and raced through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers. Siller lived by the philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi, "While we have time, let us do good," according to the memorial's website, tunnel2towers.org. He was orphaned by age 10 but absorbed the teachings of his parents, who belonged to a community of Catholic men and women who sought to pattern their lives after Jesus in the spirit of St. Francis.
The mobile display is just one part of what The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation does. It also raises money for orphans, builds smart homes for severely wounded soldiers, and helps Hurricane Sandy victims, all triggered by his one selfless act.
Alexandria Fire Chief Jeff Karrow said he believes the exhibit will draw fairgoers from a much wider area than normal, especially those who work in public safety. Of his firefighting crew, only one has been able to visit Ground Zero.
"It's amazing and it is a reminder and acknowledgment of the 343 firefighters that passed away on 9/11," he said. "This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
It's been nearly 16 years since the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon killed 2,996 people. It's doubtful that this year's high school graduates remember anything from that time. However, the events of that morning ushered in massive changes for their future, including wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, homeland security measures and terrorism themes running through TV shows and movies.
"What a great history lesson or history tool to show to high schoolers at the fair," Karrow said. "I think it's good for the community, I think it's good for the fire service and we're appreciative that someone had the foresight to bring this in."