Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

New exhibit shows artifacts from the 9/11 terrorist attacks

By Carol Cratty, CNN Senior Producer
  • Newseum expands its FBI exhibit to show fight against terror
  • Pieces of one plane, family photos, cell phones on display
  • Info on the shoe bomber plot included

Washington (CNN) -- Cell phones and pagers, airplane engines, a door from a police squad car, a mother's wallet and credit cards. Those items survived when terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City during the September 11 attacks.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C., is expanding its FBI exhibit with a new display of artifacts from 9/11 and other terrorist plots that have never been on display to the public before.

"War on Terror: The FBI's New Focus" will open Friday in plenty of time for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Newseum selected 60 pieces of evidence the FBI had in storage for use in terror trials, including huge pieces of an airplane that survived ramming into the World Trade Center towers.

"I think the most powerful pieces here are the most personal," said Cathy Trost, director of exhibit development at the Newseum. "The things that people put in their pockets that morning not knowing that this was going to be a day that changed their lives forever."

New exhibit highlights FBIs terror focus

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching items on display belonged to Ruth McCourt of New London, Connecticut. McCourt was taking her 4-year-old daughter, Juliana, to visit Disneyland. They were aboard United Flight 175, which was the second plane to hit the World Trade Center. McCourt's wallet was found in the debris, battered but still intact. It's on display along with three credit cards. A picture of McCourt and Juliana at the beach is also shown.

"A lot of family members want to make sure there are public displays because they don't want people to forget what they lost that day," said Susan Bennett, a Newseum senior vice president.

A sampling of the many cell phones and pagers are part of the exhibit. "It's so sad because the families, the colleagues of the people who were in the World Trade Center didn't give up," Bennett said. "They kept trying to call, and call, and call again with just a glimmer of hope that somehow perhaps the people were still buried underneath the rubble or had perhaps been taken to a hospital. It was very emotional for the rescue workers because they could hear the cell phones ringing."

Pictures of the 19 hijackers are also on display along with some of their passports. A seating plan for one of the flights shows where leader Mohamed Atta and his co-conspirators were sitting, and a letter all the hijackers left behind is included. The five-page martyrdom message was written in Arabic. A translation of the first page is shown and begins with the chilling words: "The Last Night: 1) Embrace the will to die and renew allegiance."

Trost said Newseum staff interviewed dozens of FBI agents, journalists and experts on the 9/11 attacks to provide a full picture of what happened that day and the FBI investigation that followed. "The story was not only the investigation, but also how it changed the FBI forever," Trost said. "The big priority after 9/11 was stop the next attack."

Dan McCarron, a FBI public affairs person who worked with the Newseum on the project, agrees. "There's a theme in the stories of how the FBI's changed. We're more of a national security organization, threat-based intelligence," he said. "And we want to prevent. And the way you prevent is you got to predict. So now that is our mindset."

A key terror plot also shown involves British citizen Richard Reid, known as the shoe bomber. Reid got on board a flight from Paris headed to Miami just days before Christmas in 2001. He was discovered trying to ignite his hiking shoe, containing explosives that government investigators said could have brought down the plane. Flight crew members and fellow passengers tackled and restrained a struggling Reid.

Tourists will be able to see his shoes, the clothes he was wearing, the matches he used and the remains of drugs used to sedate him after he was caught. People will also be able to see several heavy leather belts passengers and crew members used to fashion restraints for the powerfully built, 6-foot, 4-inch Reid.

McCarron pointed to the Reid case as something that showed al Qaeda was able to change tactics by using a single operative with a bomb instead of teams, which were used in the 9/11 attacks. And the U.S. had to react to Reid's mode of attack to prevent another. "The impact of that case is now in airports," McCarron said. "Everyone takes their shoes off."

Part of complete coverage on
A decade later, nation remembers 9/11
Ten years ago today, America's sense of security was shattered in a series of attacks that tested the will and resolve of the American public.
New Yorkers unfazed by terror threat
Despite exceptional security ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, many New Yorkers said they remain undaunted about the potential terror threat.
Comedy club arose after 9/11 healing
Humor was Jami Gong's answer to helping bring back life to New York City's Chinatown in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Illustrating 9/11's ripple effect commissioned artists to illustrate the incredible changes we've seen these past 10 years since 9/11.
iReport: Connected by 9/11
CNN paired up five sets of iReporters who had never met but shared similar experiences on 9/11. Listen as they discover what connects them.
No one untouched in post-9/11 America
What are the lingering effects of 9/11 outside ground zero? Visit three disparate locations to sample the reverberations from coast to coast.
How 9/11 changed views on religion
The terrorist attacks didn't just change America. They affected the nation's attitude toward religion.
9/11 generation finds its voice
Kids who lost parents on 9/11 opened up to others of their generation, who learned first-hand how to keep the tragedy from defining their lives.