9-11 steel beams move into Fort Worth museum

As an 8,000-pound piece of the World Trade Center rolled slowly through the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History’s front door, Philip Gonzalez was visibly relieved.

“It’s a nervous thing moving something this big,” said Gonzalez, the museum’s marketing director.

The rust-coated, twisted steel beams were once between the 100th and 103rd floors of the North Tower. The 36-foot-long artifact is virtually unchanged since it was pulled from the debris.

Other than cleaning off dust and asbestos left on the beams after the 9-11 attacks, workers who prepared the artifact for its permanent home added only a couple of steel anchor posts. It will stand in what Gonzalez and his co-workers call the lantern — the tall tower over the foyer at the museum, at 1600 Gendy St. in the Cultural District.

The beams have been stored in Arlington for two years, and moving them from a flatbed trailer to their final resting place Tuesday took about 30 minutes, said crane operator Jere Gunstanson of Austin Commercial in Dallas.

“There never can be too much room for error,” Gunstanson said.

Once the artifact was inside, the eight workmen had to use a towering scaffold to hoist one end and drop the other into a hole, said John Eitson, senior project manager for Austin Commercial.

“After it’s set, we’ll encase the posts in concrete tomorrow,” he said.

The exhibit won’t open to the public until early October, Gonzalez said.

“They’re putting in TV screens and encasing the beams so that nobody can touch it,” he said. “There are other things that have to be done before it’s show-quality.”

The exhibit will explain the artifact’s origin and include an interpretation of the events surrounding 9-11 and their international impact.

‘Symbolic of that era’

Many people saw the beams when they were displayed for several days in front of the museum after arriving in February 2011.

People involved in the Fort Worth exhibit had hoped to open it on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

Though the artifact — the largest in Texas — was donated to the museum by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and BNSF Logistics paid to deliver it, developing and installing the exhibit weren’t cheap. The beams remained in the museum’s storage facility until the Fort Worth City Council funded the project.

The council allocated $222,159 in water capital funds that ordinarily would have gone to Fort Worth’s public art program, said Bill Begley, a city spokesman.

The exhibit will pique the emotions of everyone who sees it, he said.

“Everyone remembers where they were when this happened,” Begley said. “This is symbolic of that era. My generation’s innocence was lost on 9-11.”

‘Proud to be doing it’

Gonzalez said he was 24 and reading a newspaper at his Fort Worth home the morning of 9-11, but he also had the Today show on his TV. When he heard commentators speculating on whether an accident caused a plane to strike the North Tower, “I flipped down the sports pages and saw the second plane hit on live TV. I’ll never forget that.”

Eitson, who saw the towers fall while watching TV monitors at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, where he was working on Terminal D, has mixed feelings about the artifact’s arrival at the museum.

“In a lot of ways, I wish I wasn’t doing this,” he said. “But I’m also proud to be doing it.”

This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.