Editor's Pick

Sept. 11: Finding Objects Through A Filter

There are objects currently on display at the Smithsonian that, without much context, might look a lot like trash. But what makes these melted calculators and soggy notebooks special is that they were recovered from the three sites attacked on Sept. 11: New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. Many of them are personal effects.

  • The cellphone used by New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Sept. 11, 2001
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    The cellphone used by New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Sept. 11, 2001
    John W. Poole/NPR
  • A doll recovered from the debris at the Staten Island's Fresh Kills Landfill
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    A doll recovered from the debris at the Staten Island's Fresh Kills Landfill
    John W. Poole/NPR
  • A calculator recovered from an office in the Pentagon
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    A calculator recovered from an office in the Pentagon
    John W. Poole/NPR
  • Coins recovered from damaged offices in the Pentagon
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    Coins recovered from damaged offices in the Pentagon
    John W. Poole/NPR
  • A call button recovered near the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.
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    A call button recovered near the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.
    John W. Poole/NPR
  • This United Airlines vertical speed indicator was recovered near the wreckage in Shanksville
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    This United Airlines vertical speed indicator was recovered near the wreckage in Shanksville
    John W. Poole/NPR
  • A metal fragment found in Shanksville
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    A metal fragment found in Shanksville
    John W. Poole/NPR
  • Recovered objects from Shanksville
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    Recovered objects from Shanksville
    John W. Poole/NPR
  • This clock was hanging on the wall of a Pentagon helipad when the impact of the crash knocked it to the floor, freezing it in time.
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    This clock was hanging on the wall of a Pentagon helipad when the impact of the crash knocked it to the floor, freezing it in time.
    John W. Poole/NPR
  • Uniform worn by officer Isaac Ho'opi'i, Pentagon police officer and dog handler, as he rescued people at the Pentagon
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    Uniform worn by officer Isaac Ho'opi'i, Pentagon police officer and dog handler, as he rescued people at the Pentagon
    John W. Poole/NPR
  • This postcard was sent by Leslie Whittington to her sister before she boarded Flight 77 at Dulles Airport. The flight was hijacked and later hit the Pentagon.
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    This postcard was sent by Leslie Whittington to her sister before she boarded Flight 77 at Dulles Airport. The flight was hijacked and later hit the Pentagon.
    John W. Poole/NPR

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For something as monumental as Sept. 11 — for something so difficult to process — maybe focusing in on the details is one way to make sense of it. There's an obvious significance to these seemingly banal objects, but how do you get at it?

NPR photographer John Poole was inspired by Tomatsu Shomei's stark photos of objects found after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. His tool of choice: a smartphone. In his words, though 10 years have passed, it somehow doesn't seem that long ago; in many ways, we're still living in the direct aftermath of Sept. 11. Perhaps the grainy haze of a phone app suggests an indefinite passage of time and allows us a necessary distance for understanding.

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