Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Awl: 9/11 Collection Article

Recent article in The Awl about the 9/11 Collection.

The Museum Of 9/11 Golf Balls, Terrorism Sweaters And World Trade Center Knives

wtc_golf In most suburban homes, you wouldn't be surprised to find an array of dusty objects—pencil sharpeners, empty milk bottles, skateboards, air fresheners and perhaps a Mr. Potato Head—tucked into corners of spare bedrooms. In Andrew Marietta's house, in Cooperstown, New York, this stuff shares a common theme: September 11, 2001.
Marietta is the owner of one of the world's largest private collections of September 11 memorabilia. Stored in boxes scattered around his home are 1500 to 2000 objects originally produced by companies to commemorate the event. Many of these items are strange in their ordinariness: Marietta's collection includes not just plaques and flags but things like pens, candy and tissue boxes. Marietta is 35, and works at a nonprofit association and manages rental properties. He has been amassing these objects since 2001, when, as a museum studies graduate student, he noticed entire aisles of grocery stores and corridors of malls erupting in red, white and blue. "It was almost like 9/11 was its own brand," he said.
Mainstream brands were behind the effort: Mars, Maker’s Mark, Hasbro, Ty Inc., Yankee Candle, and Tiffany & Co. were among the companies who produced and sold 9/11-themed versions of their regular products, often promising to donate a portion of the proceeds to charities. These days, the mass-marketing of tribute items is more controversial. In 2011, in the months leading up to 9/11's tenth anniversary, a new deluge of commemorative products such as a bottle of Merlot priced at $19.11 were deemed "grotesque” and “exploitative." As Stephen Colbert put it then, in a segment titled “Shopping Griefportunities": "They hated our way of life. And what typifies our way of life more than selling each other useless crap made in China?"
While 9/11-themed silverware might not be ideal for a dinner party, it can have another use: helping people connect with a tragedy by serving as tangible proof that it actually happened. The more quotidian an object, the further it is in magnitude from the event it's meant to conjure. That's a distance that can be offensive—yet everyday stuff, by virtue of its ubiquity, is also more likely to trigger a memory than sacred things we unwrap only once a year.
I asked Marietta for his thoughts on tribute objects, shopping as therapy, and tracking down old beer bottles on eBay. We spoke by phone.
wtc_golf2 Alice Hines: What is the most interesting item you’ve acquired recently?
Andrew Marietta: This six pack of beer I got last week on eBay is pretty cool. It's a brand called Fire Company Brew, made by a retired firefighter who was at the Twin Towers on 9/11. The bottles are empty because the previous owner drank the beer, but it's basically a bottle with a fire department insignia and a label that explains the concept. There's a whole thing about how money goes back to support a Fire Company Brew victims fund. It's interesting to see how people started their own little businesses around the concept of 9/11.
Why did you start collecting this stuff?
I'm originally from Minnesota and I moved to upstate New York for a museum studies master’s program in Cooperstown. After 9/11, stuff started popping up everywhere. At first it was magazines, ephemera and flags for your cars. Some folks from the New York State Museum came to our graduate program and talked about collecting fire trucks, rubble and things like that from Ground Zero. I knew there was so much more stuff that no one was noticing. We're surrounded by consumer goods all the time, so most people weren't thinking about it.
These objects were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. They set a new standard of how corporate America should respond to tragedies. There's always been this aspect of corporations saying, “We want to give back and give a portion of proceeds,” but never anything on this scale. 9/11 green-lighted this. The idea was, “Let's take the goods that we already produce and make them patriotic.”
It seems like companies were also carving out a place for themselves in the history of 9/11.
Yeah, the objects allowed the companies to put their own stamp on things. If you look at Maker’s Mark, they're well known for that wax seal. They did a red, white and blue seal right after 9/11 in 2002. It tied that specific run of whisky to the event. When have you ever seen an [alcohol] company do something like that?
Are you at all cynical about these efforts?
I'm definitely a little bit cynical. I do think that companies were trying to give back and be patriotic. But some of the stuff is over the top. At the end of the day, companies' true motivation was sales. I'm sure everyone was caught up in the moment, like "yeah let's do this, this is patriotic." And I'm sure the side conversations were "this makes us look good, people will buy this stuff and we'll earn a bit of money." It's part of their culture to produce stuff and make money. I'm not faulting them for it because it's America!
America has been a consumeristic society for a long time, though. Why didn't anything like this happen before?
I think there definitely were some examples. You can find tribute items from the JFK assassination, but never anything like a box of cereal that commemorated it. So the question becomes, why 9/11? I think maybe it was the scale of the event and how unimaginable it was that someone could carry this out on American soil. So 9/11 and New York became this rallying point for everybody, including corporate America. You had George W. Bush saying after 9/11, "Don't stop spending money, don't go hide.” Corporations saw an opportunity. This was their way of playing a big role.
wtc_truck wtc_tissues Do you distinguish between companies who donated all of their profits to charity and those who only donated some?
That's the whole thing—it's really difficult to because there was no accountability or tracking. Almost none of the objects I've collected even give a specific percent of what’s being donated. In almost all cases, it's terminology like "a percentage of the proceeds."
In the last couple years [the media] started talking about accountability of 9/11 charities, but no one ever considered this for products. I'm not saying that companies never wrote the checks, but we also don't know how much money they generated that they didn't donate. I don't know if we'll ever know.
Why do you think people bought the objects?
Buying things made people feel better. It’s such a part of American culture. It’s also the fact that money is being donated. But it’s also self-gratification and because people wanted to have a direct connection with the event. A guy in Iowa can't touch a firetruck or even see it without coming to New York and going to the State Museum. But he can buy a belt buckle made in commemoration of 9/11 at the Iowa County Fair. It's his way of touching the event.
wtc_game But it's not just a direct connection to 9/11 that people are buying with these objects, right? It's also the idea of owning a piece of history. If you only wanted to feel connected, you could donate or volunteer.
Yeah, people could have made the choice to directly donate to a charity. But they also wanted to have a piece of the event. What do you get from donating to United Way in New York City? The benefit of knowing they're making a difference, but nothing tangible. But if you go and buy that Mr. Potato Head, you get an object you can touch and feel which is also tied to September 11.
The thing I think is interesting is that many of these objects are so quotidian. Like the tissue box, for example. It encourages you to integrate memories of 9/11 into your everyday life.
Yeah, absolutely. I have a milk bottle from a family farm that you would never expect to have a tribute message about 9/11 on it. Or I have a silverware set that has the Twin Towers on the handles. The question is, would you really buy this and eat with it? That 9/11 throw pillow—are you really going to put it on the couch? I would love to know what the companies thought. I think they intended this stuff to be used, but I don't think people are actually using it.
I have one scenario in my head where they thought people would actually break this stuff out every year on 9/11. It's almost like they thought 9/11 would be the next Valentine’s Day or Halloween.
Or at least Memorial Day or Veterans Day.
Right, or the next Fourth of July. I'm not saying it won't happen, but so far I don't think the material goods have stuck.
Your first post on your blog was about a lighter you found in Dubai that shows the Twin Towers being hit by a plane, with a bust of Osama bin Laden in the foreground. What's the story behind that?
The lighter shows the other side of things, how 9/11 influenced material goods elsewhere and how the event has different meanings to some people. My parents lived in the United Arab Emirates for 10 years while I was in college. I bought the lighter from a street vendor in Dubai. My dad was pissed, he thought it was offensive and upsetting. I bought it and flew it back in my luggage, which is crazy now thinking about it.
Lighter procured in Dubai in 2002: "Two flames are given off the top of the figure's head when a side lever is pulled."
Where do you buy most of your items?
A lot of it is on eBay. In the beginning, you could find stuff in stores, but now that we're more than 10 years out it’s getting harder. I just acquired a new item on eBay, a knife from Spyderco, which is a company based in Colorado. They made a limited run shortly after 9/11, 2000-some knives using steel from the World Trade Center site.
Spyderco World Trade Center Fundraising Knife Project: Knife with WTC steel and Presentation Box.
How much did you pay for the knife?
$425. It's not a huge amount of money but they usually go for $700, $800, $900. It was a great deal so I couldn't pass it up. Another object I picked up recently was a game. There is actually a board game called "Ground Zero: It's Only a Game to the Politicians." A New York City-based guy, a former firefighter, made it and sunk a whole bunch of his own money into producing it. It's a cynical thing.
Do you have any plans for your collection in the long-term? What are you going to do with all this stuff?
I don't know. I'm not opening my own museum, that's for sure. I've recently made this connection with the curators of the 9/11 museum. I don't know if they would ever take my collection. Some of it is dicey and would upset people. I can tell you though, that if something were to happen to me my wife would reach out to them and see if they wanted it.
How much time do you spend on the collection?
I waste a lot of time and a lot of money. [Laughs] I don't see it as a waste, though I would never deny that a lot of people see it as a complete waste of time and energy. I'm not going to fight that perspective.
My wife tells me all the time she thinks it’s a bunch of crap. She hasn't tried to kill me yet over it, though. She came with me to a meeting with the curator [of the 9/11 museum] earlier this year in New York City.
wtc_tie Wouldn't other people learn more from the collection if it were stored more publicly?
This is definitely a motivating factor to make it more accessible. I've had a few people find my blog and reach out to me. Most of it is kind of funny stuff; some lady wrote a comment about this crazy sweater I have which says "Terrorists can shake our buildings but never can touch America’s foundation." It's a hokey sweater. She said, "I've got to have this sweater! Where did you get this sweater?" Once, a candle company found my blog and sent me their tribute air fresheners, which they called "Freedom fresheners."
wtc_pencils Are there other collectors of 9/11 memorabilia around?
Not really. There is a guy named Michael Ragsdale who collects paper ephemera, a lot of autographs and PR stuff, which is different from what I have. When I found him and reached out to him, he was like, "This is great, I didn't know there was anyone else out there."
You wrote on your blog that your own experience of amassing this collection is consumeristic. How is your relationship to these objects similar or different than those of their original owners?
I look at it as an ironic thing. This stuff was sold so people could buy it; now it's out there again and I'm collecting it. I'm doing the same thing that was originally intended for these objects. So it's similar, but our motivations are different. Originally, people wanted to connect with 9/11 by having a physical piece of it. For me, it was not necessarily about feeling a connection to the event but because I recognized that these objects were unique. I knew that if I didn't save them they would get thrown away and 20 years later people wouldn't remember the full impact.
So you collected them for historical significance.
Yes, that's right.

Alice Hines is a freelance writer in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter: @alicehines. Photographs courtesy of Andrew Marietta. This interview has been lightly edited.

Monday, September 16, 2013

NY Daily News article about the WTC name being turned into a marketing tool

Just give it back 

The sordid story of how the World Trade Center name was turned into a marketing tool

David Handschuh/New York Daily News

The World Trade Center name is not a brand.

A secret deal has just come to light there. Jaw-dropping in audacity, the arrangement is playing out with the grotesque exploitation of 9/11 as a real estate money-maker.
Half a century ago, a man named Guy Tozzoli took charge of building what were then the globe’s tallest skyscrapers on a forsaken area of downtown. Working for the Port Authority, he drove the project to completion in the hope that the complex would serve as a hub of international commerce and investment.
That dream never came true. While the towers became New York and American icons, they were taxpayer-supported money pits until shortly before the 9/11 attacks. Along the way, Tozzoli left the Port Authority to found a not-for-profit organization, called the World Trade Centers Association and dedicated to the mission of fostering business in branded World Trade Centers around the planet.
But Tozzoli needed the brand. So, 27 years ago, this modern-day Peter Minuit persuaded his Port Authority pals to sell his group the trademarks to the World Trade Center name for $10.
Stunning it was to discover in a Bergen Record story that presently unidentified Port Authority executives — no one will own up to the sin — off-loaded “World Trade Center” for the cost of a burger, fries and shake. After pouring billions of dollars into the original development, plus billions more into the rebuilding, much of it through higher bridge and tunnel tolls, the public doesn’t even own the naming rights.
Still worse, the World Trade Centers Association is demanding payment from the Port Authority before granting permission to sell branded souvenirs when the 1,776-foot-tall One World Trade Center opens. In lieu of cash, they’ll take a half-million dollars worth of super-duper office space for free.
No, they won’t. Instead, here’s what must happen: The World Trade Centers Association must surrender its hold on the trademarks, return public propery to the public and, yes, start paying the public for the right to call itself the World Trade Centers Association.
Tozzoli died in February. WTCA general counsel Scott Richie said that CEO Eric Dahl was “traveling on business in China,” thus apparently escaping the reach of global communications.
Whatever virtuous intentions Tozzoli started out with, the association’s website now suggests that it is little more than a marketing tool for commercial real estate developments interested on boosting value with the World Trade Center name.
A project pays a $200,000 initiation fee plus $10,000 annually in order to be, for example, the World Trade Center of Tallinn, Estonia, or the World Trade Center of Dakar, Senegal. They are located in 330 cities in 100 countries, including — according to the Record — Hackensack, N.J., where a real estate broker runs a “World Trade Center” out of a storefront.
The association touts the rent-boosting magic of the World Trade Center brand and, in a promotional video, explains in this way why its fees are worth the price: “Certainly, 9/11 has ironically raised the profile of the name.”
Those fees, totaling $6.9 million a year, were good to Tozzoli. From 2009 to 2011 he pulled down $1.7 million in salary, including $626,000 in 2011 for working one hour a week. Old Pete Munuit would have blushed.

Read more:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fire Company Brew: Taste the Pride

I always wondered if there was a 9/11 tribute beer out there, and I finally found it.  This Fire Company Brew was created by Philip (PJ) Schrantz, a retired NYC firefighter (Brooklyn).  He relates his story on each bottle and on the package.  Basically, he volunteered at the WTC site (where he lost friends) and when he returned home, he decided to pursue this idea as a way to give back.  The packaging and bottle relate that a portion of the proceeds benefit fire, police and volunteer construction workers.  The packaging also gives more specifics on the organizations being supported.  The beer was brewed at Matt Brewing Company in Utica (NY).  There is a website listed too,, which is not active.   

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Spyderco World Trade Center Fundraising Knife Project: Knife with WTC steel and Presentation Box

Number 612 (of 2819), this is a Spyderco World Trade Center knife.  A special tribute and fundraising effort, it incorporates WTC steel in the Twin Towers silhouette on the handle.
Info from Spyderco's website about this knife:
Spyderco's World Trade Center Fundraising Knife Project began when Spyderco's owners and employees deeply wanted to contribute to a cause we felt strongly about -- helping the surviving families of the fire and police personnel that perished on September 11, 2001. A commendable outlet for doing just that was the New York Police and Fire Widow's and Children's Benefit Fund*. At the project's inception unique challenges were met by a number of same-feeling people who made it all happen. In honor of the fallen members of the Saving And Serving community we designed a variation of a sheepfoot rescue model with our new Ball Bearing Lock set in a black FRN handle. There are a total of 2819 numbered pieces, one for every life lost that day. Making the knife extraordinary is an inlay of the Twin Towers skyline cut from a steel girder retrieved from World Trade Center Tower One it is set flush into the handle. The knife is presented in a custom box of cocobolo wood. $225. per knife with all profits going to the New York Police and Fire Widow's and Children's Benefit Fund. Our gratitude for those who are helping us make this a reality.
  • Police Lt. John McArdle (NYPD)
  • Police Officer Jerome Kazlauskas (NYPD)
  • Police Officer Jerome Maier (NYPD)
  • Police Officer Juan Gonzalez (NYPD)
  • Jeff Silman
  • Police Officer John D'Allara and Family New York
  • Judd Evans, Evergreen, CO
  • Joe Rogers, Rogers Wire EDM Service, Arvada, CO
  • Darrell Lewis, Bodycote Metallurgical Coatings, Greensboro, NC
  • The Spyderco Crew, Golden, CO
*This charity is an IRS Section 501c(3) corporation. The charity has annual Certified Financial Statements from Grant Thornton CPA's filed with the New York State Department of State. The Tax ID number is 13-33440675. The charity has less than 2% expenses, does not use professional fundraisers, and relies on active volunteer committee to raise funds.