A 9/11 firefighters photo showing the American flag being raised at the World Trade Center was deemed too “rah rah American” and kitschy to be included in the museum located at Ground Zero. The iconic photo captured both the gut-wrenching sorrow of the terror attacks and the strength of the American spirit. The image should have had a place of honor at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, but was almost left out of the display.
Museum director Michael Shulan had this to say about the 9/11 firefighters flag raising photo, according to the New York Post:
“I really believe that the way America will look best, the way we can really do best, is to not be Americans so vigilantly and so vehemently.”
Although Michael Shulan was living in New York City during the 9/11 terror attacks, he apparently views the horror differently than the vast majority of Americans. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum official stated during a recent interview that he did not want to “reduce” the 9/11 terror attacks down to something that was “too simple.” Shulan reportedly believes that the simplicity of the firefighters Ground Zero flag raising photo would distort the overall complexity of the “event and the meaning of the event.”
9/11 museum director Alice Greenwald made a huge mistake when she hired Michael Shulan to oversee the museum displays. Greenwald was reportedly impressed with Shulan’s “unique approach” after viewing his Here is New York post-9/11 photography exhibit in Soho.
The fact that the September 11 museum official is referring to the terror attacks on American soil merely as an event explains why he does not understand why Thomas Franklin’s firefighters Ground Zero flag raising photos resonates with millions of people around the country.
Battle for Ground Zero author Elizabeth Greenspan noted in her book that National September 11 Memorial and Museum Chief Curator Jan Ramirez stated that “several images undercut the myth of one iconic moment” and the museum official wanted to show 9/11 from “multiple points of view.” A compromise was reportedly worked out to include Thomas Franklin’s famous picture next to two other flag raising photos, showing the action from different angles.
Thomas Franklin was working for The Bergen Record of Passaic, New Jersey and was just back from an assignment in the Dominican Republic when the planes hit the World Trade Center. The journalist saw a triage area being set up near Ground Zero and ferries carrying the wounded to safety. While walking towards the Exchange Place on the Jersey City riverfront with fellow photographer John Wheeler, he worried about his brother who works near the World Trade Center. After the pair of photographers were given permission to board a tugboat headed to New York by a police officer, he made his way towards Ground Zero.
Thomas Franklin had this to say about witnessing the firefighters raise the American flag above the crumbled buildings:
“I would I say was 150 yards away when I saw the firefighters raising the flag. They were standing on a structure about 20 feet above the ground. This was a long lens picture: there was about 100 yards between the foreground and background, and the long lens would capture the enormity of the rubble behind them. I made the picture standing underneath what may have been one of the elevated walkways, possibly the one that had connected the World Trade plaza and the World Financial Center. As soon as I shot it, I realized the similarity to the famous image of the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima. This was an important shot. It told more than just death and destruction. It said something to me about the strength of the American people and of those firemen having to battle the unimaginable.”
The three firefighters of Engine 255 and Ladder 157 shown in the 9/11 flag raising are William Eisengrein, George Johnson, and Daniel McWilliams. The local heroes had found the flag on the back of a yacht named Star of America, owned by Shirley Dreifus, at a boat slip at the World Financial Center. They hoisted Old Glory in a display of resilience and loyalty. The men found the flag while they were searching for World Trade Center 7 survivors. The flag pole was found about 20 feet off the ground on West Street. The firefighters created a makeshift ramp to climb to raise the flag. The flag was placed as the order to evacuate the area was sounded.
Daniel McWilliams recalled hearing other firefighters cheering them on, shouting, “Way to go” and “Good job!” The Ladder 157 firefighter also said, “Every pair of eyes that saw that flag got a little brighter. Everybody just needed a shot in the arm.”
Michael Shulan and all museum staffers who supported his initial decision to keep the 9/11 flag raising photo from being included in the museum should be ashamed of themselves. While risking their lives to save others, the firefighters paused for just a moment to inspire the hordes of other emergency responders who were pushing back their own grief and tears while relentlessly looking for survivors.
9/11 was not an “event” to be crafted in some ultra-artsy perspective—it was a terror attack. The firefighters flag raising undoubtedly symbolizes the American spirit of perseverance even during the most dire circumstances. During the heinous act of terror, 343 firefighters, 37 Port Authority officers, 23 NYC police officers, and 6 emergency medical rescue workers lost their lives.
Replicas of Thomas Franklin’s flag raising photos have been left as “calling cards” by American soldiers in Afghanistan, painted two-stories high on a building in New York City, on the wall of a prison in New Orleans, recreated as a US stamp, and adorned countless shirts, hats, and even Christmas ornaments. The firefighters raising the flag at Ground Zero on 9/11 has become an integral part of American history.
All of the dust from the tower collapse showcased inside the National September 11 Memorial and Museum has been tested to make sure that it does not contain any human remains.
How do you feel about the 9/11 firefighters Ground Zero flag raising photo almost being excluded from the memorial museum?