Friday, July 19, 2024

Ottawa to host 9/11 exhibit through July

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Ottawa Mayor Robert Hasty was in an insurance sales meeting and the sales promotion happened to be called “War.” It was Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

“The day will always live on in my memory”

—  Jay McCracken, executive director, Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce

A woman rushed in demanding to know, “Are we at war?” Sure are, Hasty and his peers answered cheerfully. Then the woman clarified her question: Two airliners had just been flown into New York’s Twin Towers, wreaking havoc.

“Is the United States at war?” she asked again.

Hasty and his comrades immediately found a radio and listened as the shocking news unfolded. Terrorists had hijacked four airliners, three of which were used to ram the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth was downed in rural Pennsylvania.

“I don’t think anybody really did anything else the rest of the day,” Hasty said Saturday, recalling the overwhelming shock. “It was one of those times when you didn’t know what to do.”

That memory is never far from Hasty, but was especially fresh Saturday during the ribbon cutting of the “We the People” mobile exhibit, now on display at Illinois Valley Community College’s Ottawa campus.

The exhibit from the Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn, which serves to educate younger generations on the lasting impacts of the 9/11 terror attacks, consists of two beam pieces recovered from the rubble of the north tower of the WTC. They are accompanied by the Talk-Back Star Table, a tool for encouraging children to consider how they can help out in their community.

A quick survey of those in attendance Saturday underscored why the mobile exhibit is necessary. Today’s youth either have no memory of 9/11 or were born in its aftermath, while all those alive at the time remember a shattering and transforming day.

“I was just so stunned,” said Jay McCracken, executive director of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce said of Sept. 11. “We were all in total disbelief. The day will always live on in my memory.”

Donna Reynolds, now tourism operations manager for the Ottawa Visitor Center, was working at an Ottawa law office on 9/11 and she remembered “pure numbness” at the horror unfolding on the TV screen.

The shock was gradually replaced by a creeping fear: Would her sons be called into military service and have to fight? Reynolds three sons were in their high school years and she fretted over the possibility of a prolonged military conflict.

U.S. foreign policy would indeed take a hawkish turn and lead to prolonged conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, even though the 9/11 attacks were comparatively short-lived. One of the exhibits on display at the IVCC annex is a timeline showing the first plane struck at 8:46 a.m. and the second tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m. History was forever turned in less than two hours.

Ottawa Police Chief Brent Roalson was just as shaken by the terror attacks but he also remembered the defiant patriotism that swelled up in its aftermath. Roalson was particularly gratified by the renewed appreciation Americans bore for first-responders, including police.

“It was a time when it generated such great support for all first-responders and also our military,” Roalson said. “It was a very patriotic time.

“We the People” is on display in Ottawa through the end of July. The Ottawa Center is partnering with the sponsor, Ottawa Visitors Center, to host the exhibit. The public can view it for free from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, visit

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