9/11 Ephemera

At Ephemera 24, the Society's annual conference and fair held in Greenwich, Conn. in March 2004, Michael Ragsdale displayed a small portion of his collection of ephemera associated with the aftermath of September 11, 2001.  Michael, a senior technician for Audio Visual Services at Columbia University and a cameraman for C-SPAN, is a new member of the Ephemera Society, having learned about the organization through the Internet.

Michael's collection documents the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy in New York City through ephemera from that day and later; in addition, he has related materials created earlier.

The Greenwich newspaper, Greenwich Time, ran a special story about Ephemera 24, highlighting Michael's exhibition.  Michael Dinan, who reported, started his story by writing: "Michael Ragsdale spotted a long line at the automatic teller machine as he rushed through an uptown Manhattan hospital, where he had been scheduled to film a routine press conference."  Continuing, he noted that it was September 11, 2001 and that "there were hundreds of receipts on the ground and they said 'transaction denied.'"  It turned out that problems associated with communications as a result of the destruction of the World Trade Center prevented ATM banking transactions.

The receipt that Michael picked up was the first piece of 9/11 ephemera in his collection, which now numbers more than 3,000 items.

Michael found it relatively easy to collect.  Greenwich Time quoted him: "A lot of it is religious reaction—calls for prayer, calls to God, or church brochures.  For a long time after 9/11, wherever I went I just looked for stuff, on and off the job, throughout the five boroughs [of Manhattan] and Connecticut. If there was a break from work, I would walk around the neighborhood looking for ephemera—in waiting rooms, hospitals, churches, on street signs.  There were so many people handing things out—activists and religious people, especially for the first three months."

In addition to the ATM receipt, Michael displayed a broad range of ephemera.  One especially interesting item was connected to New York's primary elections.  Michael Kearney, a Democrat from Queens who was running for a seat on the local Council, mailed a brochure to people living in his district reminding them to vote.  A document caught in the moment of time, the primary had to be rescheduled from September 11th to later in the month, on the 25th.

New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, at 5th Avenue and 50th Street, held a mass of supplication for people who lost their lives in the attacks on September 17, and Michael showed the program.  Catholic Charities produced a disaster response notice, and the state government of New York issued a brochure that was featured in the exhibit, "Helping Children Cope with Fear," addressing how to respond to children who had been affected by tragedy, and Michael displayed both.

Personal memorabilia included Michael's receipt for breakfast at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital on September 11th, bearing a time stamp of 7:51 am, and a lunch receipt that day from Café Cappuccino at 11:58 am.

Anyone interested in seeing a sampling of Michael's collection can do so online at http://www.911digitalarchive.org, which is an electronic archive of items relating to 9/11 in New York City and Washington,DC.  The web site is a cooperative venture of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and the American Social History Project at theGraduate Center of the City University of New York.  Partnering with the Library of Congress, the American Red Cross Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution, the Digital Archive includes still and moving images, audio, documents, personal stories, a list of online 9/11 resources, and other materials in electronic format to "collect, preserve, and present the history of the September 11, 2001 attacks."

Michael's section, including more than 900 examples, is at http://www.911digitalarchive.org/collections/ragsdale_flyer_collection.  In the not too distant future, there are plans to add an additional 500 items.  Visitors to the site can click on the titles of ephemera to bring them to the screen or, if they have something specific in mind, can do a word search to isolate either an item or a group of items sharing the same description.

Michael anticipates that his collection will be displayed in libraries and schools, especially in Manhattan. He hopes that all of his ephemera will forever contribute to the storytelling of the aftermath of 9/11 in and around New York City.

E. Richard McKinstry
Past President

PS: Congratulations to the Poster Stamp Society for having such a successful meeting in St. Louis. Read all about it in the April 2004 issue of The Poster Stamp Bulletin.

[This article originally appeared in the Northeast Journal of Antiques & Art.]

   © 2011 The Ephemera Society of America