GroundZero360 is an international exhibition highlighting the heroic first responders of 9/11 and the surviving families and victims who continue to feel the attacks’ impact.
The Arts Council of Brazos Valley will have the exhibition on display from Sept. 6 to Nov. 11 at their building in College Station. The council is offering free admission for all members of the community Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. It will be closed on Sunday and Monday. This exhibit was first established in Chicago on the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, and it has traveled internationally since then.
For the past three years, the directors and organizers of this exhibit had been trying to find an ideal spot for the exhibition to be held in Bryan-College Station. The arts council building was the best fit, said Amy Salvaggio, the council’s interim director. This exhibit is being held in a former firehouse, with the truck bay serving as the center of the exhibit, providing a deeper connection for the families and visitors.
An integral part of the exhibition is connecting with the families who lost their loved ones in the attacks. The families are invited to every exhibition to share their stories of survival and cherish the memories of their loved ones.
Maggie McDonnell-Tiberio is the wife of Brian Grady McDonnell, a specially trained officer in the NYPD’s Emergency Services Unit, lost during the attacks. She provided personal artifacts to the exhibition, including her husband’s Medal of Honor, his jacket and a drawing done by his daughter at the time of his death. These items are extremely personal to the family, and McDonnell-Tiberio said sharing them with communities around the world is a way for the family to keep Brian’s memory alive and allow people to make a connection with the events of 9/11, whether they were there or not.
“This is only about one day in all these people’s lives,” McDonnell-Tiberio said. “They were all heroes before 9/11 with the types of jobs they choose to do. I don't want people to always remember that Brian died on 9/11, I want them to know that he was a person before that. He loved his job, was a wonderful father and a great husband. These people chose this job, and I would like people to remember the way he lived — not necessarily how he died.”
Along with this personal touch, the exhibit consists of many handmade paintings and artifacts. There are paintings created by James Fitzgerald to accompany the stories of the first responders and structures like a replica of the Survivor Tree, created from Ground Zero steel. There are also voice recordings of dispatch calls made during the attacks, featuring the only female NYPD officer to die on Sept. 11, Moira Smith.
When many first responders were killed in the attacks, their families were the ones who suffered the most. Many like McDonnell-Tiberio had to reevaluate their entire future. A similar experience took place with Patrick Jackson, the brother-in-law of Kevin O’Rourke, a specially-trained member of the FDNY’s Rescue 2.
Jackson said that after O’Rourke’s death, he took the time to reflect on his life compared to his late brother-in-law and realized that was the man he wanted to be. Today, looking at O’Rourke’s daughters, he said he sees the wonderful traits passed on from their father and mother, such as selfless service, kindness and courage.
“In our families, [O’Rourke and his wife] were the two perfect people,” Jackson said. “Whenever I come here, I’ll bring my tools and work at a homeless shelter because that is who Kevin was. I tell everybody that I gave up my business after Kevin passed. For me, because I grew up poor, it was about having money. My family was about having money, but Kevin’s way was going to every school function, every swim meet, every track meet, every recital.”
Wednesday will mark the eighteenth anniversary of the attacks, increasing the number of people who were either too young or not alive, to remember this event. Salvaggio said because these individuals do not have a personal connection with the event, as the older generations do, exhibitions like these are important for students to attend.
“Being able to come here and see the images up-close and see the artifacts and learn the stories of the people that were involved really puts that history a bit more in front of your face and makes a bit more of a connection — something that you can really feel,” Salvaggio said.