"Dear Hero" Collection

Tanya Hoggard, a Cincinnati-based flight attendant who rearranged her schedule to volunteer with the Salvation Army in lower Manhattan, recognized the impact of this correspondence on the weary rescue and recovery workers. Throughout the fall and winter, she grew ever more determined to insure that the children’s messages found their way to their intended recipients. Through friendships forged with firefighters who visited the Salvation Army tent for coffee, conversation and snacks, Hoggard learned that firehouses throughout New York City had received similar bags of mail containing warm wishes from children – sometimes attached to stuffed animals, candy, and collaboratively made murals, flags and quilts. Some confessed that the numbers of continually incoming letters was beyond their pacity to open, read, and properly acknowledge.

Laminated paper quilt, stitched together with yarn, part of the "Dear Hero" Collection.

After visiting just a few of these firehouses, Hoggard conceived a mission: to collect and safeguard these touching expressions representing the pulse of feeling that 9/11 had triggered in young people around the nation and the world. First, permission to archive these items had to be gained from the first responders to whom the mail had been directed. This was readily granted. Next, she needed to solve the logistics of preserving this voluminous material . Enlisting the aid of fellow flight attendants, she was soon transporting the artwork back to Cincinnati for storage and organization. Hoggard’s unwavering enthusiasm resulted in holdings so massive that she liked to measure them by the airlines’ standard of weight — "approximately three tons." Naming the archive the "Dear Hero Collection" after the salutation most commonly used by the young well-wishers, Hoggard devoted eight years to documenting this enormous resource, sharing it with local children and museums when she could, and to researching an appropriate permanent repository for the collection, which she donated to the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum. 

Tanya Hoggard reading a note written by a child on the back of a paper flower, part of a collaborative art project. In the background is the dollar bill flag, created by children in Oklahoma.

A bed sheet hand-painted to evoke an American flag, festooned with 283 $1 bills, is one of Hoggard’s favorite creations represented in the Dear Hero Collection. Determined to alert the children who had fashioned the flag and raised money for the recovery efforts that their collaborative project had made its way to the Ground Zero community, Hoggard personally contacted the principal of the Deer Creek – Lamont Public Schools in rural Oklahoma, by searching for the return address on the original packing material in which it had been sent. Hoggard chose to leave the currency pinned to the sheet, a reflection of the children’s philanthropic spirit and design creativity. Another group project close to Hoggard’s heart is a unique laminated paper “quilt,” featuring pieces of paper decorated by individual children, stitched together with yarn.

Upon donating the Dear Hero Collection to the museum, Hoggard expressed relief at its "homecoming" to New York City, and excitement at working with the staff to catalogue the thousands of individual objects comprising the archive and share the collection’s potential as a public learning and inspirational resource.