Found in the disaster and destruction of Ground Zero was a 36-foot-tall piece of steel that was still anchored to bedrock. The piece of steel, later identified as part of the South Tower, stood apart from the rest of the columns found within the 16-acre site. Using heavy equipment, workers tried to pry it from the ground but it would not budge, despite every attempt.
For rescue and recovery workers, this was more than just a stubborn steel column. The column was also near the South Tower’s lobby elevator banks, one of the last known locations of some first responders who reported to the World Trade Center on 9/11. The remains of six missing men from FDNY’s Squad 41 were found in the area. Soon after, the first marking “SQ 41” was spray painted on the column by a squad member.
Over time, uniformed agencies, recovery workers, relatives and friends of victims filled the column with inscriptions, tributes and remembrances on the column. Some left pictures, flowers, memorial cards and tribute notes, others signed their name, left union stickers and agency patches. The column became a symbol of loss, resilience and community.
Joseph Johnson and Herbert Minks who were cousins also known as the Cigar Guys of Ground Zero, placed these stickers on the Last Column on May 28, 2002, the day the column was cut down.
Salvation Army Volunteer Jennifer Spano, who worked during the nine-month recovery period, contributed the “NYC FOREVER STRONG” marking to the column.
The New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) managed demolition, excavation and debris removal operations at Ground Zero, working with other government agencies and coordinating construction workers from numerous building trade unions.
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 608 responded to the World Trade Center to participate in rescue efforts at the site. The members searched for survivors, participated on the bucket brigades and performed construction and carpentry work during the recovery effort.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers members of Local 3 worked at Ground Zero during the rescue and recovery period. Their work included installing temporary lighting for nighttime search efforts.
The column stood in place to the very end of the rescue and recovery effort. It was the last artifact to leave the site and is now known as the Last Column.
Two ceremonies marked the completion of the recovery period at Ground Zero. On May 28, 2002, in a private ceremony for relief workers, the column was cut from its anchor in bedrock and draped with an American flag. Two days later, on May 30, the Last Column was removed in a public ceremony attended by thousands and watched by millions on television. Family and friends of victims, members of the armed forces, dignitaries, and rescue, recovery and relief workers watched as the column was ceremoniously driven off the site while “Taps” and “America, the Beautiful” were played.