Interpreting the Last Column: The Stories Behind the Markings

Interpreting the Last Column: The Stories Behind the Markings

The Last Column was installed in the Museum in August 2009.
Photos: Last Column at Ground Zero. Gift of BC Tony Bruno/ Last Column in Museum by Jin Lee

Interpreting the Last Column: In this series, 9/11 Memorial & Museum exhibitions staff share stories behind the markings and tributes placed on the Last Column. If you signed or left a tribute on the column and would like to share your story, please write to: exhadmin@911memorial.org.

Beneath the wreckage of the Twin Towers, a 36-foot-tall piece of steel remained standing, anchored into bedrock. This steel piece was once a part of Column 1001B—one of 47 columns that supported the South Tower’s inner core. Uncovered by workers during the nine-month recovery period, this resilient steel remnant, the last column to be removed from the World Trade Center site, assumed symbolic status for those working at Ground Zero. 

Once exposed from beneath the rubble, the steel piece helped support a temporary haul road laid near the remnants of the South Tower lobby’s elevator banks. First responders last reported to have been near the lobby before the tower’s collapse were believed to be buried close by. Due to its proximity to this last known location of first responders, the column became a marker of loss. In March 2002, after the remains of some missing members of FDNY Squad 41 were found in the area, a squad member painted “SQ 41” on the column to denote the recovery. Other agencies including the NYPD and FDNY left similar markings. 

In time, recovery workers, as well as relatives and friends of victims, placed other mementos and inscriptions on the column, filling its surfaces to honor those lost. In addition to an American flag attached to the top, tributes include notes to loved ones, patriotic messages, signatures, union stickers, agency patches, photographs, memorial and prayer cards, and flowers.

The column was cut down and removed from the site in two ceremonies that marked the completion of the recovery period at Ground Zero. On the evening of May 28, 2002, trade union members cut the Last Column from its footing in a private ceremony held by and for recovery and relief workers. Workers then laid the column, shrouded in black and draped with an American flag, onto a flatbed truck. Bagpipers played "Amazing Grace." 

On May 30, 2002, the Last Column was removed from the World Trade Center site on the flatbed truck in a public, televised ceremony. Thousands of people attended including family and friends of victims, members of the armed forces, dignitaries, and rescue, recovery, and relief workers. An honor guard escorted the column from the site. Police and Fire Department buglers played "Taps," while bagpipers and drummers performed "America, the Beautiful."

The Last Column returned to the World Trade Center site and was installed in the Museum in August 2009 . Now standing in Foundation Hall, the column still bears the markings and memorial tributes.  A special ceremony to honor the sacrifices and selfless contributions of all rescue and recovery workers and their families will be held at the Last Column on Tuesday, May 30, the 15th anniversary of the end of the rescue and recovery operation.

By Emily Edwards, Collections and Exhibitions Coordinator and Katherine Fleming, Exhibition Coordinator