Since the 1900s, Mohawk Indian ironworkers have helped define New York City’s skyline, risking their lives at gravity-defying heights to erect the steel skeletons that form the city’s iconic landscape. In the 1960s, when plans for the World Trade Center were publicized, Mohawk ironworkers proudly embraced the challenge of creating the tallest buildings in the world.
A bit of that history came to the 9/11 Memorial Museum with the donation of two construction site-issued thermoses. Kahnawake Mohawk ironworkers Peter J. Stacey and Brian Delisle donated them as mementoes of their tenure on the original WTC project.
Many of these ironworkers belonged to the Kahnawake and Akwesasne Mohawk Nations which straddle the border of New York State and Canada. During construction, the men made a practice of commuting to Manhattan, renting rooms together in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, then nicknamed “Little Kahnawake.” At the end of the workweek, they’d travel nearly 400 miles to return to the reservation in order to spend weekends with their families.
Daily work on the Twin Towers generally placed the ironworkers several stories above the highest floor that were unreachable by the service lifts. As the buildings neared their final heights, the nearly half-mile round-trip to ground level and back at lunchtime became increasingly time-consuming. Consequently, the Koch Erecting Company gave their employees thermoses in which they could transport a hot drink or meal for lunch breaks, eliminating the need to climb improvised stairways to reach the elevator and make the long trip to street level.
Stacey and Delisle retained their thermoses to remember their time as ironwork apprentices with Local 40. They donated them to the museum in honor of their Mohawk heritage, and to acknowledge the role played by a new generation of ironworkers in rebuilding the WTC site.
By Alex Drakakis, Assistant Collections Curator