'The Stories They Tell': Conserving the Last Column

Assistant conservator Maureen Merrigan treats the Last Column while kneeling on a cherry picker in Foundation Hall.
Assistant Conservator Maureen Merrigan treating the Last Column (Photo: Jin Lee)

To thousands of Ground Zero recovery workers, the Last Column represents a symbol of resilience after 9/11. Standing at 36-feet tall, the Last Column is a 58-ton beam that was part of the core structure of the South Tower. During the recovery effort, workers covered the beam with markings, pictures and tributes.  

The Last Column was removed on May 30, 2002, marking the end of the nine-month recovery period. In a large scale ceremony, the column was placed in a flatbed truck, draped with an American flag, topped with a wreath and escorted off the site by an honor guard. It was immediately transported to an empty hangar at John F. Kennedy Airport where it underwent conservation.  

Assistant Conservator Maureen Merrigan recently discussed the work involved with preserving the column as a part of “The Stories They Tell,” a live talk Museum program.

“The first treatment that was done to the column while it was at JFK was called a consolidation treatment and was used to adhere the loose and flaking fragments of the column’s face, consisting of mill scale and rust, down to the more stable surface below,” Merrigan explained.

Over time, all the posters and pictures were removed and placed on archival backings and reattached to the column. 

In August 2009, the column returned to Ground Zero, where it was placed inside the then under-construction 9/11 Memorial Museum. It is now on view in the Museum’s Foundation Hall.

“The Stories They Tell” program features Museum staff members who discuss various topics relating to artifacts, exhibitions and the making of the Memorial and Museum. The program is free with Museum admission and takes place Mondays through Fridays at noon in the auditorium.

By Claire Gallo, 9/11 Memorial Communications Intern

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