Ground Zero 360˚ at The Field Museum

American Flag at Ground Zero. Image Credit: Nicola McClean. Click here to view photo gallery.As the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, memorials and commemorations are underway all over the country. Here in Chicago, The Field Museum is hosting an exhibit not only to honor the victims and their families, but also the rescue workers, police and firefighters who responded to that tragedy.

It’s called Ground Zero 360˚ -- a series of photographs taken by Photojournalist Nicola McClean who arrived on the scene just after the second tower collapsed.

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The featured piece from which the exhibit takes its name is a large panoramic image she photographed at Ground Zero.

McClean says it was shot two days after 9/11.

“September 13th, yes. It’s 17 images put together to create 360 degrees,” she said. “And, as you walk through it, you’ll see all the emergency workers already set up in place. Here we have the search for the black boxes, the flight recorders. And then there’s a human remains tent in here also.”

Deeply affected by what she was witnessing, McClean says she set out to capture what she hoped would become a lasting tribute to the victims and the surviving families. She says most of the images have never been published.

“I really didn’t want to have a lot of them published back in 2001,” said McClean. “I feel now, 10 years later, you can take less of a voyeuristic approach really because of the time that has passed since the events.”

One of the photographs captured the image of McClean’s soon-to-be husband, Paul McCormack, who partnered with her to put the exhibit together. On 9/11, McCormack was New York’s Police Commander of the 41st Precinct in the South Bronx.

“It was an event nobody could prepare for,” McCormack said. “It was a stunning event. When the planes hit, we never expected the towers to fall. But when the towers fell, it was chaos. All hell broke loose, and it took us a few days to really get our feet under us and come to grips with the massive devastation down there.”

Part of that devastation included hundreds of first responders killed and thousands injured. Ground Zero 360 Exhibit at The Field Museum. Click here to view photo gallery.

The personal effects of two men who gave their lives to save others are also on display: Fire Lieutenant Paul Mitchell and Police Officer Brian McDonnell who was on Emergency Services Truck 1.

“Two men who gave the ultimate sacrifice trying to protect the citizens of New York, and we’re deeply honored that we can showcase them in this way,” McCormack said. “They represent all the police officers and firefighters that were killed on 9/11.”

Margaret McDonnell-Tiberio was married to NYPD Police Officer Brian McDonnell.

“He was a great guy. Very much a family man,” said McDonnell-Tiberio. “All of his time was spent with his family. Loved his children. He was a great husband, wonderful father, wonderful brother, son. I mean, there isn’t anyone who could say anything negative about him. He loved his job. He loved his country. He served in the military. Couldn’t wait to be a cop. I don’t think he ever would have retired. He died doing exactly what he loved.”

In addition to the personal effects of fallen rescue workers, the exhibit features granite from the North Tower and crosses cut by iron workers from the steel found in the debris.

One of the pieces in the exhibit that visitors can actually touch is a fragment of steel that was cut from one of the beams that was once part of one of the Twin Towers.

“You make a real connection when you’re able to feel the steel that once held up one of the towers of the World Trade Center,” said Janet Hong, Project Manager for Exhibitions at The Field Museum. “And it’s extraordinary that it could just crumble down to the ground into this mountain and mass. So touching, that really makes it palpable. We knew that this exhibition was a great balance between specific eyewitness views of this world-changing event and the commonalities of human culture; what everybody felt on that day of September 11th and how our world changed.”

A Wall of the Missing serves as a tribute to many other victims of the attacks, showcasing just a fraction of some of the missing posters that were scattered throughout lower Manhattan in the weeks and days thereafter.

Police radio chatter that jammed the airwaves that day is also presented.

“What we wanted to do is not only give you a visual and tactile experience here, but be able to hear the chaos and the stress from the day, from the police chatter that was going on from the police radio calls, and we put it in a separate location because we wanted people to make a choice as to whether they wanted to hear it or not,” McCormack said. “It’s in a separate area on the same floor.”

Nicola McClean says, since she shot the photographs a decade ago, her purpose and hope for the images has always been clear.

“I made a promise to myself that I would do everything in my power, as a photographer and with these photographs, to help the world to always remember and never forget,” McClean said. “I don’t know how many people would actually walk into a building to save somebody they never met before, and these guys did. And I just think that’s something that should never be forgotten.”

Ground Zero 360˚ opens on Friday, September 2, and it will be on display at The Field Museum through January 1, 2012. The exhibit is included with general admission. And the museum is free to police officers and firefighters of the City of Chicago.

For a behind-the-scenes look at the 9/11 exhibit, and to view some of Nicola McClean's powerful photographs, visit the image gallery and links below.

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