How do you explain a generation-defining moment to a new generation that has no memory of it?
It is a challenge Jennie Taylor is trying to tackle this week with an ambitious interactive display dedicated to the memories and stories from the Sept. 11 terror attacks 20 years after they happened. The “Weber Remembers 9/11 Project” opens Thursday and includes hundreds of photographs, blown up 8 feet high, along with looping videos, interactive elements and chances for the public to meet first responders and military members.
“It’s kind of morphed from just a cool thing to remember to becoming very current,” Taylor said. “It feels like it’s not just another anniversary, that it’s almost come full circle.”
Full circle because the U.S. just pulled out of Afghanistan, ending a decades-long war spurred by the attacks. And full circle because nation faces another reckoning — the coronavirus pandemic — that has again affected first responders, medical workers and every American in a profound way.
But that makes it all the more difficult to explain how a 20-year-old event remains relevant in the lives of young people born after September 2001, particularly as they grapple with their own existential threats like climate change, school shootings and a nation so divided that classrooms have become the site of cultural, public health and political debates.
“I’d love to save the world. I can’t save the world,” Taylor said. “But I can have a splash in my own community. Regardless of politics, religion, race, we just want people to come together again.”
Taylor organized the Weber Remembers 9/11 Project through the foundation dedicated to her late husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, who was killed in 2018 while on his fourth deployment in Afghanistan. The project organizers expect more than 3,000 schoolchildren to visit the exhibits installed at the Weber County Fairgrounds in Ogden, and they have relied on volunteer help from university students and area schools as well to bring the project to life.
“We designed a lot of it with this younger generation in mind,” Taylor said.
Rather than focus on the horrors of a particular day, the project organizers want to also educate and remind visitors of what life was like in the United States, Utah and Weber County in the years leading up to the fall of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
“We didn’t want to just drop you into the morning of 9/11; that was abrupt. So, what was life like before?” Taylor said. “... It was just kind of a normal time to be in America, until it wasn’t.”
Sarah Langsdon, head of special collections at Weber State University, sifted through old newspapers from the 1990s until 2001 and curated an assortment of images.
“It was a really wide net,” Langsdon said, “fashion, hairstyles, music, just to give people, especially kids who would not have been born then, an idea of what life was like.”
In the images and news clippings Langsdon shared with The Salt Lake Tribune ahead of the project’s debut, life indeed seemed remarkably ordinary. They include basketball games, students heading to class on the first day of school, concerts, plays, church meetings — activities still a regular part of Utahns’ lives, at least until the pandemic’s lockdowns and closures.
“I had to laugh. You look at the fashion and hairstyles from the early ‘90s,” Langsdon said. “I can’t believe the amount of hairspray people used.”
There were snapshots unique to that period in Utah, too — dedication of the Ogden River Parkway and the unveiling the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park. Preparations for the 2002 Winter Olympics. The rise of Deedee Corradini, the first woman to serve as Salt Lake City’s mayor.
There were more somber stories as well, like the tornado that swept through Utah’s capital city, layoffs at Hill Air Force Base and plenty of airplane and helicopter crashes.
But “there was a real shift in innocence” after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Langsdon said. “People didn’t think it could happen. I think about being able to pick up someone from the airport and being able to wait at the gate with them. After 9/11, that wasn’t possible.”
Kiersten Cragun, a recent Weber State graduate who worked as an intern on the Weber Remembers 9/11 Project, was a year old when the hijacked planes damaged the Pentagon and brought down the World Trade Center towers. She has no memory of that day apart from what her parents tell her.
But in reviewing videos and news clippings from the time, Cragun said what struck her most was what happened in the days after Sept. 11, 2001.
“Our country came together [and] was able to push forward,” Cragun said, “even in such a time of loss, when people were hurting so much.”
But in her lifetime, “the world, definitely, people have grown apart.”
In the shadow of 9/11′s 20th anniversary, Cragun and the Weber County Remembers 911 organizers said they hope Utahns will set aside differences and make unity a priority once again.
“This event is going to be one where we can come together as a community,” Cragun said. “We hope as many people can attend as possible, because we believe this is important. We need to remember, experience and commit to making a difference in the world today.”
If you go
What • Weber Remembers 9/11, organized by The Major Brent Taylor Foundation.
When • 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. on Sept. 9 and 10; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on Sept. 11.
Where • Weber County Fairgrounds, 1181 Fairgrounds Drive, Ogden
Cost • Free.
What else: The foundation also will sponsor a number of events on Sept. 11, including a sunrise ceremony at the Roy, Riverdale and Weber fire stations as well as a motorcycle ride from Salt Lake City to the Ogden Amphitheater at 10 a.m. For more information, visit https://www.majorbrenttaylor.com/ or email email@example.com.