Trade center I-beam joins Las Vegas museum

The steel I-beam stands 6 feet tall and weighs a ton.

Stuck to one side is hardened concrete that oozed through 14 bolt holes as it was attached to the floor of the World Trade Center.

Its rusted sides are dimpled from the tremendous force it endured when the New York towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

After its jagged, torched edges have been sealed for protection, the I-beam section will be mounted in place at the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, where visitors will be able to walk up and touch it.

“In the virtual world … 9/11 in most people’s minds is a series of photos that they saw of the airplane hitting the building and the buildings collapsing,” said Troy Wade, chairman of the Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation. “And that’s as close as they got to it.

“This will allow people to get a step closer, to actually touch a piece of one of the most historic occasions in the history of this country.”

The historical foundation will unveil the artifacts Feb. 27 at a public event marking the fifth anniversary of the museum at 755 E. Flamingo Road.

Lee Ielpi, founder of the September 11th Families Association, will speak at the event. His son, Jonathan, a New York City firefighter, died responding to the towers’ collapse.

The museum setting should allow visitors to draw the connection from the end of the Cold War to the Sept. 11 attacks, which launched the nation into the war on terrorism, Wade said last week as he stood by the pallet supporting the I-beam after its journey from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Next to the beam was a 3-foot-long piece of twisted tubular sheet metal from the World Trade Center. It will be preserved in a case next to a hunk of the Berlin Wall, a piece symbolic of the end of the Cold War.

The artifacts will be near the end of the timeline that visitors experience as they walk through the history of the atomic age surrounded by items from the test site, where nuclear weapons were detonated from 1951 to 1992.

Combined, the artifacts represent “a seminal piece in the history of the United States and a big piece in the history of Nevada,” Wade said.

“We’ve always said the test site helped win the Cold War, and now the test site could help win the new war,” he said. He was referring to the expanded role of the test site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, for developing counterterrorism techniques and devices.

When it opened, the museum displayed a smaller, 3-foot-long piece of I-beam from the World Trade Center that was on loan from Smithsonian Institution.

The permanent I-beam display will join other items of historical significance at the museum including Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt about the once-secret nuclear effort known as the Manhattan Project and President Harry Truman’s letter that established the test site as the nation’s continental nuclear weapons proving ground.

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