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Ground Zero Exhibit Tugs on Emotions

What was it like to be there, at ground zero, in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, attack?

Photographer Gary Marlon Suson has tried to re-create the look and feel of that place at the entrance to his Ground Zero Museum Workshop.

Although open for two years in a 1,000-square-foot space in New York City's Meatpacking District, the museum's entree to hell was completed only recently.

On entering, you face 76 sepia and color photographs, mounted side by side on stark white walls. A haunting, Celtic musical score plays in the background.

"It all just kind of sets the tone immediately for what you're about to experience," Suson said. "I've had people walk in and just start crying."

Suson was the only photographer granted full, all-area access during the first few weeks immediately following the attack on New York's World Trade Center. The result is a raw and powerful collection of images.

The images capture heavily outfitted firefighters picking and digging their way through a gray, smoky landscape; twisted, canted, severed and smoldering metal; and flag-draped bodies being prayed over by physically exhausted, emotionally spent firefighters.

Suson ran a photography business and worked on stage, in films and in commercials until he was named the official all-access ground zero photographer for the Uniformed Firefighters Association and Uniformed Fire Officers Association. Then, he gave up everything else to concentrate fully on ground zero.

Long after the media left "The Pit," Suson remained, continuing to document the recovery and investigation. With permission, he also recovered some items that the FBI deemed unnecessary to its investigation. Many of those now are part of the museum's exhibit --teddy bears that had been for sale in the World Trade Center's gift shop, a frayed firefighter's hose, a wall clock with hands frozen at 10:02:14 a.m., the instant the south tower collapsed.

For six months, Suson says he worked 19-hour days, sleeping maybe five hours a night in St. Paul's Church and eating meals in relief centers.

For this work, he got no money and, like so many ground zero workers, he is immuno-compromised and has developed ongoing pulmonary problems.

Then, with $60,000 --some of it his own savings, much of it in donations from private individuals and Manhattan businesses --he opened the museum workshop in September 2005.

"As caretaker of this important collection," Suson said, "I feel the responsibility to make sure that the world never forgets."

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