On the morning of September 11, 2001, little forethought may have been given to shoe choice as people began their day. But once evacuation from the stricken buildings was underway, footwear took on importance as it influenced the pace of descent down crowded stairwells.
Footwear also factored into the experience of those at street level, particularly those who had to navigate through the ashen, rubble-strewn cityscape after the towers collapsed. During their exodus from lower Manhattan, countless people wearing shoes or going barefoot praised or cursed their choice.
Shoes are part of our everyday lives. Shoes worn by survivors of 9/11 serve as surrogate witnesses to their wearer’s experience of that traumatic day. Their styles and sizes are as varied as the accounts that accompany them. Most pairs bear physical markings such as scuffs, scratches, and gashes. Some have debris embedded in their soles or disfiguring blisters caused by contact heat. A few preserve traces of blood from injuries sustained by their wearers, and most carry some indication of distress in the form of World Trade Center dust.
The decision to save shoes worn on September 11 was a conscious one, whether the shoes were retained as a memento of a catastrophic event, a reminder of fate’s unpredictability, or a testament of deliverance from chaos and death. As artifacts, they enable Museum visitors to picture themselves as walking in someone else’s shoes on that tragic day.
The Museum’s collection includes more than thirty pairs of survivor shoes. Some of them are presented on this website.