WETHERSFIELD, Conn. (CN) — Judy Keane walks around the small exhibit in the Wethersfield Historical Society, showing how that town in central Connecticut mourned Sept. 11, 2001, and still remembered that date today.
On the other side of the room, in a glass display case holding relics from the former World Trade Center, a square block of steel taken from the skeleton of the twin towers sits beside a box containing debris from Ground Zero presented by the City of New York to families of the 9/11 victims.
“The box with debris in it, it’s sealed,” Keane said. “My own box is not sealed.”
Wethersfield, sitting along the Connecticut River in the central part of the state, is removed from much of the tragedy of 9/11, unlike the southwestern Connecticut cities and towns within commuting distance of New York City. Nevertheless, three of its residents died on 9/11, one of them Keane’s husband, Richard.
The exhibit shows how the community grieved. There is the art made by school children and newspapers. On the wall hangs quilts.
“Quilting was a big thing at the time,” Keane said. “It was comforting.”
Outside the exhibit hangs a sheet signed by attendees of a vigil on the town green in the aftermath of the attack. About 5,000 people showed up, bringing candles, Keane said.
According to Amy Wittorff, director of the historical society, the exhibit is one of the most important exhibits displayed by the historical society in the town founded in 1632.
It is confronting a growing reality: While Americans of a certain age know where they were on 9/11, more and more Americans are too young to actually remember it.
“I think younger people that didn't live through it, it's not in their general consciousness,” Wittorff said. “I mean, they know what happened, but … they don't have that story of where were you that day.”
It’s a stark contrast to the people who lived through 9/11 and have a story of how they found themselves, say, watching the television at work. Those are stories Keane said she finds people are compelled to tell.
Now, as the 20th anniversary arrives, a little more than a third of Americans living today were either toddling around in diapers or were not even born when the airplanes were hijacked, according to U.S. census data.
When Pew Research asked in a survey at the end of August if people knew where they were when the twin towers were hit, participants overwhelmingly said yes — if they were over the age 30. For younger Americans, the affirmative responses drop off dramatically.
In central Connecticut, like many places, there are the monuments and remembrances of 9/11 in these communities. Moments in the classroom, a small ceremony held near the anniversary of the event. At least a handful of communities acquired twisted and scarred beams from the World Tade Center, which they erected as remembrances to the attack.
According to Erika Doss, a professor of Americans studies at the University of Notre Dame, many monuments are snapshots in time, enshrining current emotions.
"Monuments do age out,” Doss said. “How many people spend much time looking at a World War I statue of a Doughboy?"
Doss sees the World Trade Center steel used as symbolic terms showing the turmoil, trauma and tragedy of the day, the structural steel acting as a kind of survivor bearing witness to it all.
She often advocates for temporary memorials.
“Do we need more memorials? Or do we need scholarship funds and all sorts of things for those 30% of Americans who weren't even born when 9/11 happened?” Doss said.
In Wethersfield, the town has done a mixture of both. In the weeks following the attack, Keane created a foundation in honor of her husband, a man she says immersed himself in the town through coaching youth sports.