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New Exhibit at Springfield Museums Honors Firefighters Lost on 9/11

SPRINGFIELD — In the months prior to 9/11, firefighter Peter Freund had been considering a career change after 23 years with the FDNY. One week after he perished at the World Trade Center, Freund’s family received a letter confirming his acceptance to teach high-school mathematics.

Described by some as “a living saint,” chaplain Mychal Judge was the first FDNY casualty listed on 9/11, entry number 0001. His helmet was later presented as a gift to the Pope.

A proud first-time uncle, firefighter William Johnston, had been looking forward to the baby shower on Sept. 30. His remains were found at Ground Zero that afternoon.

These are just a few of the stories that await visitors who come to view “Better Angels: the Firefighters of 9/11,” a new traveling exhibit at the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History opening Tuesday, Jan. 12 and running through July 10. The exhibit features 343 portraits by artist Dawn Howkinson Siebel, one for every New York City firefighter lost in the World Trade Center attacks. Together, the images create a wall measuring 21 feet long, allowing visitors to come face to face with men who made their living running toward danger and saving lives, even at the risk of their own.

Siebel, a current resident of Easthampton, was living in Colorado at the time of the attacks, but had been a longtime resident of Manhattan in the years prior. Inspired when the New York Times printed photos of all 343 fallen FDNY members, Siebel set out to paint a portrait of every firefighter lost on that fateful day. Over the next few years, she painstakingly hand-painted each portrait onto a block of charred wood. In total, the exhibit took 3,000 hours and over six years to create.

In her artist statement for the exhibit, Siebel said, “these 343 firemen represent New York, the FDNY, their selfless profession, and also — in the way of heroes — the possibility that each of us may rise to the ‘better angels’ of our own nature.”

To mark the opening week of the exhibit, Siebel will speak at the weekly Museums à la Carte lecture on Thursday, Jan. 14 at 12:15 p.m.

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