Area residents will be invited to touch the tragedy and heroism of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City when a special exhibit arrives in East Peoria later this month.
It will cost them nothing. The foundation sponsoring the exhibit, however, will accept help in its cause to keep that heroism alive by housing badly wounded soldiers and orphaned children.
For six days beginning Aug. 24, the Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino will host the mobile exhibit Never Forget, created and funded by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
It will arrive a day earlier, escorted by a phalanx of area first-response agencies on Interstate 74. An opening ceremony will be held the next day.
The exhibit is dedicated to the 414 New York (FDNY) firefighters and police who sacrificed their lives responding to terrorists’ assaults by hijacked planes on the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. In total, 2,606 people died at the towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
Siller was one of the 343 firefighters who died trying to rescue occupants of the towers. Off duty when the attacks began, he donned his heavy gear and, with traffic blocked, ran three miles from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the towers, where he perished when they collapsed.
The Par-A-Dice provided funding to the foundation for the Never Forget exhibit, said Tyler Laine, a grant analyst for the New York-based Siller foundation.
“It’s a very large truck” that’s “very expensive” to travel for displays across the nation, she said. “It’s an ongoing tour. As of now, we’re booked through 2017.”
The exhibit “probably came up on the radar” of Par-A-Dice, which “has been very benevolent to the community, (with) very low-key involvement in charities,” said Rick Swan, president of the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce. A Par-A-Dice spokesman was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
The exhibit is a high-tech, 53-foot tractor-trailer that unfolds into a 1,000-square-foot exhibit floor. In it are features and artifacts for interactive education of the historic day, including steel beams from the towers, videos and recordings of first-responder radio transmissions.
Visitors will be guided by several active FDNY firefighters who, Laine said, responded to the towers on 9/11.
The Siller family created the non-profit foundation to honor their lost hero, who was orphaned at 10 but became a father of five, by pursuing several efforts.
Laine said its main project is Building for America’s Bravest, providing funds to construct homes to meet the special needs of badly wounded veterans recently returned home. Fifteen vets are on the current waiting list, she said.
The foundation also funds a residence to temporarily shelter recently orphaned teens in New York and helped rebuild an orphanage damaged by the Haiti earthquake, according to its website.
One of its largest funding sources are about 20 annual Tunnel to Tower 5k runs and walks held in September across the nation. More than 25,000 runners take part in the New York run, Laine said.
The 9/11 exhibit, to run through Aug. 29, will be free of charge, but donations will be accepted. Donations also can be made through the foundation’s website.
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