Inside the Johnny Cash Museum gift shop in Nashville, Tennessee are pieces of original steel beams from the Twin Towers.
They’ve been crafted into two sculptures, one reading ‘CASH’ with replica towers to the right side and the other the full name of the musician. The sculpture reportedly was gifted to Bill Miller, the owner and operator of the Cash museum.
On a recent trip, a retired police officer stumbled upon the steel remains and saw the piece just sitting on a shelf in a gift shop. What’s worse, he swore he saw a price tag on the sculpture.
After learning of the placement of these steel memorials, police organization Brothers Before Others became upset, saying that their placement was disrespectful to the memory of lives lost in 9/11.
When they first approached the owner of the Johnny Cash Museum, they had a simple request. Stop using the sacred steel as a way to lure people into the gift shop and give it a proper display.
Now get this. The website, which has since been changed, seemed to try and get customers into the gift shop by advertising the steel sculptures.
Thousands of people died that day.
Thousands more are continuing to suffer from long term health benefits because of that day and the days following.
So how did the owner of the museum come into these pieces of original steel from the WTC?
It was a gift from a man named Stanley Conroy, General Foreman for the Freedom Tower project.
Pictures of Conroy’s Facebook clearly indicate what an avid fan he was of Johnny Cash.
Taking remnants of the WTC was never kosher. That’s not to say it didn’t happen. In fact, tons of the original pieces of the structure were reportedly removed from the premises without permission. The rest of the useable steel was eventually transported to a heavily guarded hangar at JFK airport.
But are there legal repercussions for taking it? That’s up to the Port Authority.
One thing is for certain, though. This steel isn’t just some cheap memorabilia to put on display as a tourist attraction. This should be given proper tribute to honor the brave men and women who ran toward one of the most terrifying scenes in American history. That’s where BBO stepped in.
Brothers Before Others told LET that they are not looking for a shouting match. They’re not creating an issue just for the sake of it as Miller reportedly claimed. It is simply a call for respect.
Steel from the wreckage doesn’t belong amongst shot glasses and t-shirts. It belongs in a protected home that allows people to pay homage to the lives lost that day.
WTC steel was and still is heavily regulated by the Port Authority. Just go online and check out the lengthy application process to receive a piece of the rubble for a memorial. The Port Authority keeps a documented list so that travelers can locate sections of the memorial around the country.
The Johnny Cash Museum is not on that list.
When the Port Authority gave away steel for memorials in 2009, they had some very strict rules.
The steel MUST be used in a memorial open to the general public such as in parks, fire/EMS/police stations, emergency service training grounds for uniformed personnel or places of public assembly. The steel is not intended for and may not be used in personal collections, sold or used for fundraising. All requests for steel MUST be in writing on official letterhead from an officer of the requesting agency, or a not for profit organization and will be verified.
These sculptures, however, don’t meet those requirements.
Steel that was quite literally taken from ground zero shouldn’t be used to increase profits. Period.
Other people have come under heavy fire in the past for taking steel from the site. One officer was publicly chastised and threatened with lawsuits when he took steel remains to give to family members of fallen officers.
Brothers Before Others published the following press release on Tuesday.
“No one knows the needs and concerns of police officers and their families quite like police officers and their families. Unless you do this job and live this life, there is no story that I can tell you that will make you FEEL our perspective. The divide between the way law enforcement views things and the way civilians view things rears its’ head every so often. It’s unavoidable. Which brings me to the latest example to cross my plate.
One of our members, who is also a retired NYPD police officer, was traveling with his family and decided to make a stop at the Johnny Cash Museum located in Nashville, Tennessee. That stop is a no-brainer as Johnny Cash is as much a part of Americana as any individual, living or deceased. During his tour, he stopped in the gift shop. He observed two sculptures that were made from steel taken from the World Trade Centers in New York City. Having worked that day in NY and the months that followed, seeing what he believed to be a price tag on one of the sculptures enraged him.
While it was later determined that neither of the donated/gifted sculptures were, in fact, for sale, many of our members, including myself, have concerns over their placement. The sculptures are advertised on the museums website as being located in the gift shop, in what could be perceived as an attempt to draw people into that area; essentially ‘buy-a-shirt’ clickbait. These items deserve to be treated and displayed in a manner befitting their source and the lives lost that day.
When confronted with that point of view, instead of trying to understand the point of view of our members, many who also worked during that time period, they responded with dismissal, arrogance and even aggression. Our perspective was dismissed as ‘invalid’ and we were advised that WE were missing the point. According to the museum staff, the placement of the steel sculptures was irrelevant because they ‘get 500,000 people through the door every year’.
As a retired NYPD police officer myself and someone whose career encompassed both the 1993 WTC bombing and 9/11, I find it unconscionable that my opinion would be dismissed so easily when it comes to the handling of such a treasure.
Time is relentless. I accept that. 9/11 is being taught to high school children now as a part of history; something they weren’t alive for. While every living person understands the gravity of that day, it’s meaning and impact is different for every individual. As such, I am not upset with the notion that someone may see the issue here or not. What I am upset with is the ease with which our collective point of view is dismissed.
Let this serve as official notice that now you have my attention. This issue needs to be discussed and should be easily resolved. The disrespect that was shown to me, my members and my charity will not be tolerated.
Michael J Burke, President & Founder
Brothers Before Others”
Rob O’Donnell is the Director of Business and Media Relations for BBO. He took to social media to suggest a new placement for the steel.
The group was upset over how quickly Miller wrote them off when they requested proper placement of the sculptures. These are, in fact, heroes that served on 9/11 and the days after.
Burke also reached out to Miller via Facebook:
“You talk about how we ALL should remember yet show no empathy or compassion towards those who REMEMBER all to well in ways YOU clearly do not understand. Having a differing opinion on the placement of these “gifts” or what Cash has to do with 9/11 in the first place is a valid question to be asked.
If you are in fact the representative of the Museum and in affect The Cash Family maybe put your ego aside and try and be a little more understanding and compassionate in your response and not so dismissive.
Michael J Burke
President/Founder of a nationally recognized Law Enforcement Charity Brothers Before Others – public, World Trade Center First Responder and Life Long Johnny Cash fan.”
Burke raises a valuable point. What is the significance of Cash and September 11th?
Johnny Cash died in 2003. The steel worker gave the museum owner the sculpture ten years later, in 2013. The steel worker was obviously an avid fan of Cash (who isn’t?), but the link we’re seeing is unclear. Why should an officer who worked on that infamous day be crucified in the media for what he did and a yet foreman can take steel from the same site and gift it to whoever he wants?
Priorities are a little screwed up there.
During an interview in 2002 with Larry King, Johnny Cash talked about September 11th.
“KING: We’re back with Johnny Cash. You’re very involved in patriotism, sing a lot of patriotic songs, get involved in your country a lot. Where were you on 9/11?
CASH: I was at our farm in Middle Tennessee, little 107-acre farm, watching television.
KING: You were up?
CASH: I was up watching television.
KING: Remember your first thoughts?
CASH: A chill went over me. I just thought, You know, it’s an invasion. I felt like it was an invasion of war.”
A review of the museum’s Twitter account shows no mention of the events of 9/11 from 2017 – 2018. They did, however pay their respects to Cash on the anniversary of his death — September 12th.
So now the group is waiting to see how Miller will respond.
Will the steel get a new home?