Albert Ogletree was just a name in the 9/11 museum until a worker stepped in

Grant Llera worked to find an old yearbook picture of the man who was working at the World Trade Center when it fell

For years, two tiles showing oak tree leaves stood above the names of two individuals in New York’s 9/11 museum’s “In Memoriam” exhibit whose photos could not be found. The rest of the exhibit features pictures of the 2,977 killed during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Now, after more than a decade of searching, a photograph of one of those two victims – a cafeteria worker at the World Trade Center – has finally been located and installed.

On 15 March, the museum replaced the tile with the leaf on it with a 1966 high school yearbook photo of Albert Ogletree, a 49-year-old who was working as a food handler in the north tower when it collapsed.

Grant Llera, a museum staff member who was often posted at the museum’s exhibition gallery became curious about the leaf tiles, which reference the swamp oak trees planted on the memorial plaza after the attacks, just a few blocks away from Ground Zero. The tiles represented the victims whose photographs could not be located: Antonio Dorsey Pratt and, until recently, Albert Ogletree.

“It always bothered me that they didn’t have photos – there was a hole in their stories that needed to be filled,” Llera told the Washington Post.

When Llera began his job at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in October 2020, he felt the need to locate the photographs to replace the two tiles. “I spend most of my time doing admissions and answering questions from visitors in the galleries, but I really wanted to take this on,” he said.

Llera’s search process began with Ogletree after he found an obituary for his wife. At that point, the information that the museum had on Ogletree was scant – it just knew that he was originally from Michigan and that he was born on Christmas Day in 1951.

At one point, Ogletree had been married but had no children with his wife, Kathleen Ogletree, who died in 2004. Through his wife’s obituary, Llera learned that Ogletree’s stepdaughter, Justine Jones, lived in New York and decided to reach out to her on Facebook.

Jones responded last summer and said she did not have any pictures of Ogletree as he was “camera-shy and didn’t like to have his photo taken”.

He then continued to search online until he came across a 1971 street address for Ogletree in Romulus, Michigan, a suburb in Detroit. Llera contacted the local high school, where staff members said they did not have yearbooks that dated back to the 1960s. Nevertheless, they said they knew someone who did.

The school directed Llera to Kathy Abdo, a former math teacher and current Romulus city councilmember. After sifting through a stack of old yearbooks at her town’s historical museum, she eventually found Albert Ogletree in a grainy black and white picture.

Ogletree, then 14 or 15, looked on in a white shirt and a slight smile. He was a freshman at the Romulus high school in 1966.

“I felt honored to help look for the photo, and to actually find it was an emotional moment,” Abdo told the Washington Post.

Abdo sent the photo to Llera, who forwarded it to Jones for confirmation. “She said his face was the same as she remembered, and she was really happy to have a photo of him,” recalled Llera.

Jones remembered her stepfather as a loving man who played an important role in her life and was a skilled electronics repairman.

“It is a place no one wishes their loved one to be seen, given the circumstances of why they are there. Nonetheless, it is so rewarding to retire that leaf icon tile with the replacement of this quietly compelling portrait,” said Jan S Ramirez, the museum’s chief curator.

Llera is now working on tracking down a photograph of Pratt.

“I hope that we can find some answers and replace the last oak leaf,” he said.

Contributor

Maya Yang

The GuardianTramp

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