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.


Maya Yang

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
9/11 Memorial Museum: an emotional underworld beneath Ground Zero

Scorched car doors, salvaged firefighters' uniforms, banners and toys ... the relics of the twin towers have been elevated into art objects at the new museum, which opens this month after years of wrangling

Oliver Wainwright

14, May, 2014 @11:08 AM

Article image
New York officials locked in row over 9/11 museum costs and control

Arguments over who will pay ballooning construction costs – as well as an estimated $60m annual maintenance – delay museum

Ed Pilkington in New York

10, Sep, 2012 @8:43 PM

Article image
New York’s lesser-known 9/11 museum to shut down
The 9/11 Tribute Museum is closing its doors permanently after running up too much debt during the pandemic

Maya Yang

17, Mar, 2022 @2:58 PM

Article image
Statue of Liberty museum: design unveiled for new $70m project
New interactive museum will be first building constructed on Liberty Island in decades

Amber Jamieson in New York

07, Oct, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
New York museum to close halls featuring Native American artifacts
Move is in response to recently updated federal law requiring consent from Indigenous peoples to display their objects

Maya Yang

27, Jan, 2024 @2:23 PM

Article image
The Met museum to reject donations from Sackler family over opioid crisis
Move follows similar recent decisions about Sackler philanthropy, including by the Guggenheim museum and the Tate in Britain

Joanna Walters in New York

15, May, 2019 @7:49 PM

Article image
Whitney museum trustee resigns after protests over sale of teargas
Warren Kanders is the chairman and CEO of Safariland, a company that sells military gear including teargas canisters

Edward Helmore in New York

25, Jul, 2019 @8:02 PM

Article image
Top New York museum to remove all human remains from display
President of American Museum of Natural History says historical thinking around such displays ‘deeply flawed’

Edward Helmore

15, Oct, 2023 @7:59 PM

Article image
US museum curator accused of trying to smuggle spider and scorpion samples out of Turkey
Expert with American Museum of Natural History held in Istanbul after allegedly trying to take about 1,500 samples

Edward Helmore

13, May, 2024 @2:34 PM

Article image
MoMa urged to drop Philip Johnson's name over architect's fascist past
After Harvard University said his racism and white supremacy had no place in design, the New York museum is under pressure to act

Miranda Bryant in New York

13, Dec, 2020 @8:00 AM