Pinnacle Anniversary Tribute Golf Balls
In most suburban homes, you wouldn’t be surprised to find an array of dusty objects—pencil sharpeners, empty milk bottles, skateboards, air fresheners and perhaps a Mr. Potato Head—tucked into corners of spare bedrooms. In Andrew Marietta’s house, in Cooperstown, New York, this stuff shares a common theme: September 11, 2001.
Marietta is the owner of one of the world’s largest private collections of September 11 memorabilia. Stored in boxes scattered around his home are 1500 to 2000 objects originally produced by companies to commemorate the event. Many of these items are strange in their ordinariness: Marietta’s collection includes not just plaques and flags but things like pens, candy and tissue boxes. Marietta is 35, and works at a nonprofit association and manages rental properties. He has been amassing these objects since 2001, when, as a museum studies graduate student, he noticed entire aisles of grocery stores and corridors of malls erupting in red, white and blue. “It was almost like 9/11 was its own brand,” he said.
Mainstream brands were behind the effort: Mars, Maker’s Mark, Hasbro, Ty Inc., Yankee Candle, and Tiffany & Co. were among the companies who produced and sold 9/11-themed versions of their regular products, often promising to donate a portion of the proceeds to charities. These days, the mass-marketing of tribute items is more controversial. In 2011, in the months leading up to 9/11′s tenth anniversary, a new deluge of commemorative products such as a bottle of Merlot priced at $19.11 were deemed “grotesque” and “exploitative.” As Stephen Colbert put it then, in a segment titled “Shopping Griefportunities”: “They hated our way of life. And what typifies our way of life more than selling each other useless crap made in China?”
While 9/11-themed silverware might not be ideal for a dinner party, it can have another use: helping people connect with a tragedy by serving as tangible proof that it actually happened. The more quotidian an object, the further it is in magnitude from the event it’s meant to conjure. That’s a distance that can be offensive—yet everyday stuff, by virtue of its ubiquity, is also more likely to trigger a memory than sacred things we unwrap only once a year.
I asked Marietta for his thoughts on tribute objects, shopping as therapy, and tracking down old beer bottles on eBay. We spoke by phone.
Bin Laden Target Golf Ball
Alice Hines: What is the most interesting item you’ve acquired recently?
Andrew Marietta: This six pack of beer I got last week on eBay is pretty cool. It’s a brand called Fire Company Brew, made by a retired firefighter who was at the Twin Towers on 9/11. The bottles are empty because the previous owner drank the beer, but it’s basically a bottle with a fire department insignia and a label that explains the concept. There’s a whole thing about how money goes back to support a Fire Company Brew victims fund. It’s interesting to see how people started their own little businesses around the concept of 9/11.