Smith Center to host 9/11 quilt

A quilt honoring the 2,997 victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will be on display in GW’s Smith Center Sept. 9-11.

Corey Gamble was inspired after visiting Ground Zero three weeks after the 2001 attacks to do something that would preserve the memories of victims and comfort the families. The quilt is the product of almost a year of work patching together pieces that memorialize the lives lost in the attacks.

The upcoming four-year anniversary of Sept. 11 will be the 29th stop the quilt has made in three years.

“It’s been the most rewarding project I’ve ever been a part of,” Gamble said from his home in Long Beach, Calif. “It makes all the hard work worthwhile when you see just one victim’s family come and be moved by the quilt.”

A combination of 142 individual quilts, each blanket has 25 blocks on it, for a total of 3,550 squares. If positioned end to end, the entire quilt would stretch a quarter mile and would be 300 feet longer than the World Trade Center was tall. Each of the victims has at least one block and some have multiple patches, such as Sirius, a New York Police Department dog who has four blocks.

“9/11 is very much a part of the American psyche today,” said Jim Hess, director of University events. “It’s very much a part of GW, too.”

Gamble’s non-profit organization, named United in Memory, inquired with GW and other D.C. venues about displaying the quilt over Sept. 11. Hess reached out for student feedback asking if students would be interested in hosting the quilt and the response was positive.

“It’s truly an honor to host this event, especially on the anniversary of the attacks,” Hess said.

The last three years the quilt has spent the Sept. 11 anniversary in New York City, but Gamble wanted the quilt to be in D.C. this year and thought GW’s Smith Center, located close to Downtown D.C., “just felt like the right place.”

That same innate feeling is what inspired Gamble to begin work on the quilt after his visit to Ground Zero.

“I didn’t know anyone in the attacks, and I really didn’t feel like the whole thing was real, until I saw Ground Zero,” Gamble said. “From there I just felt like this is what I had to do.”

In the second week of October 2001, Gamble launched his Web site, www.unitedinmemory.net, announcing his plan to construct a quilt designed like the AIDS quilt.

“Almost immediately people started asking how they could help,” said Gamble, who quit his job as a television commercial set designer to work full time to build the quilt.

Individual quilt blocks were sent to Gamble’s home from around the world and from thousands of volunteers. Blocks came from 18 different countries and celebrities such as country music star Dolly Parton. In May 2002 Gamble began constructing the more than 15,000 square feet of quilt by holding weekly sewing workshops, attended by about 450 people every Saturday in Long Beach. After an estimated 80,000 man-hours and 11 months, the quilt was completed in August 2002.

Nowadays, when the quilt makes stops around the country, between 5,000 and 15,000 people attend the exhibit. Gamble is expecting 12,000 visitors to the Smith Center while the quilt is on display there.

While Gamble initially personally funded the project, donations to United in Memory Inc. are what make showing the quilt possible.

“It’s funded by the people because it is for the people,” said Gamble, who decided not to pursue a corporate sponsor for the quilt and rely solely on public donations.

Donations to support the quilt’s travels can be made on Gamble’s Web site, www.unitedinmemory.net, or at sites where the quilt is on display.

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