TV's 'Rescue Me' donates 9/11 items to Smithsonian

Associated Press
Actor Denis Leary speaks at a news conference at the National Museum of American History in Washington, Thursday, July 14, 2011, to announce the donation of props, including the bunker gear (protective clothing) that Leary wore on the show the show "Rescue Me". (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
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Actor Denis Leary speaks at a news conference at the National Museum of American History in Washington, …

WASHINGTON (AP) — Denis Leary donated props, costumes and other objects from his TV series "Rescue Me" to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History on Thursday because of the show's connection to New York City firefighters after Sept. 11.

Leary's firefighter costume, helmet and tools are the first items included in the museum's entertainment collection relating to 9/11 as the 10th anniversary approaches. The FX firehouse drama is about firefighters dealing with the grief of losing friends and relatives at ground zero.

The show would have been impossible without help from New York firefighters to help the cast create fire scenes, learn their humor and see their work, Leary said.

"The thing that was attractive to me was brave men and what they do," Leary told The Associated Press, recalling how he created the show after his cousin died on duty as a firefighter and how he had admired the firehouse culture that helped them carry on amid tragedy.

Leary also knew firefighters who were at ground zero on Sept. 11. About a year after the attacks, he and co-creator Peter Tolan moved forward with the idea of a firehouse drama.

"Because it was 9/11, it had a real national shadow of grief about it," he said. "Peter and I were both attracted to the idea of having a long shot of repeatedly being able to examine these guys."

The show had its final season premiere Wednesday night. It ends its seven-year run just before the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

Its "tough and gritty portraits" of the lives of firefighters drew the museum's attention, said Dwight Blocker Bowers, curator of the entertainment collections.

"The situations on the show perhaps add a little bit of soothing to the people who lived through 9/11 because the leading character is haunted by memories constantly," he said.

The donation is the first in a series of events at the museum to mark the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 and examine how it will be remembered and how life has changed.

Curators also have collected more than 350 real Sept. 11 objects from the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon, and the site of the Flight 93 plane crash in Pennsylvania, and some will be shown for the anniversary in September. The museum, which Congress designated as the national repository for 9/11 objects, also is seeking items that are still held as evidence in ongoing FBI cases relating to the Guantanamo Bay prison and others.

There are no immediate plans to display the items from "Rescue Me," though Bowers said he expects the museum will find a space. He said it's an opportunity to examine the impact of Sept. 11 on popular culture and how TV can mirror real concerns in American life, delving into issues of depression and alcoholism.

Tolan, the show's executive producer, said "Rescue Me" won't be the last to examine 9/11.

"I think, if anything, we were a little bit before our time," he said. "Once enough time has passed, and people are able to look at this tragedy and embrace it a little bit more, this will be seen as just a small step in the road to healing and acceptance for an awful day in American history."

Leary said he hopes the show's props and costumes at the museum will be a reminder of the firefighters and "how great these guys are."

"This is one of the few things in my career, my life that impressed my mother when I called and told her," Leary said. "Thank you for allowing me to impress her at least one time."

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