“Rescue Me” Stars Visit the Smithsonian

Denis Leary donated props from the show "Rescue Me."
Denis Leary donated props from the show "Rescue Me." Courtesy of the National Museum of American History

The National Museum of American History gained a little star power yesterday when actors Denis Leary and Lenny Clarke stopped by to donate a few objects from their hit television show, Rescue Me.

Rescue Me, which airs on FX, follows a community of post-9/11 New York City firefighters in and out of burning buildings, high-drama relationships (it’s complicated) and other volatile situations. The show just premiered the first episode of its seventh and final season on Wednesday.

Leary and Clarke, joined by executive producer and writer Peter Tolan, donated objects including Leary’s firefighter’s costume, props such as an axe, flashlights and helmets and Tolan’s annotated script from the pilot episode, all of which will be added to the museum’s popular culture history collections.

Co-creators Leary and Tolan said they were honored and amazed to have objects from their show displayed at the Smithsonian.

“This is kind of a big thing for me–this is one of the few things in my career, in my life, that impressed my mother when I called her and told her,” Leary said.

The donation ceremony is the first in a series of events sponsored by the museum that will commemorate the 10th anniversary of September 11. Rescue Me was inspired in part by the tragedy, and Leary’s character on the show, Tommy Gavin, is haunted by his cousin, a firefighter who died in the 9/11 attacks.

“Rescue Me isn’t the end all of the examinations of 9/11 in entertainment, but I think once enough time has passed, and people are able to look at this tragedy, they will see it as a small step on the road to healing and acceptance for an awful day in our history,” Tolan said.

Museum curators said the donations will help to represent the place that popular culture, and in particular television, has in telling the story of 9/11.

“Americans rely on popular culture, our movies, our TV shows, to touch on and reflect on what happens in real life,” said Melinda Machado, the museum’s

Donated bunker gear worn by Leary in the show “Rescue Me”
Donated bunker gear worn by Leary in the show “Rescue Me” Courtesy of the National Museum of American History

The Smithsonian was designated the national repository for September 11 collections by Congress in 2002, and other items in the collections include photographs, parts of the planes, parts of the fire trucks and first responder uniforms, as well as oral histories, scrapbooks and personal memorials. This fall many of those artifacts will go on temporary display from September 3 through September 11 between 11 and 3 at the museum.

“In many ways, Denis and Peter’s donation today is their own personal memorial,” said Cedric Yeh, the collections manager for the September 11 collection. “Some people raised flags, others made banners, still more sent cards and volunteered their services to the public. Denis and Peter chose to create a TV series, one that is consistently recognized for its accurate portrayal of a post-9/11 world amongst firefighters in New York City.”

The next event in the series commemorating the attacks will be “The Public Memory of September 11,” a discussion featuring representatives from the memorial projects at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and the Flight 93 site in Pennsylvania, who will talk about the challenges of commemorating recent history. The event will take place at the National Building Museum on July 26 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Donated props from the show “Rescue Me”
Donated props from the show “Rescue Me” Courtesy of the National Museum of American History
Donated props used in the show “Rescue Me”
Donated props used in the show “Rescue Me” Courtesy of the National Museum of American History

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