This is a piece of the emergency electrical lines that ConEdison ran into downtown Manhattan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Two of the company's substations and other infrastructure were destroyed, requiring ConEd to run 36 miles of cable like this above ground or in shallow trenches to provide power for residents, responders, and the New York Stock Exchange. Eighty-two on-site generators were brought in to feed current into the system. The unprecedented pop-up electrical system could have powered a city the size of Albany.
After power was restored, the company donated pieces of the cables to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History here in Washington, DC. Harold Wallace, Jr., curator of the NMAH's electricity collection, showed them to us as part of a behind-the-scenes look at some of the museum's rare and important artifacts.