I’ve been to “Ground Zero” a number of times since 9/11. The first time was in March of 2002. Much of the area was in ruin, flyers looking for the missing were still attached to chain link fences and the only observation deck was a plywood platform that allowed you to watch crews clean up.
I was also able to see the debut for the first on-site memorial, the two “Tribute in Light” spotlights.
Nearly 13 years later, I’ve returned to lower Manhattan to see the site in it’s finished form.
Appropriately greeted by the somber sign, you’re entering the museum here after an escalator ride 30 feet below street level. The memorial’s timeline begins that morning, showing the paths of the planes over a map of the United States. After you see their path, you walk through a dark section of hallway with audio from that day and the associated captions lighting up and disappearing on curtains as you approach Foundation Hall, depicted in the featured image above.
As expected, NYPD and NYFD artifacts are all over the rooms. From spray paint on “The Last Column” to fully crushed equipment, the scale of destruction and it’s impact on both of those organizations is readily felt and understood.
After you come to grips with the spectacle of destruction, death and loss starts the weigh on your mind. For instance, this large wall holds the remains of people who died on that day.
At this time, the idea that people died here is apparent – but soon those deaths are put into perspective. As you progress through the museum, the lives lost are given names and faces. You learn about their day, the horrors they faced, and, perhaps most heart-wrenching, the people impacted by their death.
Certainly, people died on 9/11. But people also survived. They lived. They escaped. One of the first artifacts added to the museum were the “Survivors’ Stairs.” These stairs were essential for hundreds of people trying to get away from the area. These stairs led them to safety but also served as an important link in and out of Ground Zero for the long recovery and repair process.
There is plenty of wreckage to display. If you didn’t already know, these buildings were made up of a lot of steel.
1973’s Dedication Day plaque remains as a testament to the workers who built the twin towers. I can only imagine the surprise on the recovery worker’s face who happened upon this in the rubble.
While I didn’t take any photos in the Historical Exhibition, it is here that the bulk of learning and processing of the day will take place for the visitor. It is here where the museum gets into the day as-it-happened. If you lived it, prepare to re-live it. In addition to that, the museum gets into some very deep subjects. Political implications, reactions by our leaders, motivation of the terrorists and how the world has changed since that day.
Finally, the most emotional of all displays (at least for me) talks of the surviving family members of those lost on that day. One widow expressed the idea that while most of the world just wanted the day to end—to move on to September 12th and put the horrors of the day behind us—she didn’t want it to end. It was the last day that she had with her husband, the last day her daughter had with her father. I’d never heard that expressed before, and as soon as she said it, I understood.
Leaving the memorial, or while you wait for your timed entry, take some time to explore the grounds. Two 1-acre pools with the largest man-made waterfalls in the United States comprise the footprints of the Twin Towers, symbolizing the loss of life and the physical void left by the attacks. The waterfalls are intended to mute the sounds of the city, making the site a contemplative sanctuary. The names of those killed in the towers line the pools and you will often see flowers laid by the names of a loved one.
Like the Oklahoma City Bombing National Memorial, there is a survivor tree on-site.
Taking a final look back over my shoulder, since this will be the last opportunity to take a good look at One World Trade on this trip, I noticed it’s reflection in the building nearest me. I was stopped in my tracks to document the view and reflect a moment on it’s poignancy.
Admission is expensive, especially if you want to add a guided tour of the museum or the memorial outside. I recommend scheduling your visit online in advance because the crowds here are incredible. Free admission is offered on Tuesdays at 5pm-close on a first-come, first-served basis. Queue up starting at 4pm to get a ticket.
Again, great pictures and beautifully written.