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The 9/11 Memorial – A Powerful, Meaningful, Necessary Experience

NYC History NYC Story Tour Story

Entrance to the 9/11 Memorial, on West and Albany streets

Matt and I were invited to visit the 9/11 Memorial on the first day it opened to the public, Sept 12th, courtesy of our friends at NYC & Co. and NY Water Taxi. As I described in last week’s post, I outlined the challenges of touring the vast, cacophonous and busy construction site known to many as Ground Zero, although most New Yorkers now refer to it as the World Trade Center. Our challenges have been logistical: where can we bring groups to see the site as well as hear our commentary above the din? Also educational: how to best balance the history of 9/11 with descriptions of the new World Trade Center? We used historical photos coupled with futuristic visions, via Ipad, of what was being built. But standing so far removed from the Memorial was like trying to watch a ballgame from rooftops near Ebbets Field (in the Winter Garden) or a peering into a knothole in a fence (via Liberty St.) We were about to experience it by standing in the middle of the infield of Yankee Stadium.

Mark along the queue to enter the Memorial. Thats #1 WTC behind him.

On Monday, we waded through thousands of visitors eager to pay respects. Unfortunately for them, they lacked the free, timed & required passes available for entry. We approached the 9/11 Memorial on Albany Street and Greenwich streets and made our way through a labyrinth of security, metal detectors, and multiple checks of our passes. Eventually we wound our way into the West Street side of the Memorial Plaza.

The peaceful entrance at the Southwest corner of the 9/11 Memorial.

As our photos show, the Plaza is a peaceful expanse of lawn and swamp white oak trees, with the rapidly rising #1 World Trade Center towering over the site, now at 80 of its eventual 104 stories, and should be completed in 2012. WTC #4 is nearing it’s final height of 977 feet.

The entry pavilion to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, under construction.

The undulating steel of the entry pavilion to the Memorial Museum, surrounded by construction, is right in-between the two Memorial Voids and will open on 9/11/2012. But we found the most important aspect to be the two Memorial Voids themselves.

Matt and Mark at the South Void

We approached the South Void, where the names of the First Responders are cut into the facade of simple. elegant, bronze plaques. We happened to be standing right in front of Father Mychal Judge, the beloved Fire Department Chaplain. There were still flowers and American flags sticking out of the holes of the names. The power of the empty holes of names, framing the water roaring down into the void, combined with the majesty of the somber black granite made for a powerfully sad yet strong sense of the place.

Father Mychal Judge, Firefighting Chaplain, South Tower

The variety of names surrounding the voids is astonishing.

One thing we immediately noticed on the plaques (similar to the Vietnam Memorial) was the amazing range of “foreign” names from all over the world: Chinese, South Asian, Muslim, Russian, Mexican and more. The victims came from 93 countries. Anybody who thought that this attack was just on NYC or the USA need just look at the names to feel the loss of families from all over the world. Each of the victims of 9/11 was an American, regardless of the nationality of their passports.

Mark and the North Memorial Void, with #1 WTC behind him amid construction.

Then we, as tour guides, scoped out  the site  as a itinerary “experience” (the word ‘attraction” just doesn’t seem right,) figuring out how visiting the 9/11 Memorial can work best for our groups with regards to flow, content, timing, and more. We knew that this is a Must See for our clients, groups and visitors. We also know that the days of peeking at the site from the Winter Garden or on Liberty Street are over. The 9/11 Memorial is complete and open to the public, and it is a powerful and reassuring experience that visitors from all over the world deserve – to both reflect on the tragedy as well as celebrate the resilience of our great city.
By Mark Levy

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