By Daniel DeMarco |Copy Editor|
If you have not read Part I, click here.
The tower is certainly the landmark of New York City. You can see One World Trade Center from all over, even from outside Manhattan in New Jersey or in Brooklyn.
As a result, one is frequently reminded of why that tower is there—symbolically and literally.
I visited the site for a second time; the first visit ended without having time to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
Stepping foot on the site immediately brought back heavy feelings. Seeing the two fountains only intensified those feelings and you’re compelled to go stand at the edge to look and contemplate, even if just for a moment.
Entering the museum, it’s immediately apparent how much effort and care went into it; the entire site is constructed to the highest order.
The museum is a homage to the Twin Towers themselves and their history, as well as to the events of 9/11 and its aftermath.
Its location is actually underground, beneath the plaza of the memorial—in fact, the walls of the fountains can be seen from inside the museum and there are exhibits to be seen underneath both fountains, which occupy the exact locations of each original tower.
The massive space outside of the exhibits stretches between both tower locations and wraps around each. The ceiling sits some three or four stories above your head.
Various items and artifacts, all associated with the location or the events of 9/11 in some way, occupy the space.
You’ll find yourself walking past damaged tower beams, personal items recovered from the rubble, pictures taken before, during, and after the attacks, destroyed professional gear such as vehicles and tools, and original structural foundation, which was not built over or taken down for the museum.
Much of the museum prohibits photography, and rightfully so. It is not a place appropriate for people to
take photos of themselves or even of every object or artifact they can find. It forces people to really soak in what they see because they will not have any pictures to remind them; they will only have their organic memories.
Two photos, in particular, continue to dwell in mine.
In what must have been afternoon of that Tuesday, an aerial shot was taken over lower Manhattan; the entirety of lower Manhattan was enveloped in a harsh cloud of dust and smoke.
I can’t stress the harshness of the cloud enough; the common qualities one would think of when considering the concept of a cloud were absent. There was no smoothness, no softness, nor evenness to it.
Instead, the cloud was closer to resembling the mass of rubble and twisted metal it harbored beneath.
Not only had the aesthetics of the cloud stood out to me, but also the size. It was something I had perhaps not realized before, or maybe just forgot: all of lower Manhattan bears the mark of that day.
You don’t have to be at the memorial to be on the ground where property was destroyed, people died, debris was strewn, or where the buildings fell; by simply walking around lower Manhattan, you are on the very ground of that day—ground forever scarred.
Block after block—east and west, north and south—suffered just as Ground Zero.
Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the plaza, where the towers once stood, has something extra special. It is, in a sense, a sacred ground—a holy ground.
The exhibits featured at the museum unquestionably bring this to light, if one had not quite felt it yet.
One exhibit acts as a journey; through a series of rooms, you go through the events leading up to, the events of, and the aftermath of 9/11—visually, textually, and aurally.
The rooms are filled with displays, from watches to actual fire trucks, from that day while the walls are covered in photos, video screens, and text.
It is most certainly a journey to watch actual news broadcasts from that morning—on display over the course of the exhibit.
These broadcasts are what most of us around the world experienced 9/11 by, after all.
I will always remember watching the news and seeing the second plane hit live; that was arguably the single moment
any thought of the first plane being a freak accident was erased collectively worldwide and replaced with the realization that something was really wrong—it was intentionally wrong
What I think often gets forgotten in the reflection of 9/11 are the sounds, particularly the voice recordings of victims and witnesses and the stories survivors tell.
The exhibit featured many areas to hear these recordings, even in some instances providing specific information from where the person was in a building or a plane.
Throughout the visit, a pit grew in my gut; the experience had me churning emotionally, even more so than my first visit
a few days prior.
A recording is what pushed me over the edge.
A five-minute audio montage featured a firefighter telling part of his story, shortly before his company began ascending one of the towers.
He recounted how they stood outside at the base of the building, getting ready to make the climb over 80 stories.
Their captain looked up the tower as debris
fell all around them and told them, to my remembrance: “Guys, we may not live through today. I want to wish all of you the best of luck up there.”
He and the rest of the company looked at one another for a moment,
reflecting what they might be getting themselves into.
“We all took a moment to shake each other’s hand, and then we headed up.”
As I stood in a dark room surrounded by strangers all engaged in the same stories and recordings, hearing that firefighter’s short story broke me.
It was a group of selfless men, all very aware of the complete danger they were putting themselves in to help people in trouble. They accepted what could very well have been their final day and, in a very human moment, they enjoyed a potential last moment together to appreciate each other before switching gears and making their lives
I don’t know what the rest of the story is for them; I don’t know if they all survived or not, and it bothers me, even here as I write this.
Something else that
stuck with me is actually related to the other photo I mentioned.
At the beginning of the museum, there is a large photo on the wall of the Twin Towers taken from Brooklyn.
The towers are in full glory, standing tall above the city on a bright, sunny day with clear skies.
The plaque to the right of the photo provides the date and time of its capture. It is dated September 11, 2001, 8:30am—16 minutes before Tower 1 was hit; 16 minutes before 9/11, as it has come to be known as, begun.
Apparently, as it has come to my attention this week, it is one of the most memorable aspects of that day to the people present in New York: it was an exceptionally beautiful morning—a picture-perfect morning.
As haunting as that photograph is to look at and reflect on in retrospect, it also radiates with the undeniable natural beauty that began as Tuesday, September 11, and the powerful endearing image
the Twin Towers have become. It is the quintessence of double meaning.
It brings me back to that first photo because outside of that harsh cloud smothering lower Manhattan, it is still the same beautiful day.
You don’t notice it unless you actively take your focus off of the destruction, but it’s there.
The enveloping cloud acts as a grim distraction from the rest of the world to those looking from without. From within, it acted as a perverse prison from the outside; everything and everyone inside experienced the bleak horror of hell.
The disgusting, callous irony of what the day began as and what it became are captured in those photos.
Individually, they act as ominous symbols of that day, each with a different side to demonstrate; juxtaposed, they tell an intensely dark story.
Overall, I am left with a complex web of feelings, thoughts, and memories, but if one thing effectively brought stability to myself, it was the exhibit: In Memoriam.
Located beneath what was the south tower, In Memoriam is specifically dedicated to the victims of 9/11.
The two fountains are lined with the names of all the people who died as a result of 9/11 and the victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; as I mentioned in Part I, it’s important to remember they’re not just names.
In Memoriam cements this with its four walls
covered by the photographs of all 2,983 victims.
It was a personal experience quite unlike anything I’ve felt before to walk slowly around that room, looking at everyone on the wall; it felt like the conclusion of my self-imposed redemption—it was almost healing over the course of that solemn walk.
Every name has a face.
The faces on those walls know no boundaries.
They are men and women.
They are children, adults, and senior citizens.
They are of all skin colors.
They are fat, skinny, and average.
They are blue collar and white collar.
Some were sharp professional photos.
Some were casual family photos taken in the spur of the moment.
Some were school photos celebrating graduations.
Some wore smiles.
Some wore straight expressions.
But all were more than faces; they were people; they were our fellow human beings.