Visiting 9/11

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As soon as we knew we that we were actually going to New York me and my mum wanted to go to the 9/11 Memorial. In a way it seems bizarre to want to visit such a place, wrong even to pen it in our plans along with our various tourist attractions but I suppose it was our curosity – we wanted to go and to understand what it must have been like that terrible day and the days that followed.

So on our 3rd day in New York we caught the subway to the area where the memorial is and immediately on stepping out into the street we were struck by the amount of building work going on. On our visit to New York there was a lot of work being done to buildings such as Macy’s and other areas but here their was a thick dust that filled the air as workmen drilled away and every building seemed covered in scaffolding. We were also surprised by how many people there were going to see the memorial as the streets were full of people trying to find the right road to walk down.

For anyone who hasn’t been and I’m sure many haven’t as the construction for the Memorial itself only finished in time for the 10 year anniversary in 2011, you can pay to visit the 9/11 Tribute Centre and the Memorial itself for about $12-17, or the lady at the door informed me it is possible to get free tickets to go and see just the Memorial. But as far as I am aware the majority of the proceeds from the ticket purchases go back into the upkeep of the Tribute Centre and the Memorial itself.

The Tribute Centre is extremely interesting and I really liked the way in which it was set out as in the first section there are models of the two World Trade Centres and clips and photographs and quotes about how it was going to be the new centre of the world, how excited people were that their offices were moving in there and it really put into perspective how important the buildings were and the shear amount of people who worked in them everyday. Turning round the corner though there are more videos and quotes moving along a time scale as the first building was hit and the effects that followed – some of the artefacts displayed in the Tribute Centre include a steel girder completely twisted out of shape and a fireman’s jacket which has been ripped and burnt. There is also a large number of missing posters displayed on the walls, many of them featuring the same person on a sequence of different posters or a number of people from the same office.

Up to this point I think I had felt in many ways this was similar to any other museum with the glass cabinets and writing printing on the walls, people (much to my disgust) taking photographs. However, when I turned the next corner it really seemed to hit me that what I was looking at was a human disaster, as I turned into a room filled floor to ceiling with photographs of the people who were lost of that horrific day. I just remember walking round slowly with this lump in my throat looking at all these faces and feeling overwhelmingly upset.

I am 18, I was born in 1995, I have no real memories of 11th September 2001 only stories from family members about where they were when they heard the news. I am British, I do not know anyone who died that day nor anyone who was directly affected by the loss of a person that day. In many ways I couldn’t have been much more detached from the disaster on 9/11 than I was and yet the experience of looking at these faces and even having some small idea of the awful tragedy that occured overwhelmed me.

There is however a sense of positivity and moving forward both in the Tribute Centre itself, where the downstairs floor is dedicated to information on the new developments taking place in and around the old World Trade Centre site and messages left by people from all over the world trying to share their grief and understanding of the events that occurred. One that particularly touched me was written by a British fireman who said having worked in his job for 25 years he could still not imagine the bravery and strength of the US firemen who went in to help that day.

The memorial park itself is surreal. Like most stretches of green in New York it is surrounded by large buildings and loud construction and yet it appears solemn as people move around sitting on concrete benches or walking around the large square foot fountains taking it all in. The fountains themselves are the “footprints” of the two World Trade Centres standing in the exact spot where the towers stood.

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The water cascades downwards at a sharp 45 degree angle before collecting and falling again into a small square in the middle which appears endless. Round the edge of each fountain inscribed in bronze on the parapets surrounding the fountains are the names of each person who died in each tower, accompanied by the names of firefighters, passengers on the flights, those who lost their lives at the Pentagon and those who died in a 1993 truck bomb attack in the World Trade Centre’s car park. The organisers who worked on the fountains spent a great deal of time matching names together of relatives, friends and colleagues whose names now sit alongside each other in the Memorial.

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Round the edge of the site and around the side of the museum which is being built there interactive screens are provided for relatives and friends looking for a particular name. On our way in we were given a pep-talk by a member of staff about how to behave in the park and how important it was to consider that the person standing next to us could be their to find a person they have lost.

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Standing at fairly equal distance from each of the fountains is the Survivor Tree, originally a trunk dug up in the wreckage, the tree was re-grown offsite and placed back in it’s original spot as one of the only natural things that survived the collapse of the buildings. In many ways this tree acts as an important symbol of the beauty of nature which the organisers are bringing back to this area with the planting of trees, and a symbol of the survival of the American people, how they have grown and changed and agreed to create this beautiful and fitting tribute to those thousands of people that lost their lives.

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