On Saturday morning, we made the trek down to the World Trade Center Memorial Plaza in lower Manhattan. Please have a look at the slideshow. My thoughts on the visit are below.
Going into this, I expected it to be an emotional experience. What else could it be? This was the site of the most horrific event I have witnessed in my lifetime, and the beginning of a decade-plus of war, violence and ever-growing cultural tension.
A little personal history – I actually visited the Twin Towers in March of 2001, with my good friend Jonathan. The towers were massive concrete-faced structures. Humongous and imposing. We took the elevator up to the observation deck and looked out over the world. It was nighttime and the city was all lit up. The view went on for miles in every direction. At the time I took my role as a Vermont chickie very seriously so I was unimpressed with the urban jungle and sprawl. But deep down I had to admit it was cool. Of course the memories of that visit were since tinged with gloom and sadness. Just months later I would see smoke rising up from the stark empty space where the towers had been as I traveled from New Jersey to Connecticut just days after 9/11.
Walking towards the site on this bright Saturday, my mind is on the memories of people running desperately down streets billowing with smoke and ash and papers – so many papers. As we approach, we see the gleaming glass structure of One World Trade Center piercing the blue sky.
Rounding a corner just before entering the plaza, we’re accosted by a guy selling glossy photo books commemorating that day. He eagerly flips through the pages, pointing out full-color scenes of the towers churning out thick black clouds of smoke. “Do you know how many buildings fell after 9/11?” he asks us. “I don’t know,” I admit feebly, “Five?” I’m caught off guard by this interaction, and just want to get past him already. “Seven,” he says, pointing to another page with a graphic showing which buildings were damaged and which fell. “In the museum they charge you $20 for this book, but I only ask $10.”
He also tried to sell us another book with even more photos. Dude. I have seen enough photos of that day. The images are permanently seared into my mind. I do not want to see photos.
Finally, we break free of him and make our way into the plaza. The first thing we notice on the way in is a wing-like white structure soaring over us. I later learn this is the new transportation station – called the Oculus.
We then come upon the first pool – the north pool. I try to envision how huge those towers were, and somehow it seems incongruent with these gaping holes in the ground. It’s like my brain can’t process that these footprints could have held those massive buildings.
At this point I’m doing ok with the emotions. It’s like they haven’t caught up to me yet. We look at the names engraved along the edge of the fountains. I later read that the names were grouped by people who were associated in some way. In some cases it was the flight they were on, or a group of co-workers. You can read more about that here.
As we made our way around the north pool we notice the inscription: Rahma Salie and her unborn child. Wow. I later learned that there were 10 more inscriptions like this one. After we left, I looked up Rahma Salie, since it was her name we happened upon. She and her husband were traveling together on Flight 11. They were Muslim. They were on their way to a wedding in California on September 11. She was 7 months pregnant with their first child.
Now we turn away from the pool and look up at the tower. One World Trade Center. The Freedom Tower (apparently they don’t call it that anymore though). It is tall and sleek. In the gleaming sunlight, the glass reflects all kinds of colors.
When we turn back to the plaza we see the Survivor Tree. As we get closer we can see that people have put mementos on the tree. There’s a tour group standing in front of it while a tour guide with an abrasive voice describes her 9/11 experience.
Walking towards the south pool, I notice there are Easter bunnies and flowers stuck into two of the names. Something about this sight knocks loose the last of my emotional wall, and the tears start pouring from my eyes. The reality of all the names is overwhelming. And remembering all the people who are still alive and aching today for the loss of their family members, friends, co-workers….
We step away from the pool and walk under the trees. Dave and I sit and watch people while I cry for a bit. The tour group is still mesmerized by the Survivor Tree. Clusters of teenage girls huddle together, underdressed in summery clothes. The majority of the occupants of the plaza at this time are tourists. Many of them seem too cheerful and light and I want to scream at them to stop smiling and sober up. But I don’t. I realize you can’t expect people to be acting like they’re at a funeral when they visit a memorial. You can’t force people to be sad.
Once I’ve pulled myself together again, we walk around the other side of the south pool. I want to take a picture of the pool with the tower behind it, but as I approach, a young couple jumps in front of me. They look at the pool for approximately two seconds, and then the guy goes back to looking at his phone. I expect them to move along, so I wait patiently. The girl then begins primping herself in preparation for a selfie. Seriously. My eyes were rolling so hard I’m lucky they didn’t roll right out. Finally, satisfied with her photo shoot, she moves on.
As that’s going on, the couple on the other side of us gives each other a sheepish grin before quickly turning around and tossing coins over their shoulders into the fountain. What the hell? I’ve got nothing against coin-tossing in other fountains, but this is like throwing coins into a grave. I don’t know what possesses people sometimes.
Finally everyone with offensive behavior clears out from my shot and I’m able to get the picture of the pool and tower behind. It’s an odd mix of macabre and shiny new hopefulness. A least I think so.
We leave the plaza now and on the way out we notice the FDNY house that is RIGHT THERE. Like literally in ground zero. These guys were on the scene first because the scene was happening right around them. See their website.
All in all, we probably spent an hour walking around the plaza. There is a 9/11 museum on the site (it’s the short, mirrored building in some of the north pool pictures in the slide show). We did not go into the museum. I don’t know if I’d ever be ready to go in.
One World Trade Center also has an Observatory. It probably would have been a great day to go up there, actually, as it was clear and sunny. But I really just wanted to see the plaza, and that was enough.
So that was that.
Our next stop was the Hornblower Harbor Cruise…. stay tuned.