Whenever I allow myself to remember the events of 9/11, I realize that even though we are approaching the 11th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, there are still unresolved emotions swirling in my soul. That is why on a trip to NYC last week, despite record heat in lower Manhattan, I knew a visit to the 9/11 Memorial would be a must.
A bit of online research connected me with the wonderful folks at the 9/11 Tribute Center located just across the street from ground zero, at 120 Liberty Place. The Tribute Center was conceived by Jennifer Adams and Lee Ielpi of the September 11th Families' Association, along with the hard work and community bond between loved ones, survivors, residents, friends and rescue workers of the 9/11 tragedy. They have pulled together to ensure that visitors to the 9/11 memorial site have a deeply moving experience and that their loved ones are remembered with dignity and honor. A dedicated staff of 300 volunteers, each personally impacted by the events of 9/11, lead walking tours through the memorial site five times per day, every day of the week.
We reserved tickets online at TributeWTC.org and selected the combo option that would give us entry to the Tribute Museum, a guided walking tour and entrance to the 9/11 memorial site. ($20 for adults.) We arrived at the museum 45 minutes before our scheduled walking tour to give us time to tour the museum first.
Walking through the museum is like being transported back to the turmoil, destruction and anguish of 9/11. Exhibits express the disbelief and heartache of New York and the nation. A dramatic, heart-wrenching, display features the "Have You Seen" flyers that peppered lower Manhattan in the days following the collapse of the towers. Further along in the museum is a memory wall where families have shared smiling photographs of their loved ones lost on 9/11. A young boy sitting alone on the bench facing the photos whispered, "Wow, that's a lot of people to lose." And indeed, looking at all those smiling faces so full of life and love, squeezed our hearts and started tears to flow.
We looked forward to meeting our tour guides and being able to verbalize our emotions and share common experiences. Our tour group gathered around our guides, Doug and Gail, just outside of FDNY Ladder Company 10, the firehouse first to respond on 9/11 and destined to suffer the most casualties. Doug's voice was as strong as his emotions as he declared we were about to visit the hallowed ground where 3,000 of his fellow New Yorkers were murdered on 9/11, with most remains never recovered.
We spent an hour with Doug, a former Port Authority inspector, and Gail, whose apartment was (and is) just across the street from the World Trade Center. Together they helped us appreciate how chaotic and mind-shattering the events of 9/11 were for anyone in the vicinity of the World Trade Center on that crystal clear September morning.
Doug and Gail led us through the 9/11 memorial site pointing out significant aspects of the park, explaining the design of the footprint waterfalls, voids within voids, and detailing the progress of buildings rising anew. They delivered a message of past, present and future; honor, reflection and hope, as we made our way through the site. They also reminded us of the neighborhood displaced; the local businesses, restaurants, even street performers and the 50,000 people who came to the World Trade Center to work each day. In the midst of persistent construction noise and swarms of visitors, we were grateful to have the perspective of 9/11 survivors to help us interpret and appreciate the full impact of the memorial park.
Doug points out that the victims of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 are also honored here, as well as those who perished in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at the Pentagon and the firefighters who died fighting the adjacent Deutsche Bank building fire in 2007. As we gather near the "survivor tree," a pear tree that survived amidst the rubble of the collapsed towers, Gail shares with us what it was like to see her apartment destroyed, to be denied access to it for a year and a half and to finally reach the decision to return to live adjacent to the World Trade Center site as a tribute to the people who lost their lives there on 9/11.
Gail and Doug volunteer their time along with many other New Yorkers to make certain that visitors to the 9/11 memorial site have a personal connection to the site and that the victims will never be forgotten. The "official" 9/11 memorial museum stands in stark contrast to the Tribute Museum. While the official 9/11 museum remains closed and shuttered due to political acrimony, the families and friends of 9/11 victims are providing the interpretation and narration which has not been absent from the completed 9/11 Memorial Site.
Walking the site with our Tribute guides, hearing their stories and witnessing the reawakening of the World Trade Center site left us with a resolve to never forget, but also to look forward with hope for renewal. For a very memorable visit to the World Trade Center site, be sure to walk with the exceptional guides of 9/11 Tribute Museum, whose efforts help us all to heal.