Prior to 9/11 and despite having never been to New York, I was very familiar with the New York skyline. Not only had I seen it on news broadcasts and travel brochures, but New York’s famous skyline was featured in a great many movies. Which is why it still shocks me that the Twin Tower buildings, the focal point of the New York skyline, no longer exist. The horror of the absence of these two visually important structures doesn’t seem to diminish with time.
As New York’s financial district is close to Battery Park, (where you catch the ferry), we decided to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum and the Statue of Liberty on the same day. For anyone else planning this kind of an itinerary, this is a huge day with lots of lining up, queuing, and crowds.
As we had pre-purchased our tickets to tour the Statue of Liberty at 3pm, I thought we could view the 9/11 Memorial in the morning then walk for 20 minutes down to Battery Park and take the ferry to Liberty Island. However, being ignorant and while also touring New York during its busiest month, I was unaware of the scale of what I was trying to cover in just one day. I had planned on being down at the Memorial by 9am but with Arabella in go-slow mode and with us trying to find Pete, we didn’t arrive until around 11am, by which time Ground Zero was enormously crowded.
As you walk to Ground Zero the One World Trade Centre Building known as Freedom Tower dominates the skyline. It is still being completed but after a long 13 years, New York once again has a building that is taller than the Empire State Building. The glass and steel structure is being built on the site where the Twin Towers once stood and while being the tallest building in Manhattan, is also one of the tallest buildings in the world.
I did see a window cleaner perched in a cage, working close to the top of the building. While he has an enviable view, this is not a job I would ever apply for. After getting a stiff neck from staring up at the skyscraper, we walked through Ground Zero. It’s a much larger site than I was expecting, revealing just how immense the Twin Tower buildings were. The Memorial’s twin reflecting pools are about an acre in size and feature the largest manmade waterfalls in North America.
The names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools. At the request of the families whose loved ones were murdered, the names aren’t listed alphabetically but instead listed in groups. Cantor Fitzgerald, the company that lost 658 of its 960 employees, has those names grouped together; as are the names of the rescue personnel who went into the building and never came out.
The waterfalls in the reflective pools are very peaceful and you do feel a sense of serenity while looking at the pools however as you walk around the first pool reading all the names and then you see the second pool with just as many names, you are struck by the immense loss of life. It’s a very sobering place and most people, in respect for those who perished, walk around in silence or in revered tones.
The area has been beautifully landscaped and planted with around 400 white oak trees that will eventually reach about 80 feet in height and create a canopy over the eight acres. The Survivor Tree, a Callery Pear Tree that was planted at the World Trade Centre in the 70’s was the only living thing to survive the fall of the two twin tower buildings. In order to be nursed back to health, it was reduced to an eight-foot tall stump, transplanted to a New York City park to be nurtured, then transplanted back to the World Trade Centre where it sits to the west of the south pool; a symbol of survival.
After spending time at the reflecting pools we then moved on to visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum. We went around a corner and then saw an incredibly long queue. And that was just to purchase the tickets! Had I known, I would have pre-purchased the tickets on-line. While Arabella found somewhere to sit, I joined the end of the very long snaking queue. It took half an hour to get to the ticket desk where I was told that due to the number of people visiting, we wouldn’t be able to enter the museum until 2pm. Because we had 3pm tickets to the Statue of Liberty, the earliest we could see the museum was 6pm.
That turned out to be not a bad thing because at 6pm there was no queue to get in and the museum wasn’t as crowded as it had been earlier that day.
The aim of the museum has been to make sure the world never forgets. What adds to the power of this museum is its location; the 110,000 square feet of exhibition space are situated directly underneath the World Trade Centre site. It lies 70 feet below ground and as you walk down and see the exposed walls of foundations of where the World Trade Centre buildings were, you really do feel like you’re on sacred ground.
This is a large museum and you do need to allow a good few hours to get through it. Having 6pm tickets, I did feel rushed and would have liked to have moved through the exhibits a lot less hastily. There are some very large items in the exhibit including two fire trucks that raced to the site to rescue people, the ‘survivor’s staircase’ that was the path taken by so many who managed to escape the building, and the steel cross that rose up out of the devastation and became a symbol of hope and peace.
However there are many more smaller items that are very touching and make you very aware of how this was a horrific crime committed against the innocent; personal items belonging to the victims including a watch, a wallet, a pair of reading glasses, a pair of heels, a flight attendant’s lapel.
In another area you can read the transcript from one of the doomed aircrafts as two hijackers take over the plane then, as they’re about to crash it into one of the twin towers, praise their god in Arabic.
There are other exhibits with voice recordings; a flight attendant leaving a message for her husband alerting him to the fact there’s ‘a small problem’ aboard her flight, a business man trapped in the building leaving a message for his mother, ‘everything’s okay’, and so many more.
There is also a room where there is video footage of those whose only option was to throw themselves out of the building and how one woman dressed in a light pink business skirt, modestly held it down as took her step away from the building.
Visiting the World Trade Centre is an exhausting day both physically and emotionally. 9/11 was a tragedy on an enormous scale and an event never before seen or imagined and hopefully never to be repeated.
9/11 Memorial Museum: 180 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10006