While we were in New York this March Lee and spent time visiting Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial. The site features two deep waterfall pools located on the spots where the towers used to be and a museum and new skyscraper which are currently under construction.
Aside from the fall of the Berlin Wall (which I have no memory of because I was only a toddler), the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were probably the most significant and era-defining world event of my lifetime so far. The memorial does a good job of telling the story and honoring the victims of 9/11.
The 9/11 memorial is a powerfully moving place and I would definitely recommend you visit it if you will be traveling to New York. The tranquil fountains with their cool dark stone seem to go forever into the earth and are a haunting tribute to the enormous towers which once stood in their place.
Visiting Ground Zero – Each Name Is a Life
When I visited the memorial one of the parts that stood out for me was the row of electronic databases which are lined up along the side of the museum next to the fountains. These computer kiosks contain an electronic record of the 2,977 victims of the attacks. It’s one thing to read the thousands of names which are engraved along the edges of the fountains; however when I started to look through the database and find the photographs, hometowns, ages, and family information that went along with each of those names, that is when the tears started to form at the edges of my eyes.
I thought about how each one of those names was someone’s father, brother, mother, husband, wife, or best friend. Every name was someone who was loved and who left a family and a community behind. Everyone is connected to everyone else and each death affects others like ripples from a stone thrown into a pond.
Listening to Powerful Stories
During the short time we spent in New York, we learned that everyone who was in the city on that day has a story to tell about their experiences and that many people will be willing to share their stories with you if you take the time to listen. I thought that 9/11 would be a painful memory that most people would want to avoid bringing up, but two different strangers in two days spontaneously shared their 9/11 memories with no prompting from us.
The first was Paul, a large smiling man in a grey t-shirt who walked up to us as we stared in confusion at the subway map and asked us if we needed directions. After he had gotten us on the right train, he proceeded to proudly list all of the eating establishments in Brooklyn that we should try during our visit and since he had lived there his entire life he had quite a few recommendations. His obvious love for the city was inspiring and he spoke of Brooklyn as if the city itself was part of who he was just as much as his name or his fingerprints.
He told us that for months after the 9/11 attacks when he used to ride the subway across the Brooklyn Bridge and into Manhattan, he would put his head down and close his eyes because if he looked at the empty spot in the skyline he would start to cry.
The next night we went to a bar in Brooklyn called The Gate (which had been one of Paul’s recommendations) and we met Karen. Over several locally brewed beers the confident brunette told us her life story, including her 9/11 experience. She had been working in a downtown office building that morning and she described to us how she had watched the planes hit the towers while standing awestruck at the windows with her co-workers. She said it was the most surreal thing she had ever seen in her life.
I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be in the middle of the terrible chaos of that day but listening to the stories of these friendly strangers helped me understand a little bit more about what the experience would have been like. I’m sure that Paul and Karen are just two of millions of New Yorkers who have stories to share if you listen.
How to Visit Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial
At the time of writing this, the 9/11 memorial has not been fully completed. However, you will still be able to visit the “preview site” and see the remembrance fountains. It is free to visit the site and you have the option of giving a donation.
If you plan on visiting Ground Zero when you are in New York, be sure to plan in advance because you will need to book tickets for a specific time slot online. You can book them at 911memorial.org. You will receive a confirmation number which you can then bring to the pickup site located at 20 Vesey Street, which is only a short walk away from the 9/11 memorial entrance.
Try to arrive at the time you have booked, as this is how they organize the flow of people through the site. However, we arrived five minutes later than our 11am time slot due to accidentally taking the wrong subway train and it was not a problem at all. You will need to go through a security checkpoint (just like in the airport, so be prepared to take off your backpack and belt) and then you will follow the arrows into the site. Once you arrive, you can take a 9/11 memorial brochure and guide which will explain the layout of the site to you which are offered on a stand near the entrance gate in a variety of languages.
After that you are free to spend as much time as you like reading the names and paying your respects to the memories of the victims. If you want to find a specific name, here is a guide to where they are.