Today's Travel News
June 12, 2009
Ground Zero Remembered
By Judi Janofsky
On a recent trip to New York City, my husband and I ventured south of SoHo to Ground Zero, the empty and bleak crevice where the World Trade Centers once stood. Since 9/11, there has been so much controversy about what should or shouldn't replace the towers that we were curious to see what had been done. And how we would feel when we saw the empty space for ourselves.
That morning of 9/11, I was traveling from Boston to Atlanta. Our plane never got off the ground. But I was fortunate enough to get one of the last rental cars in Boston and made my way slowly south accompanied by several passengers who couldn't get cars at the car rental agency but were heading my way. Diverted around New York, we found ourselves driving down New Jersey's Garden State Parkway. From across the river we saw the towers engulfed in flames, smoke and soot bellowing out and over the river and the city. There were no words to describe our emotions. Or my fears - my son worked just a couple of blocks from the Centers and often had business there. (It wasn't until later that day that he was able to get a call to me.)
I grew up in New York City and was there when the towers were built. There was controversy then, too, about the size and scope of the buildings. I only went up into one of the towers once - the swaying of the building I saw and felt from inside its top-floor restaurant was enough for me to decide I'd rather spend the time with my feet firmly planted on the ground.
We've been to New York several times since but, not wanting to see the scars of that day, have never traveled down to Ground Zero, But it seemed the right time now to see and reflect on the vast empty space.
We were quite surprised by the activity going on there. Hundreds of hard-hatted workers, dozens of trucks and several gigantic cranes were moving dirt, removing debris and beating pylons into the ground. An ugly bright orange construction fence wrapped the site tightly. A cacophony of sounds assaulted our senses: men shouting, equipment bellowing, horns honking as drivers tried to detour around the construction. Except for a glimpse inside through a few holes in the fence, Ground Zero was virtually walled off and invisible - sealed off to visitors - while it's slowly being transformed into the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
When the Memorial is completed, I'm sure the space will be wonderfully reflective and stirring emotionally, somewhat like the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Memorial will include two massive water pools set within the footprints of the Twin Towers. Cascading down their sides will be the largest manmade waterfalls in the country. The names of the nearly 3,000 people who were killed in the September 11 attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon, plus the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing, will be inscribed around the edges of the pools.
The surrounding eight-acre Memorial Plaza, which sits over a museum and train station 70 feet underground, will be filled with nearly 400 trees to create a contemplative space separate from the sights and sounds of the surrounding city.
It sounds ideal. But in the meantime we were disappointed - there was no approaching the site. No place for remembrance and reflection. At least that was what we thought until we walked across the street to St. Paul's Chapel. Built in 1766, the chapel survived a massive fire in 1776 as well as the devastation of 9/11.
Almost immediately after the Towers' collapse, the Episcopal chapel became home to an extraordinary volunteer relief effort. For eight months, it served as a place of rest and refuge for recovery workers. Beds lined the walls. Volunteering musicians played music to soothe souls. Elementary students sent banners, cards and even stuffed animals to offer their support.
It also became a place for families to hang "missing persons" posters for loved ones who had not returned home since the buildings' collapse.
Outside, thousands of visitors from around the world transformed the wrought iron fence surrounding the chapel and its small graveyard into a spontaneous memorial, expressing their anguish and loss. They hung banners, memorial posters, personalized t-shirts, flags, letters, religious items and memorabilia that held significant personal meaning. Many people hung strands of a thousand paper cranes on the fence, a worldwide symbol for peace. By the time St. Paul's ministry ended, the church had filled over 230 boxes of items left on the fence.
Today, the church offers an interactive exhibit called "Unwavering Spirit "which honors the dead, the relief workers and the volunteers who helped them.
The exhibit, along the walls in the worship center, is intensely moving. From a handwritten poem, to hundreds of patches left by rescue workers from all across the U.S. and the world, there are physical reminders of the time when everyone came together to help and to support New York, its people and its heroic workers struggling to recover the physical and personal devastation of 9/11.
Across the street, the new World Trade Center memorial will be beautiful, I'm sure. But I'm glad we'll still have St. Paul's Chapel as a standing reminder and memorial to that day.
For more information on St. Paul's Chapel, visit www.saintpaulschapel.org and to learn more about the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, visit www.buildthememorial.org.