Reflecting Absence: 9/11 Memorial and Museum in NYC

Every American, if they are old enough, has their own memory of that day, the 11th of September, 2001. A surprising number remember, of all things, the incredibly deep blue sky that yielded the planes which were the instruments of terror that day.

A view of lower Manhattan from Brooklyn, taken around 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001;
this is believed to be the last known photo of the Twin Towers, taken by a tourist.

The targets, of course, were the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington DC and, most likely, the Capitol Building — symbols of America’s financial, military and political influence on the world. As we watched — most of us watching on TV after the first plane struck the North Tower — aghast as subsequent planes hit the South Tower and then the Pentagon and then one diving into a field in Pennsylvania, our perspective changed forever. There is America pre-9/11 and America post-9/11, and a world of difference in between.

This art installation is called, “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky That Morning.”
Behind it, the unidentified remains of 1,115 victims are interred, until they can be identified.

The memorial and the museum are hallowed ground: In a ceremony on May 10, 2014, the unidentified remains of 1,115 victims were transferred from the city medical examiner to Ground Zero, where they were placed in a space in the bedrock 70 feet below ground as part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

The museum displays monumental artifacts linked to the events of 9/11, including part of the antenna that stood atop the North Tower, a fire truck from Ladder Company 3 — an organization which suffered 100% casualties when the towers collapsed, and gnarled remnants from the Twin Towers themselves.

The memorial is startlingly simple: a grove of swamp white oaks with two square reflecting pools marking where the Twin Towers had stood; water falls from the parapets down to the reflecting pools and then down again in the center. You cannot see, from any angle, the bottom of that innermost waterfall, an unfathomable deepness, a reflection of the absence of the buildings and the victims themselves.

The waterfalls are intended to mute the noise of the city, making the site a contemplative sanctuary. The names of the victims of the attacks, including the more than 400 first responders who died in the towers, those in the Pentagon, American Airlines Flight 77, United Airlines Flight 93, and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, are inscribed on the parapets surrounded the waterfalls in an arrangement of “meaningful adjacency.”

To celebrate their lives, rather than their deaths, victims’
birthdays are memorialized annually with white roses.

The September 11 Museum was dedicated on May 15, 2014, and opened to the public on May 21. Its collection includes more than 40,000 images, 14,000 artifacts, more than 3,500 oral recordings, and more than 500 hours of video.

The underground museum has artifacts from September 11, 2001, including steel from
the Twin Towers (such as the Last Column, the last piece of steel to leave Ground Zero in May 2002).

By demonstrating “the consequences of terrorism on individual lives and its impact on communities at the local, national and international levels,” the Museum seeks to “attest to the triumph of human dignity over human depravity and affirm an unwavering commitment to the fundamental value of human life.”

Survivors’ stairs

We owe it to our future selves to remember the impact of 9/11 on the families whose loved ones are not returning home, on our country that is still fighting an ongoing war on terrorism, on an impingement on our freedoms that pre-9/11, we took for granted. Visiting the memorial and the museum reminded me of what we have lost, and what we have gained in the years since.

The original footprint of the Twin Towers still remain.

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The twisted beams almost look like sculpture.