Every American should visit the 9/11 Memorial, this hallowed ground, this remembrance of unbearable sorrow, haunting bravery and the indomitable spirit of our country.
It’s a tall order to capture in a monument of this magnitude, but Israeli architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker, among 5,201 entrants from 63 countries, did just that, winning the design competition in 2004. Twin pools, each about an acre in size, are set 30 feet deep in the “footprints” of the downed towers. Enormous waterfalls, ringed by bronze railing upon which the names of every victim is inscribed, fall into nothingness, symbolizing the loss of life.
It is called “Reflecting Absence,” and coming upon it, one is staggered at its significance. Each name has a story. Alejandro Castano was 35 years old and making a delivery to a brokerage firm on the 97th floor of the South Tower. He is one of 2,983 innocent victims. Dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the memorial opened to the public on Sept. 12, 2011.
The museum dedication took place on May 14, 2014, and opened on May 21, 2014. Within three months, more than 1 million visitors had been through its doors. I highly recommend ordering tickets online and trying for the earliest time in the morning when crowds are lighter.
Coming upon the “Victims’ Quilt” is just one of many exhibits at which you’ll want to linger. Designed by Wisconsin quilt maker Connie Daniel and completed by hundreds of people across America, this 60-foot-long quilt is a stunning tribute to the victims and heroes of that infamous day. Around the corner you’ll come upon pictures of all the victims along with recordings of survivors and first responders, a cavernous hall of people of every walk of life and nationality.
The “Survivor Stairs,” which carried many to safety, was the first artifact to be moved into the museum. Clearly marked with warnings is the section set aside for the fate of the “jumpers,” those who chose to die jumping from top floors. Rescue workers have created a monument of art with inscriptions and mementoes placed on the 36-foot-tall column, the last column to be removed from the South Tower and fittingly called “The Last Column.”
The smashed and twisted front of the fire engine from Ladder Company #3 is a knee-buckling reminder of the crew of 11 who helped so many people escape from the North Tower. All 11 crew members paid the ultimate price.
For me, one of the most evocative exhibits was created by artist Spencer Finch, titled “Trying to remember the color of the sky on that September morning.” There are 2,983 square tiles, one for each victim and each in a different shade of blue, and can be seen from many vantage points of the underground museum. Forged in steel, the quote from Virgil, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time,” speaks volumes and instills in all who come the vow never to forget.
It is a shrine of awe, vastness, serenity and gut-wrenching sights. It should be experienced by all. In the Victims’ Quilt is a poem by Marigrace Iodice titled, “The Day My Lady Cried”:
“I saw My Lady, her torch held high, watching planes fall from the sky.
Miles away a terrorist attack, clutching her heart, holding her plaque.
Her world ripped apart, her heart also stopped.
She saw her children fall and die. This day I saw My Lady cry.”
— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are her own.