I was saddened this week to find out that some mindless idiot was arrested at the World Trade Center Memorial in New York for possession of a firearm.
Ursula Jerry, 41, of Milwaukee walked straight up to the 9/11 memorial with the loaded 38-caliber Kel-Tec semiautomatic and tried to gain access – completely innocently, she claims. What a shame that the thought didn’t even cross her mind that this might not be the best place to bring a loaded weapon. Despite the obvious reason that this is a controlled area surrounded by security, it’s just plain disrespectful. This got me thinking. Has this site already become just another tourist attraction to be gawked at, or is there still some room for dignity?
I went to the memorial this summer on a short trip to New York. The last time I was in the city in 2007, the devastation of the 2001 attack was still apparent, and the stories still extremely fresh and raw. I met some firemen who helped rescue people on that terrible day, and heard their stories of the day which cost New Yorkers nearly 3,000 lives.
So when I returned in July I felt I should go along and see what’s being done with this area which has just as much place in American historical significance as the White House or Mount Rushmore, but for a very different reason. I didn’t know how to feel when I got off the subway and there was a brand new skyscraper in place of the twin towers and thousands of people pouring towards it. It was a bit weird. And I felt like part of this strange ‘vulture culture’. A flock of rubber-neckers going to see what was the site of one of the greatest tragedies in living memory. Like any memorial though, as long as it’s done tastefully I think it can be a great way of remembering an event, even one this terrible.
As I approached, there was a snaking queue and crowds as far as the eye could see. As I entered the area I paid my $5 donation, put my belongings through an x-ray machine (probably the very same one which caught out our aforementioned armed idiot) and walked towards Ground Zero. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I approached the memorial itself. Flocks of people gaping at a few well-places plaques? I honestly had no idea as I had deliberately kept myself from reading anything else about this place, as I wanted to draw my own conclusions.
What I got was a feeling I’ve only had once before, at the Killing Fields in Cambodia. A kind of quiet reflection feeling. I felt tiny. Not only because it was so much bigger in scale than I thought it would be, but because everything about that place made me feel tiny. Two water fountains built in the foundations of the original buildings flowed into an infinite hole, and the sides of the two fountains were inscribed with the names of the deceased from the 2001 and 1993 attacks. The only tree to survive the collapse of the twin towers stood in the middle of it all, reminding people of the resilience of life. It was actually quite beautiful.
Despite the crowds, it was possible to find a quiet place for some reflection. There were trees for shade and benches to sit on and although there were more people there than I would have thought, you can’t really do much about that. I mean, I was there wasn’t I? The majority of people seemed to recognise that this was not a tourist attraction but an area of tribute, and treated it as such. I found the experience to be moving and humbling.
You may be wondering what my $5 donation was being used towards. Actually, entry is free and it was a suggested donation (any amount is fine, but $5 is the suggested minimum), and all money goes towards the development and the operation of the memorial site. It’s a non profit organisation which also helps the families of the people lost on that day. I expected nothing less from the American people and was happy to pay this small amount, of course.
More construction is still taking place and there will be more additions to the World Trade Center Memorial over the coming years. A museum is due to open in Spring 2014 and although I think this might be a good place to learn more about this fateful day, I personally won’t be visiting again. If you’re in New York it’s definitely worth a visit and I’m glad I went along to pay my respects, but once is plenty.