9/11 Memorial has smooth, somber opening

The National 9/11 Memorial opened to the public on Sept. 12, 2011. Two pools with 30-foot-tall waterfalls occupy the footprints of the Twin Towers, each surrounded with metal ledges on which victims’ names are incised. Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | Reservations can be made online. A visitor pass can be printed at home specifying a date and a time. “Please do not arrive more than 30 minutes prior to your reservation,” the pass says.

But the cynical visitor to the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, which opened to the public at 10 a.m. on Sept. 12, might still wonder what awaits at the Albany and Greenwich Street entrance gate. Long lines, perhaps? Chaos? Surly there would be security guards?

Actually none of the above is true. At 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 12, two people stood in line, waiting to be admitted. The guards smiled. They asked several times during the route from the street entrance to the actual entrance to the memorial to see the visitor’s pass but though valid photo ID was also required, no one checked it.

The airport-style screening of body and possessions (no bags are allowed that are more than 8” x 17” x 19”) went quickly and the woman behind the scanning machine was pleasant. A wait of perhaps 10 minutes to actually enter the memorial grounds was accompanied by affable chatter among the strangers in line.

Then, with a few more steps to the other side of a barricade blocking the view, the memorial was there — an expanse of grass and trees and blue sky with two huge pools on the footprints of the destroyed Twin Towers. One World Trade Center rose above them, gleaming in the sun.

The sound of 30-foot-tall waterfalls flowing down the sides of the pools overpowered the sounds of the city and even the noise of construction as work on the National September 11 Museum and 1 and 4 World Trade Center continued.

In the weeks prior to the opening, construction crews worked 24 hours a day to prepare, complicated by intrusions from Tropical Storm Irene. By September 12, when the gates opened to the public, no one who hadn’t seen the plaza in the previous weeks could have guessed what it took to make it look as though it had been there for years.

It would be possible to see the whole memorial in 20 minutes. It wouldn’t take longer than that to walk briskly around the two pools. But most people didn’t walk briskly. They lingered, reading the names that have been incised into metal on the edges of the pools, looking at the tributes left behind by family and friends of the nearly 3,000 victims: flowers, notes, a photo of a little boy and his dad, American flags held erect by the spaces inside the letters.

The letters have been designed so that people can place paper on top of them and take rubbings with soft crayons as they might on a headstone in a cemetery. Many people did just that. Others took photographs, trying to capture something tangible to take home.

One of the names is “Jennifer L. Howley and her unborn child.” A woman snapped a picture. “Did you know her?” the two women asked.

Turns out she was the niece of one of the women and the cousin of the other. They were from Lincoln, Nebraska. Howley worked as a manager for Aon in the South Tower. She was 34 years old, five months pregnant.

“We didn’t find anything afterward except her security badge,” said the older woman, Deb. “We don’t know what happened. There are things that we can live with and things that we can’t. Maybe she was waiting for the elevator when the plane struck the floor she was on. We can live with that — that she died instantly.”

The women said they had made a rubbing of Jennifer’s name to take back to her grandmother in Nebraska.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney passed by with his entourage.

“He’s from Lincoln, Nebraska,” Deb said. “We don’t talk about that much.”

Deb and her daughter said they had last come to New York five years ago, and felt they had to come for the 10th anniversary.

“We like the waterfalls,” Deb said. “It’s peaceful here.”

Though the National September 11 Museum won’t open until September 2012, the exterior has been fitted with electronic boxes that people can use to search for names and their locations on the walls. Many families have provided photos and biographical information about the victims. The names are arranged on the ledges according to how they died: a section for each of the towers, for first responders, for firefighters, for policemen, for people in United Flight 175 and so on. The electronic boxes have maps of the site, showing where to look.

The plaza around the pools has been planted with swamp white oak trees that grow quickly and are known for their longevity. Acorns had fallen from some of the trees onto the plush grass between granite paths.

On Monday, the National 9/11 Memorial opened to the public. Visitors created rubbings of victims’ names and left behind mementoes such as flowers, photos, notes and flags. Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

A metal scaffold and sturdy bands supported one tree, larger than the rest. A callery pear, it is called the “survivor tree.” It was the only tree from the first World Trade Center to survive the attack. Charred but alive, it was taken to a nursery in the Bronx where it was carefully tended. Then it was struck by lightning, but it survived that, too. It is now 35 feet tall. People have placed flowers in the branches of the tree and left bouquets around it.

People are coming to see the memorial from all over the world. Led by a woman with a shaved head wearing a saffron robe, a group approached the entrance.

“Who is she?” a passerby asked.

One of the group replied in halting English, “She is our master — a Buddhist nun. We are from Taiwan. We are going to pray for the souls of the dead — that they find peace.”

“Thank you,” was the passerby’s reply.

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6 Responses to 9/11 Memorial has smooth, somber opening

  1. It is clear from the visitors reactions – as pictured here – the most meaningful aspect of the memorial are the names. However, without the protest of 9/11 families – derided by grief stricken loons by LMDC officials and much in the media – the names would not be there. The original design called for them to go underground. In addition, those who died together would not have been listed together. Firefighters and police officers were not to be listed together or acknowledged in anyway. Facts like "And her unborn child" were not to be there. Imagine the memorial without all that. Yet the architect and memorial officials fought us tooth and nail on that. We were right and they were wrong. Something they have yet to acknowledge. I'm not holding my breath. Imagine if ranks had been added;u00a0"Chief of Dept" before FDNY Chief of Dept Peter Ganci's name. How would that have been wrong? And "Cantor Fitzgerald" to designate the names of the east, west and north walls of the north pool – as those families requested. Why not?nnAnd if the "survivor tree" is there, where is the Sphere? Collecting pigeon droppings down at Battery Park. Why is that?

  2. After having seen the memorial on Sunday I can only describe it as awesome for what is there, but sad for what is not there. What seems so obvious, such as having theu00a0victims names at the memorial was going to be overlooked. Thankfully, people like M. Burke and E. Lutnick gave their voices along with many families. It was just one more thing that the families were "complaining" about. But the names should have been a no brainer, just as the resilient sphere, the icon of peace, should have been includedu00a0on the plaza as well. It is difficult to see J. Daniels speak about the meaningful adjacency as if it was in "the plan" from the start. So the result is that something that is truly magnificent continues to be a source of frustration for some famililes. Tune into the continuing saga of the remains, no not the remains that were brought to a garbage dump…the remains that will be placed in the museum.

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