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BY JOE C. DANIELS | Visitors to the National 9/11 Memorial who are old enough to remember recall horrific images of the burning towers, the collapse of the buildings and the tall piles of debris. They know, too, not only of the devastating loss of innocent lives and the impact on victims’ families, but also the effect on the downtown neighborhood and the plight of survivors.
The Memorial’s opening permanently changed the way people view the World Trade Center site. This sacred site will always recall the pain of that September morning, but I also look at the Memorial as the physical embodiment of the coming together that was the positive legacy of 9/11, and in that way it offers comfort, hope and inspiration.
More than 2 million people have visited the Memorial since the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 to pay their respects to those who were killed on September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. Many of them have shared their experiences online, discussing the site’s renewal and honoring those who were lost through social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.
Memorial visitors are showing in online communities that the WTC site is no longer the “ground zero” we all remember. They are talking more and more about the Memorial’s grove of trees, the enormous twin reflecting pools fed by 30-foot waterfalls, and the 2,983 names beautifully inscribed in bronze.
The messages are streaming in from all over.
“Love from Italy,” “Sending loves from Israel,” and “Love from France,” have been recently posted on the Memorial’s Facebook page. Other comments urge people to visit, if they haven’t already, and to donate to the Memorial to help preserve this national place of honor and remembrance. “Peaceful, somber, magic, beautiful,” reads another post.
On hundreds of blogs, visitors tell the world about their time in lower Manhattan and what the Memorial means to them: “For all the deaths wrought that terrible day . . . this is a place full of life and focused on the future.”
Hundreds of photos have been uploaded to the Memorial’s Facebook page and other photo-sharing sites. Some of the pictures are extraordinarily personal, for example showing a close up of a single victim’s name with flowers gracing its letters. Some serve as tributes to the fallen first responders, like a photo of an FDNY patch left at the Memorial. Others express the beauty of the Memorial with snapshots of the sparkling waterfalls, the trees and the cobblestone-lined walkways. On YouTube, hundreds of videos have been uploaded—“for those of you who will not be able to get there,” wrote one user.
There continues to be instant public feedback on sites like Twitter. There, one woman shared, “Thank you for keeping the memories of those lost.” Another respectfully recalled watching as a man honored and remembered a victim. “He cried and left her flowers,” one visitor tweeted.
Preserving the history of 9/11 and honoring those who were killed in the attacks has always been the core of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum’s mission. In part, we’ve used social media and technology to provide another opportunity for people around the world to become engaged. This has led to the development of the Make History website, where anyone can share 9/11 photos, videos and written stories.
We’ve also launched special websites like the interactive 9/11 timeline to educate and allow people to share information about the day of the attack with family and friends through email or on Facebook or Twitter. Through a partnership with the social-media platform Broadcastr, anyone can record his or her 9/11 story and pin a location on a world map for all to see and hear.
We have always wanted as many people as possible to visit the Memorial, and to share their own experiences with the rest of the world. That is what’s happening. It has been inspiring to see how the Memorial is spreading feelings of peace, solace and hope to so many.
Joe Daniels is President and CEO, National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Follow him on Twitter