Smiles & selfies @ #9/11Memorial: Downtown Notebook

Downtown Express photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic Posing for selfies at the 9/11 Memorial.

Downtown Express photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic
Posing for selfies at the 9/11 Memorial.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  |  Californians Joe Vasco — both the second and the third— leaned back, grinned and took a photo with a selfie stick.

They were not at the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, but rather in front of one of the two pools at the 9/11 Memorial.

Vasco senior said he hadn’t been to New York City in 30 years and it was the first visit for his son.

“First and foremost thing would be to come here,” he told me on a busy Tuesday afternoon last week. “Every American should come here.”

They spent four hours at the 9/11 Museum while wishing they had two days to spend on the exhibits, he said.

When asked about using a selfie stick at the site, Vasco senior said he didn’t see any negative connotations.

“I wanted to preserve this memory that we were here,” he said.

child911But it begs the question: Is taking smiling selfies at the 9/11 Memorial appropriate considering what the site is supposed to commemorate?

Selfies, sticks that facilitate said photos and “duck” faces are not new, but spend several hours at the memorial and you will see a preponderance of all. On the Tuesday Vasco visited with his son, I counted 14 sticks used in just one hour as I walked a loop between the two pools.

On that day, I approached each person or group using one, but almost all were visitors from other countries.

Even if a stick was not seen in action, there were plenty around. People held them like a baton as if ready to conduct a social media symphony, or in front of them like a leash. If sticks were not available, phones were turned around. Sometimes women struck model poses as if they were about to unveil a “Price is Right” showcase prize while their partner took a photo.

The memorial has several rules that govern the site, including no smoking, but nothing about selfies.

Their rules state the memorial and museum “are places of solemn reflection dedicated to honoring and remembering the tragic events and the overwhelming loss of innocent life that occurred at this location and others on September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. Given the unique nature of the site and the tragedy that occurred here, proper decorum, personal behavior, and conduct is required from all visitors at all times in order to provide the entire visiting public with respect, and an equal opportunity to have an enriching and meaningful experience.”

Officials with the memorial declined to comment for this article.

When the attack happened 14 years ago this Friday, cell phone technology was burgeoning, but one still had to press a number button three times to get a desired letter for a text. In 2004, when a plan for the site was chosen, Facebook had just started and the first iPhone was three years away.

For many, the compulsion to document every moment is strong. But what do we lose when we can’t stop to reflect at the reflecting pools? Does the meaning of the memorial get lost in the shuffle when people are focused on taking photos?

Still, there were people who poured over the names etched in bronze. A man held his coffee cup and just stood a few moments looking at the pool. A father told his son what the names represent.

For Michael Burke, who lost his brother, Captain William Burke of Engine 21, on Sept. 11, there is nothing at the site to remind people of the attacks. Physical reminders, such as Koenig‘s “Sphere” that was once at the plaza in front of the World Trade Center, are not at the site.

“You’re denied the opportunity to confront the attacks where they happened,” Burke said in a phone interview. “What the memorial has inspired is not somber reflection, remembrance — it’s happy selfies.”

Burke said people should be able to have whatever reaction they want. However, he said he has seen wedding pictures being taken, a young group of men flashing gang signs and happy couples canoodling while snapping a shot.

“A selfie stick in and of itself I guess is pretty harmless,” he said. “But they might as well as be at Rockefeller Center or Times Square.”

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18 Responses to Smiles & selfies @ #9/11Memorial: Downtown Notebook

  1. Perhaps those so inclined to photograph themselves so shamelessly at the 9/11 memorial should ask themselves – would I want someone taking "selfies" at the site where my life was taken so tragically –

  2. I describe where I live as Times Square meets Pearl Harbor– I live immediately across the street from the selfie stick mob scene.

    I think it is not the fault of the masses who come- but rather of the city or whomever decided to keep this museum open 7 days a week. They are capitalizing on it. I think it's human nature to be greedy and this is really just greed in it's ugly form – but I wish they would close for one day a week like every other "museum" on earth. It's a drag that Times Square opened across the street from our family home. I also would want to see a day for the families of the victims once a month.

  3. It is important to remember that there is nothing – by design – to connect visitors to the history of the site. Now, surprise! They act with no connection to what happened here.

    Memorial architect said the design was to allow visitors to think about 9/11 "or not." Well, they're getting the "or not."

    The memorial by design removed all that was reverent from the site (the names were not part of Arad's original design and were placed there and arranged over his protest). Now people treat the site without reverence.

    Return something hallow; something with connection to 9/11 and our actual memory of it. The Sphere sits abandoned and forgotten down in Battery Park. Why? It was supposed to be returned; the people have always called for it. Port Authority engineers have said it can be returned. So why isn't it back.

    Pose silly before Arad's "voids." Why not? Pose stupid before the Sphere at the WTC, you're a jerk.

    • Dolores D'Agostino

      I agree. However, unfortunately, our societal culture has reached new lows everywhere in public behavior, interpersonal behavior and self-awareness. Early on, visitors to the 9/11 memorial were acting/reclining as though at the beach – a place to sleep after a late night out. Security personnel would have to be monitoring what people should have learned as children in their schools and families.

  4. I am part of a Tour Guide community of licensed local Guides who are, for the most part, respectful at the National 9/11 Memorial Plaza. I remind my guests to not take 'happy selfies' at the Memorial, since it is like a cemetery, especially for the approximately 1,200 families whose relatives were literally lost in thin air. Our work of fostering respectful decorum and reflection is especially sacred to impart to youthful visitors with little connection to the history and who have grown up with social media.

    Unfortunately, these youth, and also adults, are caught up in a self-involved culture of selfie self-promotion through which people reflexively smile and pose when cameras are near. When I take pictures of my guests at the Memorial I remind the minority of whom who are grinners that they will be shamed when they share pictures of themselves smiling inside a Memorial.

    When I remind my inappropriate guests, who are rare, to put on their serious expressions at the memorial some don't get it even then. I have decided, going forward, to hand them their cameras back. I don't want to be a part of happy selfies there, even if my business suffers.

    Perhaps we should create a twitter hashtag depicting shameful smiling selfie-takers at the Memorial, and even attempt to get their names and hometowns to change the culture a bit. I am not a twitter aficionado, but others are, and it can get results.

    I have denounced some of the worst strangers about their inappropriate behavior directly to them. Most are befuddled. I have had several days ruined by witnessing offensive people at the Memorial.

    It is amazing to me that people are so ignorant and insensitive. Perhaps an online culture of shaming them would make an impact.

    • As a licensed tour guide, I also remind guests to be serious when visiting a cemetery or memorial. As for selfie sticks, why not make a new friend and ask a stranger to take the photo?

  5. I personally see nothing wrong with Selfie photos. But I'd like to respond to the criticism that there is nothing at he site to remind someone of the attacks. Every one comes here because it IS a memorial and a phenomenal one at that. There is also the MUSEUM which is right in the center. What more does one need? (NO we do not need the Sphere which should remain in The Battery). I volunteered at the Plaza for 2 years and virtually everyone I interacted with loved the finished product and that should not be surprising to anyone as people argued long, loud and hard before coming up with this final plan and the end product is stunning.

    • You obviously have a different view. Selfies like the picture of the girls shown are inappropriate as this is supposed to be a place of solemn reflection. It is not an entertainment venue like Times Square or even a architectual attraction. It is in memory of the attacks on our country and the murder of approximately 3000 people.
      As for the Sphere, it was created for the Plaza of the WTC and was there from 1971 to September 2001 when it was moved in the clean up of the site. Sphere was battered but intact after the collapse of the buildings. It survived and acted as a testament to America's resilience. It was heralded by many, including then Mayor Bloomberg who lit an internal flame around it. The Sphere now sits in a cordoned off area in Battery Park. It is not readily accessible and cannot stay in Battery Park. It will be homeless. It deserves to brought back to the site . It will only enhance visitors experience and while nothing will stop the silly selfies, it may inspire some to tone it down.
      Finally, the museum, which is done extremely well, is underground, expensive and thus not visited by all those who come to the Memorial.
      I am glad you like the end product. You can thank Michael Burke, commentor above, and many of the other 9/11 families who fought long and hard to ensure that the memorial was done right. Many changes were made from the original design the most important of all is that the names are above ground, and arranged properly. Had the designer, Michael Arrad, had his way, the names would be underground and randomly placed. If you like the names and their arrangement, you can thank the families. And if you like the names, perhaps you should trust us when we say the Sphere would only enhance the site because we have proven we know what we are talking about.

      • I have the majority view and whether you like it or not, it a fantastic project. YES there are lots of people to thank as never have so many had so much to say and so much input. Clearly you would never be satisfied, but I love what has been done and everyone who is so offended by selfies need to calm down. There are so many more important things to be in a tizzy about. This isn't one of them. 🙂 As for the Sphere, it is absolute nonsense to say it is inaccessible. It's right there! For all to see and walk right up to it. How much more accessible can it be??? It's great right where it is and where it should remain.

  6. Thank you for this much needed article. We live 1 block from the 9/11 Memorial and often bring friends and relatives over to the reflecting pools and the Museum. It is offensive to see so many people with "selfie" sticks taking these photos with smiles. We do not believe anyone means to be disrespectful, but the fact remains, it is inappropriate. We have more than once, respectfully approached some of these groups and reminded them about what happened here. We suggest a more reverent demeanor as a dignified expression. More than once, I have almost had my eye poked out by someone brandishing these potentially dangerous "batons" swinging back and forth. Something needs to be done so as to preserve the memory and dignity of those whom the 9/11 Memorial honors.

  7. Except for the names – which were not part of the original design – I would argue that the visitors' behavior is appropriate for the memorial but not for the site.


    I also live in Battery Park City and saw the death and destruction first hand. Now it has become a tourist attraction and a reason to take "selfies". It is up to the security guards and the police to stop this rude, crass behavior and the Museum Administration should make it a policy and priority that it is carried out. THEY DO NOT!

  9. Whoever is responsible for the security on the Memorial should be the ones to make sure people are respectful. I think management of the Museum and management of the Memorial are not one and the same. I was mistaken in my prior email, sorry. Rosemarie

  10. Are you a family member or a friend of a victim, or do you have a personal connection to the attacks on 9/11?

    If yes, you can take a selfie.

    If no, you can't take a selfie. It's just weird.

    Nobody gets to take a smiling selfie there. It's weird and supremely inappropriate in any culture.

    P.S. Not understanding the comments that there is no connection to the events of 9/11. You're standing on the exact site where it took place. You came for just that reason. What more could you possibly need to know?

    • Think about this…if someone dropped you there and didn't tell you what it was, would you know what it was? Would you know why it was important to visit? Or would you think it was just a nice place with names on a ledge?

      • That's the point Janet. NO ONE drops by and has no idea! The MUSEUM is right there, a world class monument to everything that happened. Open your eyes. Don't forget that there is living, breathing neighborhood filled with Commerce, Office space, Retail, Restaurants, Schools and increasing number of residents with families. I think its wonderful that the Memorial Plaza exists as a park with two incredible fountains that allow people to reflect but still act a a great urban space. This is solution that was made with EVERYONE'S input. Embrace it instead of being a bitter Betty.

        • Read the comments here, you are the only one who wrote in that is comfortable with the selfies. So that means you are in the minority. What adult has ever said "hey isn't it great that people carry selfie sticks all over the place and take pictures where ever and whenever they can?" No one is being uncalm, we are just pointing out that people are acting disrespectful and asking them to show some respect for the site and other visitors. Simple courtesy, it isn't difficult and it isn't too much to ask.

          As for the Sphere, you may not know, understand or want to acknowledge that it can't stay in Battery Park. Due to the renovations, it will be moved out of Battery Park. The majority feel it should be moved back to the WTC Plaza, its home for 30 years. You don't like that idea because you don't want actual artifacts at the site and in plain sight. You prefer it remain an urban space, a park with fountains. You imply that the Sphere would hurt the neighborhoods, schools, offices etc. I disagree, as the Sphere was viewed by the majority of people as a symbol of America's resilience and unity. To me, those feelings are positive and would help the neighborhoods, schools, office, etc.

          Lastly you are also wrong in your description of me. I am not bitter. I just believe that if something can be improved, it should be. I have been to the Memorial many times and have visited the museum several times. As I said previously, the museum is very well done. It is comprehensive, sensitive, educational and true to its mission. It was designed with one goal: tell the story of September 11, 2001. In my opinion, it meets that goal. The goal of a memorial is to honor the event/people it relates to and to inspire future generations to learn about the event/people. You are right, many like the memorial. They like seeing the names, sitting under the trees, and hearing the running water. I like that too. But when you point out what is missing, most agree, that an actual artifact like the Sphere at Plaza level would be a wonderful enhancement.

  11. OMG Janet, what an incredibly ignorant statement! Everyone knows that it is the whiners and complainers who take the time out to whine and complain. 🙂 I just added my two cents so that you know what the MAJORITY of people think. I volunteered on the plaza for 2 years so I know what "the people" think. Lighten up and enjoy life. There are far more important things to get your panties in a bunch over than this.

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