Friday, March 09, 2018

A Visit to the September 11 Museum

TRIGGER WARNING: Have been putting off mentioning this as it's an upsetting subject for everyone involved, but here goes. I finally went to the September 11 Museum a couple of weeks ago, when my friend Greg was in town for the Bananarama show. Having out-of-town guests is always a good reason to do something you've put off (or taken for granted) as a NYC resident. So when he suggested it -- on a fittingly gloomy afternoon -- I decided it was time to stop avoiding visiting a place filled with so many unpleasant memories.

Although I had been in the vicinity shortly after the terrorist attacks -- my friend Larry and I walked along the Westside Highway the night the world changed forever and watched the scene continue to burn -- as well as in recent years as the fountains were put into place in the original towers' footprints, I'd never gotten up the nerve to actually go in. 

As I'm sure many of you know, the design is spectacular -- grand but somehow understated -- and set the mood perfectly for what was to follow.

To locate one of the nearly 3,000 names of the men, women and children killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Feb. 26, 1993, click HERE.

"The Last Column": To thousands of Ground Zero recovery workers, the Last Column represents a symbol of resilience after 9/11. Standing at 36-feet tall, the Last Column is a 58-ton beam that was part of the core structure of the South Tower. During the recovery effort, workers covered the beam with markings, pictures and tributes. 

The Last Column was removed on May 30, 2002, marking the end of the nine-month recovery period. In a large scale ceremony, the column was placed in a flatbed truck, draped with an American flag, topped with a wreath and escorted off the site by an honor guard. It was immediately transported to an empty hangar at John F. Kennedy Airport where it underwent conservation.

 No photos are permitted inside the archive -- the heart of the museum. But I can tell you that seeing abandoned wallets, purses, IDs and shoes belonging to people who were running for their lives that morning -- as I slept comfortably in bed two miles away -- and listening to farewell voicemail messages people trapped in the top of the towers left for their loved ones, and seeing a loop of the two towers -- filled with human beings just doing their jobs -- collapsing into dust was utterly heart wrenching. And by the time I turned the corner to the Flight 77 exhibit and I saw a recovered seat belt and piece of the airplane that carried my friend David -- the co-pilot who was one of the two first people I met when I moved to Washington -- during the final terrifying moments of his life, I was overcome with sadness and rage all over again, and found myself glad Greg and I were late for our next engagement that evening.

The person David was with at JR's (of course) when I met him in early 1993 was his best friend, Ken, a fellow American Airlines pilot. (I spent the morning of September 11 desperately trying to track Ken down and no sooner did I cry tears of relief when I found out he was OK, the two of us found out David was not.) Ken would quickly become my best friend in Washington. (David, who was in a longtime relationship with Tom so wasn't as readily available for drunken shenanigans, was my best friend by the transitive property.) Ken was recently in New York to celebrate his 59th birthday, so we went out for dinner and drinks. After having a few, we began reflecting on how crazy it was that he was closing in on 60 -- I met him when I was 25! We then got a little emotional, thinking about the people we had lost too soon along the way -- our friend Larry died at 33 from bacterial meningitis; David was 39 on September 11; our drinking mate Reg was still trying to find his way; two of my close friends died from complications of AIDS before 50; and another friend of Ken's died young by suicide; plus my brother Bill was taken in the prime of his life -- and we both agreed that living to our ripe “old” ages was something we were extremely grateful for, and that everything from here on out felt like a bit of a bonus. (Which is to say nothing of my childhood "cancer" scare.) Kind of sad for two healthy 50somethings, I know. But having grown up when we did and seen what we have, it's true. 

People will sometimes ask me if they should visit the September 11 Museum. But after finally going myself, I think I can say with authority that there's no right or wrong answer to the question. It's an important place that pays enormous respect to the people who died there, the people who successfully escaped there, and the brave rescue workers who were there during and after the attack. And it doesn't pull any punches about the people who did this to our nation's greatest city. But if people -- whether they be locals or tourists -- would rather not give what these monsters did any more time than they already have, more power to them. I went -- and I took in as much as I could handle. I appreciate that the museum been so thoughtfully assembled. Still, I don't think I will be going back anytime soon. We all lived through September 11, 2001. And "reliving" it once again was more than enough for me.

Design Overview: The 9/11 Memorial is located at the site of the former World Trade Center complex and occupies approximately half of the 16-acre site. The Memorial features two enormous waterfalls and reflecting pools, each about an acre in size, set within the footprints of the original Twin Towers. The Memorial Plaza is one of the most eco-friendly plazas ever constructed. More than 400 trees surround the reflecting pools. Its design conveys a spirit of hope and renewal, and creates a contemplative space separate from the usual sights and sounds of a bustling metropolis.

Photo-op with Greg in the Oculus. Hard to believe something so beautiful came out of something so ugly.


jaragon said...

The Occulus is a fantastic building. I lived 911 and still have vivid memories of crossing the Hudson with a man who was covered with ashes from the Twin Towers.

M. A. Gay said...

Really nice post. Thanks for sharing.

SFRowGuy said...

Ken, thanks for sharing. :(

September Mourn said...

The museum is the most heart-wrenching building I have ever visited. Many tears were shed as I walked through the site. It just is beyond words for me.

Downtown Strain said...

I work a block away from the memorial. It's so difficult for me to be there with the memories, I'm thinking of finding a job more uptown.

uh shoes said...

I went with my husband the night before the museum opened to the public when they invited family and survivors to a private tour. The most unsettling part was that I experienced a numbness that was similar to what I experienced in the immediate aftermath. And when I got to the section where my temp ID was displayed and the oral stories of those who were trapped and either survived or died in the elevators I could do nothing but sit and listen for more than an hour. And then I had my husband take me home. I haven’t gone back yet for the rest of the museum. I actually want to feel the emotions but it is too overwhelming.

John said...

Great pos, Kenneth. Makes me want to go.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Felt we were walking there with you.