When I stood in Manhattan and took my first breath of New York City air, I realized I had come home. I had never been before, but I felt I had always been there. New York is my favourite place in the world. For this piece, I feel a picture paints a thousand words as I bring you on a journey through the most profound place I have visited in a long time.
I was working in London in 2001 – a bank manager in Brixton, itself no stranger to conflict and bombs. I was on the phone to a client, around lunchtime. He was arguing about the charges on his account when all of a sudden he screamed obscenities. I said “excuse me?” He apologized and asked if we had a TV there. He then told me a plane had flown directly into one of the twin towers. The rest you know…
I had all kinds of mixed pre-conceptions regarding this “museum.” I don’t like that word in this context. It doesn’t represent the epic proportions of emotion, sacrifice and loss that this location represents. I think it needs a better name.
A part of me didn’t want to go, but then we passed Ladder 1. The Christmas decorations still hanging over the entrance. They were still going about their business, being heroes in the most difficult of locations to handle in an emergency. When 9/11 happened they didn’t give up, they kept going, the wheel of responsibility still turning.
Next, I looked up at Freedom Tower, or One World Trade Center to call it by its proper name. I felt dwarfed, humbled as I glanced up at all 100 plus floors. It was so hard to imagine how this area was full of dust, rubble, death and fear some 18 years previously. I glanced around and for everyone it was business as usual, tourists, locals, commuters, life goes on.
When we had visited Ellis Island (that’s another huge story to come) we spoke with Pam, our guide. Imagine being on Ellis Island, a ferry ride away from Manhattan and watching those towers crumble? Helpless, terrified, uncertain. How to get home, how long would they be trapped, were their loved ones safe? The view from there was far different from the one standing directly underneath. Anyway, let’s stay on track.
The memorial fountains are special. Set in the footprints of the original twin towers, ponds of water with cascading rivulets indicative of tears. Around the edges are the engraved names of every single person to die on 11th September 2001. Beside each name is a hole just big enough for the stem of a flower. Every morning a representative of the museum walks over and places a single white rose by the name of any victim who has a birthday that day.
I’m a sensitive, an empath. That means I feel what you feel, the ripples of tragedy run through me and I was most definitely not looking forward to this visit. When we stepped through security and descended the escalator, I burst into tears. Dominic knew it was coming and was ready for me.
After getting a grip so to speak, I started to take in the incredible pieces that had been selected to show the world the tragedy that had befallen Manhattan and the incredible spirit of the people of New York. The spirit that enabled a people in mourning to rise from the ashes and be a Phoenix from the flames of fear and start again.
The girders. The iron girders that had held the weight of the Trade Center and then the weight of tragedy, twisted in a reflection of the day’s events.
The Survivor’s Staircase. This was the very first artifact to be lifted into place in 2008. It was the staircase of the satellite building 5 World Trade Center leading onto Vesey Street. Hundreds of survivors escaped through this route and it dominates as a symbol of survival.
The original dedication pedestal from 1966 survived.
In Honour of the men of the New York Fire Department, Orange County Choppers were asked asked to create bikes representative of the event.
The deeper into the museum I entered, the more overwhelmed I became. The names and photos of every single victim are there, a room with the voices of family members telling us about their lost loved ones, bringing them back to life.
Then for me it became morbid, it became too much. I stopped taking photos. “Memorabillia” of papers that fell from upper stories along with terrified workers, shoes of people trying to run, the twisted remains of emergency vehicles, the recordings of terrified voices, live news footage, photographs of the fallen.
At first I was horrified, disgusted even, but then I realized we had to go through the discomfort, the pain, the fear. We had to, in order to understand.
It is then we see the quote from Virgil. No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory Of Time.
All photos copyright Ann Massey 2019