I had a chance last week to visit the 9/11 World Trade Center Memorial in New York City. The memorial was opened last September, ten years after 9/11. The design features two huge twin water monuments. They are huge squares set into the ground with water running down the sides. In the middle are seemingly bottomless square pits, with water running down the sides of the monuments and flowing into the pits. I read that the “granite pools” and “rows of regal trees” are intended to honor the sacred ground on which they are located. Nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attack on the trade center buildings.
The names of the dead are inscribed along the edge of the monuments, and thus are spread out over the huge expanse of granite. This tends to diffuse the enormity of the tragedy. There are no artifacts from the 9/11 attack in the public spaces. No signs of the collapsed buildings. The memorial’s historical connection is the land itself and the names inscribed on the monuments. The most compelling living feature is the Survivor Tree, a pear tree that was rescued from the smoldering debris and nursed to health. Now at 30 feet, and after being uprooted by Hurricane Irene, the tree was planted at the memorial and blossomed this spring. The visitor’s center has a handful of artifacts, but is lacking in the solemnity that is deserving of this historic site. Paul Jr.’s Orange County chopper was the central item on display along with the usual assortment of FDNY tee shirts.
The 9/11 Memorial is predominantly a public space. It is unlike solemn national places, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Perhaps this was what was intended. A large public space laying claim to the sacred ground where so many people were killed. I expected solemnity and a return to that horrible day. Abstract monuments can be powerful symbols in the proper context. However, without a historical foundation, the 9/11 Memorial does not evoke the emotions felt by us individually and collectively as we watched the twin towers collapse after a terrorist attack on our soil. I had hoped for a stronger emotional connection on my visit to this historic place. So much changed in us, individually and as a nation, after 9/11.
All that being said, there is a 9/11 memorial museum on the site that has not yet opened, and the museum promises to provide the history of the 9/11 events, along with a collection of artifacts from the site and reflections on the individuals who died there. I plan on making a return visit after the museum opens.
Admission is free but reserved passes are required. They can be ordered at www.911memorial.org.