Ground Zero 19 Years Later: 9/11 Memorial and Museum

by Amelia Old
1 comment

(Updated 9/11/2020)

As the escalator rose exiting the museum you could hear an incredible version of Amazing Grace being played with bag pipes lightly over the speakers. I fought back the tears as at that moment, for a brief moment, it felt as though you were in the stairwell. It was as if you could feel those that were running for their lives and also those running towards the danger to save as many strangers as they could. It was an eerie feeling. The overwhelming feeling of sadness and fear was so real. I shivered, fought back my tears, and turned back to look at my husband several steps below me. Like me, he had just been staring at the wall in deep thought.

When my husband and I decided to attend the 9/11 Memorial and Musem we did so because we felt we should pay our respects. However, I admit, I was worried. I was worried that the lives of so many lost were now a tourist attraction and that bothered me.

There are waterfalls that have been constructed at the footprints of the twin towers. Names of those lives that have been taken on that terrible day are etched around the waterfalls. The water slides down the walls of the memorial and disappears into a dark hole in the ground.

These two columns which were salvaged from the twin towers makeup the center of the museum. As you begin the tour there are many photos from that day. Looks of pure horror as New Yorkers saw the planes hit the towers. Many looks that will forever be etched into my mind after watching it unfold live on television.

There are ruins of staircases, an elevator motor, a fire truck, among many other things salvaged from that day. While these things were tough to look at, we weren’t prepared for what was to come. One exhibit, where photography is not allowed, displays a photo of each victim lost that day. Benches surround the room so that you can watch short video clips that play interviews with the loved ones of victims. My husband sat down and took it all in…watching some clips more than once. I eventually had to walk out, overcome with emotion. My husband said “it’s true when they say it affected everyone. Each face you see was a husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, and friend. It affected everyone no matter race, religion, gender, or sexuality.”

The museum is full of items owned by victims. Wallets, concert tickets, even a social security card. Each item told a story. Each item told a story of someone who lost their life. With some exhibits you’d find closed off rooms with signs warning that the videos/audio could be too extreme for some. Boxes with tissues were found in various corners. That day we saw one woman cry to one of the volunteer workers at the Museum. She was in one of the towers when the planes hit. This day was the first time she had returned to where it all happened.  All I really wanted to do was run up and put my arms around her. The pain in her eyes was deep.

One part of the museum that hit me the most was hearing final calls from victims on the planes that crashed.

“Hi baby. I’m baby, you have to listen to me carefully. I’m on a plane that’s been hijacked. I’m on the plane, I’m calling from the plane. I want to tell you that I love you. Please tell my children that I love them very much. And I’m so sorry baby. I don’t know what to say. There’s three guys, they’ve hijacked the plane…we’re turned around and I heard that there’s planes that have been flown into the World Trade Center. I hope to see your face again, baby. I love you. Bye.” – CeeCee Lyles

Tears filled my eyes. With all of the travel that my husband and I both have to do for work….what would we say in CeeCee’s position? What would be our final words to our loved ones?

Artist Spencer Finch created this incredible piece for the memorial. Each square represents a life lost on September 11th. Almost 3,000. Each shade of blue is Finch trying to recall the color of the sky that day before the first plane hit….the sky showed a beautiful shade of blue. Perfectly clear.

What I did not find out until after leaving the Museum is that behind this wall is the unidentified remains of the victims of 9/11. Not accessible by the Museum and ran by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner of the City, there’s a small room behind these walls that allow immediate family to pay their respects to their loved ones. With all the technology we have in the world, even still over 1,000 are not identifiable. While I did not lose anyone that day my heart aches for those who did.

As I feared, I did notice a select few taking selfies and that really bothered me. I only snapped a couple of photos to help tell this story. I didn’t feel comfortable taking many and I wanted to focus on why I was there. To honor those lost and those affected that day over 19 years ago.

The museum takes you through that dreadful day but also pre and post 9/11. It shares stories of heroes. It shares stories of rebuilding. It shares stories of hope. Now that I am homeschooling, I shared documentaries with my youngest. I will also be setting up a virtual tour through the museum. You can book yours here -> My husband and I agree that we want to take all of our children to the museum at some point. We want them to honor those fallen and to also have the reminder that no one is immune to an act of terror such as this.  With all going on in the world today it’s so important that we focus on the fact we are all HUMAN and we should join together vs outcasting those that believe differently than we do.

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1 comment

melody pittman February 2, 2017 - 2:33 pm

Great post. I had pretty much the feelings upon entering the museum, just a profound sense of sadness and helplessness. They did a fantastic job with the museum, maybe the best designed museum i’ve ever been to. Your story is beautiful. You captured the spirit and feel of every step through it.


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