The 9/11 Memorial & Museum and One World Observatory
TR Robertson — Day 2 in NYC was a planned tour of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, once the location of the World Trade Centers in the Financial District of Manhattan and nearby Battery Park City. A speedy ride in a limo cab, booked by the hotel, filled with lots of honking and a $45 tab put us at the starting point for the tour, St. Paul’s Chapel. St. Paul’s was built in 1766 and is the oldest standing structure in Manhattan. It was used as one of the recovery centers after the 9/11 attacks. The walking tour was led by Tony, a former starving actor, whose wife had worked in the NYC fashion industry. Fashion Week had just ended in the area prior to the attacks. He was knowledgeable about the events prior to, during and after the horrible occurrence on September 11, 2001, once living close to the location of the attacks. As we began the tour, Tony pointed out the Bell of Hope in the church graveyard, a sister bell to the Liberty Bell located in Philadelphia.
What we would be seeing on the tour would be the Memorial site Reflecting Waterfalls, the Oculus, the Memorial Park, the 9/11 Museum, areas just outside of the WTC area, Battery Park, and the North Cove Marina, ending with the One World Trade Center and Observatory.
Our first stop was in the Oculus, a shopping, and NYC Subway hub, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. He wanted the unusually shaped building to symbolize a dove leaving the hands of a child. There is a series of glass panels that run the length of the structure’s roof. This skylight is designed to open each September 11th at the exact time the first World Trade Center building was hit, 8:46 am. The oculus has two levels of shopping inside the structure and a Subway connector station, which we would use later.
Before describing the Memorial Park and reflecting waterfalls, a memory flashback to that fateful day, September 11, 2001. Four planes were hijacked that day – United Flight 93, American Airlines Flight 11, United Flight 175, and American Flight 77. Most everyone in the U.S., who remembers that day can remember exactly where they were when the news stations around the United States were interrupted with news that the World Trade Center North Tower had been struck by a plane at 8:46 am. Little was known about by whom or what had happened, all that was visible was black smoke billowing out of the upper structure of the WTC. As everyone in New York, and those watching on T.V., looked up, many would then notice a second plane was approaching NYC and toward same area. At 9:03 am a second plane would then crash into the upper reaches of the World Trade Center South Tower. Pandemonium ensued as news began to surface about planes being hijacked in other locations around the east coast area. At 9:59 am the South Tower began to collapse, followed by the North Tower at 10:28 am. We watched in horror as the collapsing towers sent a cloud of debris and dust down New York streets, also destroying some adjacent buildings. We now know that American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower, United Flight 175 hit the South Tower, American Flight 77 hit a section of the Pentagon and United Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, today thought to have been hijacked to crash into the U.S. Capitol Building. Almost immediately, airports and flights around the U.S. were grounded or ordered to land, as well as other modes of transportation.
Those that died on that fateful day at the World Trade Center, as well as other victims from terrorist attacks at the WTC, are honored at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Those that lost their lives include 2,753 people that could not escape the two towers, 184 killed at the Pentagon, 40 passengers killed in the Pennsylvania field, 343 New York City Firemen, 23 New York City Policemen, 40 New York city Port Authority officers, and 265 total passengers on the four planes. Over 6,000 people were injured in the attack. Pictures of the 14 hijackers who caused this mayhem are shown in a small display in the museum with tiny photos of each man and the countries they were from. Amazingly, 18 employees escaped from the 84th floor of the South Tower, the highest floor anyone escaped from in the attack. One incredible survivor from the North Tower, Genelle Guzman-McMillan, was the last person pulled alive from the WTC. She had been working on the 64th floor of the North Tower and was able to make it down to the 13th floor before the tower collapsed. She survived 27 hours buried in rubble, trapped with a shattered leg, hurt head, and burned face before she was found by rescuers. She spent one month in a hospital and has since recovered.
To honor the victims, the large Memorial Park has been planted with trees scattered around the park, including one special tree called the Survivor Tree. This White Oak is the only tree that remained standing when the towers collapsed. The tree was dug up and nursed for 10 years, replanted close to the Reflecting Waterfalls when the park was built. The large Reflecting Waterfalls are the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. They are 30 feet deep, with another 16-foot center waterfall. Surrounding the waterfalls are walls of names of all the victims of 9/11 as well as the victims of the February 26, 1993, WTC bombing in the garage area. The North Pool has the names of the WTC North Tower victims, Flight 11 and the 1993 incident. The South Pool has the names of the WTC South Tower victims, Flight 175, 77 and 93, the Pentagon and all First Responders who were killed when the towers collapsed. Lights behind the names of the victims highlight the names at night. One of the saddest things about this incident is that the remains of many of the victims were never found for burials, but the names of the missing are known. One name pointed out was the name of Todd Beamer, the young man famous for the “Let’s roll” statement shortly after speaking with his girlfriend on his cell phone. He and several others overpowered the hijackers and could be heard breaking into the cockpit forcing Flight 93 down in a Pennsylvania field. It is conjectured that this plane was set to fly into the U.S. Capitol Building.
After spending some time at the Reflecting Waterfalls, our tour guide took us to see the large bronze commemoration wall on O’Hara’s Pub, dedicated to the 343 NYC Firemen who were killed in the WTC building collapse. Remarkably close by, O’Hara’s, surprisingly, received minor damage in the collapse and remained open during the search and rescue efforts and beyond, serving food to all the responders at the site. A bit away from the Memorial Park we saw the statue built to honor the 5th Special Forces Unit, the first American response deployed in Afghanistan, immortalized in the movie “12 Strong”. Close to this is the large metal sphere that was on the top of the North WTC tower and survived the collapse with minor damage.
We continued over the long Footbridge that led to Brookfield Place Shopping Plaza, rebuilt after the attack. Outside of this plaza our next stop was to Battery Park City where a huge armada of boats were used to assist in transporting people that were displaced from their homes and apartments. North Cove Marina was the loading site for some 500,000 people evacuated, making the evacuation the largest in the world. The marina was also the site of the massive number of barges used to transport the rubble from all the collapsed WTC buildings and the buildings damaged in the attack. Close by this area was a small section of the Berlin Wall given to the city as well as a Memorial dedicated to all the New York City Policemen who have lost their lives in the line of duty since the 1840’s, when the department was established. There is also a tear shaped memorial for 11 American Express employees who were killed in the WTC in one of the adjacent buildings.
As we worked our way back to the Memorial Park, Tony pointed out the One World Observatory, one of the newest buildings in the area. This 102-story building features a multi-level 360-degree observation deck where you could see most all of Manhattan, into New Jersey, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Ellis Island and Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty. Pictures were a little fuzzy as it was a hazy day as the weather was hot and humid.
Before our 45 second elevator trip up the 102 story One World building, we went into the incredible 9/11 Museum. This museum features an array of structural parts of the WTC, fire and police vehicles that were crushed when the towers collapsed, a variety of tributes to first responders including a tribute to the numerous dogs used to search for victims and survivors, a massive gallery with pictures of each of the people killed on September 11th, and much more. The Museum goes seven stories down and features massive concrete sections of the original building including a section that shows the concrete reinforcement needed to hold back any seepage from the Hudson River. Pictures, videos, cell phone responses and news coverage of the event from around the world is shown throughout the 7-story decent as visitors walk through the museum. At the bottom is the memorable girder that stood at the bottom of the collapsed buildings which was painted with the different fire companies that responded and assisted on that horrible day.
We completed our day with a Subway ride back to the Times Square area. This part of the Subway had to be completely reconstructed after the collapse of the WTC buildings. We had a most unusual fellow wander through the subway shouting profanities. Most locals did not even look up. Getting off the Subway at 50th Street, we walked back to the hotel passing more Broadway Theaters. That evening we returned to Restaurant Row, dining this time at a small Italian restaurant with great food, unfortunately a little warm inside as their air conditioner had broken the week before.
Overall, an enjoyable day in NYC. Next up, a New York Food Tour of places in West Village, Greenwich Village and Soho.