United States

Remembering 9/11: One World Trade Center, museum and memorial is a symbol of defiance

From the top of One World Trade Center – the tallest building in the Western hemisphere – New York’s blockbuster sights across all of its five boroughs can be viewed in all their glory. Towering to a height of 1776ft, symbolic given that it was the year of America’s independence, the structure is crowned by a 408ft cable-stayed spire.

Looking uptown, nestling amongst a sea of Manhattan’s skyscrapers, you can see from the glass windows on the 100th floor famous landmarks such as the Empire State and Chrysler buildings, as well as and the Rockefeller Center. Cruise ships glide past small sailing vessels in the water surrounding New York’s main island.

One World Trade Center

Carry on moving around the deck of the glitzy 360-degree panorama of One World Observatory, where some tourists walk beer-in-hand as they explore New York away from its traffic-clogged streets below, and you can see what lies beyond Manhattan’s shores, including the Brooklyn Bridge, once the largest suspension bridge in the world, as well as Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The presentation of the attraction may be cheesy in parts, but the attraction offers a fine way of getting a overview of one of the world’s greatest cities.

But One World Trade Center is more than just a viewing platform however; its symbolic in that it was built to replace the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers that were so dramatically destroyed by the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001. Some 3,000 people were killed when two hijacked planes were flown into the buildings. The monetary cost of the damage created at the site by the tragedy was some $60 billion and it took some 3.1 million man hours to clear up 1.8 million tons of debris.

Remembering 9/11

When the Twin Towers were opened in 1973 by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey each floor occupied a space of one acre and they were the tallest buildings in the world. They contained between them 200 elevators, 1,200 restrooms and 40,000 doorknobs. Every week day some 50,000 people travelled from far and wide to work in the buildings. Thousands of tourists travelled to the observatory to take in the splendid views across Manhattan and beyond from the 107th floor.

After 9/11 there was much debate as to what should happen to ground zero, where the Twin Towers once stood. Some had wanted the buildings to be re-built in exactly the same plot as a sign of defiance. But others wanted a lasting memorial to the victims.

The authorities went for the latter option and in the very place where the North and South towers were they have created Reflecting Absence, comprising of two pools of water, with cascades at the centre. Around the perimeter, where the outer walls lay, the names of all of the victims on the edges of each of the buildings have be written in bronze panels. When any would have had a birthday, a white rose is placed by their letters.

Pools of water on the sites of the original Twin Towers

Surrounding the pools is a plaza with some 400 white oak trees. It’s a calm, relaxing area, providing an ideal opportunity to sit an contemplate the terrible events of 2001.

Below ground, the vast, cavernous National September 11 Memorial & Museum, offers a moving detailed account of the events of the terrible day and its aftermath. Thousands of artefacts recovered from the rubble of the Twin Towers are on display, such as a scorched segment of the North Tower’s radio and television antennae. Six broadcast engineers lost their lives in the tragedy. You can also see bits of lift machinery and melted sections of the steel supports from the buildings. And there is also the Vesey Street Stairs, dubbed the ‘survivors stairs’ because they were used as an escape route for many.

Segment of the North Tower’s radio and television antennae

Then there are parts of the sides of planes that crashed into the Twin Towers, as well as the seat belts that victims would have worn. Accounts of those onboard the aircraft are displayed, relaying their goodbyes as they realised the enormity of the tragedy and used mobile phones to say their goodbyes to loved ones. Human remains were reportedly found on the tops of Manhattan buildings for months after 9/11, but thankfully are not part of the exhibition.

Considerable space in the museum is given over to remember the emergency services who acted so bravely as they fought to save lives. Countless of these died in 9/11; whole fire engines went out full, but came back empty. The firefighters have their own memorial adjoining a nearby fire station and in the museum itself a number of burned out vehicles used in fighting blazes that day are on display.

Firefighter memorial to 9/11

By building the museum where it is, several storeys down and below the pools I had seen above, means visitors are able to walk around the perimeter of the North Tower, and much of the South Tower. You can see where the steel columns, 70 feet below ground would have been anchored and were sheared by recovery workers in the aftermath of 9/11.

Original perimeter of one of the Twin Towers

My first sighting of One World Trade Centre was from the ferry heading back to Lower Manhattan from Staten Island. When viewed from afar you can appreciate just how tall it is dwarfing all those buildings that stand next to it. When the complex is complete it will be one of four structures (the other three being smaller). From the ashes of Ground Zero, what is being created in the neighbourhood represents a symbol of defiance.

Brooklyn Bridge – as seen from the top of One World Trade Center

Midtown Manhattan – view from the top of One World Trade Center

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