I am having such trouble finding an opening statement for this article. What can I say to show full appreciation and respect for what we are looking at here? What can be said about a full-size NYFD fire engine with its entire front section completely smashed into an unrecognizable manner- as if it was thrown off a building. Well, it wasn’t. The saddest thing happened here. A building was thrown on it in the most unimaginably violent, tumultuous and criminal manner. Somehow, I hope to write a short article showing respect for September 11th and the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero, New York City.
Lower Manhattan, specifically the World Trade Center property site, has permanent scars from the events of 9/11. These scars run very deep, and the city and nation had a daunting task of trying to find a way to properly remember each of the two-thousand seven hundred and fifty three people who were callously murdered. They had to do this while also rebuilding our bruised nation into a functional business and trade site that we can all be proud of. To me, both parts are equally important because America will always live on. Our country will continue. The USA follows a mantra that was instilled in me during basic training: “Drive on, soldier!”
My day started in Hoboken, New Jersey where I boarded the PATH subway from Hoboken, New Jersey and crossed under the Hudson River to the World Trade Center’s own station. Literally thousands of people travel on these very subways between these two points every day of the week for work. In 2001, approximately 25,000 commuters used the World Trade Center stop daily and presently one quarter of a million people ride the PATH system daily. For those who are unfamiliar- this system primarily transports people between New Jersey and New York. There are other, better methods for intrastate travelers. They do it now, and they have been doing it for the several decades of the World Trade Center’s existence. In fact, the only time they did not was between around 8:55am on September 11, 2001 and for 26 months after that point until it could be reopened.
The World Trade Center Station is built beneath the towers and when they collapsed, the station was destroyed. In addition, the subway tubes were flooded all the way back to New Jersey and the complete infrastructure had to be replaced.
But what’s more is this:
On September 11th, I met people that were on these trains and survived. One told me he was somewhere between New Jersey and New York- under the river presumably. He told me he was only there because he missed the first two New Jersey Transit trains from Cranford (nearby city) to Hoboken because he overslept. Holy shit! He is alive because he overslept! He told me he was certain that he would have been inside had he made the first train he was supposed to take to work that morning. Instead, his sleepiness left him and several hundred other commuters on that subway train to a fate that they must have all thought was completely ridiculous: the train came to a stop mid-trip for an unknown reason and an unknown duration of time. For anyone who has not ridden these rush hour subways- there are probably three times more standees and sitters. When these things stop- they get hot inside. Fast. It must have been so uncomfortable and they must have all had the worst thoughts about the PATH. That is, until they realized the emergency was real and they were turning around to head back to New Jersey with their lives. Suddenly what probably felt like the biggest problem in their world became peanuts.
A then-coworker of mine from NationsRent, Sean Murphy, lost his brother in one of the towers. At 20 years old, I was just working my way into adulthood at the time and with this event I witnessed a tragedy that aged me beyond my time. I witnessed a grown man with a career and responsibility and all that other bullshit completely wither and crumble in grief. Shortly after that event he and his family set up some kind of charity organization in his brother’s name to assist families who have lost loved ones. There were a lot of charities at that time because, well, there was a lot of need and that was something people thought was good to do. (Yeah there were scam artists too, but we won’t discuss that because the mutual feeling here should be they are all assholes and should rot in the dirtiest part of a hot Hell.) Anyway, Sean’s charity didn’t really work. The market was saturated and help was pouring in all directions already. By the time our fairly gloom Christmas Party was held that year, Sean successfully became an alcoholic and fairly heavy user of marijuana. Now I am not here to try and advocate for drugs and alcohol. That is not the point. The point is that I witnessed a fair to moderate level salesman turn into a waste of a life as a result of some fight terrorists waged that he didn’t know anything about. And they took his unknowing brother, too. Why? What changed? Life is still shit in the middle east- even more-so now with the raging headaches that our missiles and bombs must be causing- let alone the shit-eating grins of the greatest fighting forces in the world as they plug away at these terrorists. But is ANY of it worth the cost? No.
I don’t know where Sean is now. I did not experience that sort of personal loss- but I handled the event another way. I enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard with the idea that should someone attack my house again, I want to be at the front door. If I had the chance to do it again, however; I would have enlisted in active duty because with age comes the wisdom that I shouldn’t wait for them to come to me.
I must We must take the fight to them. Trample on their grass sand. But I digress. . .
Upon arrival to the World Trade Center, I noticed that the waterfalls in the eternal pools were turned off. It was so bitter cold out, but I later found out the reason was not ice- but the bitter wind that was blowing that day that made it necessary to turn off the waterfalls. It was only temporary.
Here is a picture of one of the pools with the flowing waterfall in the background. It is from my other post on this subject- the Greatest Memorial to Our Worst Day.
It felt sort of fitting to me that the white oak trees on the property were all full of brown leaves and the weather was cold and bitter to the touch. The museum we are entering is not like the city art gallery or natural history museum. This is a museum about murder, changed lives and national resolve. It is a museum about Moms and Dads that won’t be home for dinner, and kids that will never again tell their parents how great they are doing at their new white collar job. It is a museum about people struggling to make ends meet only to be ripped apart at both ends. It is about untimely deaths of husbands and wives, whether they were prepared or not. The moment came. People from a distant land who have no knowledge of what is right or good in this world chose the fate of two-thousand seven hundred and fifty three people on this property. And now all we have left are a couple of empty pools, a new tower, and a museum. It is all so beautifully done but I think all of us would agree that the original towers and 2,753 lives suited us far better. Nothing will change that.
Inside this museum we were first presented with these two paintings. Here is an except from the description provided at the museum:
“Inspired by the sight of his grieving neighbors comforting one another after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, New York City resident David Stern created a series of five paintings collectively titled ‘The Gatherings.’ Together the paintings are a memorial to those who were killed on 9/11 and a tribute to those who held vigils in their honor, lit candles, and brought flowers to local firehouses and police stations that were missing personnel.”
I remember these memorials vividly, as I am sure many of you do too. September 11th, 2001 was before the dawn of the super-social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and even WordPress. Internet was readily available, but still at a crude stage where, from my recollection, it was better served for accessing information rather than interacting with it so fluidly as we can do today. With that in mind, we need to reflect back at how we searched for loved ones: the tried and true town centers across the metropolitan area.
Literally hundreds of thousands of people commute to and from New York City from New Jersey every day. And the same holds true for people commuting from the different boroughs of New York- as well as upstate New York. So from any given town there might be a few dozen people that commute regularly to work in and around the World Trade Center site. In the center of those towns, there was makeshift memorials set up with photos, names, phone numbers and pleas for anyone to call if they have seen or heard from the person depicted. It was a missing persons flyer- but they were homemade in obviously frantic fashions. And there was a lot of them.
Like I said, I was still new to the real world but I was amazed at how far the population of those towers reached and I was equally amazed how we came together after the event. As different as people all try to be from one another during times of perceived peace, it sure amazed me how fast we all cling on to each other and show a real expression of solidarity when our peace is threatened. For a brief time- there was no ranking, popularity, bosses and minions.
We were All American.
Continuing into the museum, we began our decent downstairs. The museum is underground, which is symbolic of the event. In this photo we are looking at two sections of the vertical columns from the original tower. Outside, in the background, you can see the new One World Trade Center rising up to the sky. 1,776 feet. 1776. American symbolism and pride is all around this site.
Somewhere along the way, decisions were made about certain sections of the destruction that should be saved for the museum and countless memorials that are standing all around America. In any other circumstance we would all say, “What are you going to do with that rusty piece of scrap metal?” But here, when taken into context, whatever laborer spray painted the word SAVE on this column. . . well, it is pretty remarkable isn’t it? Think of it: He could have put a green dot on it, wrote keep, put a checkmark, an ‘x’, or almost anything else in the world. But he wrote SAVE. Am I reading too much into this? Maybe. To those that think that, I counter with this:
Don’t get caught thinking too little about life. It will all be over before we want it to be over, anyway.
When I see this- I cannot help but think of the people and first responders that went with this steel as it came back to the Earth. I’m not smart enough to really comment on this. …But it sure makes all our little problems pretty small, doesn’t it?
This staircase section was removed from the site and placed into the museum. Again, I encourage you to pause and reflect on the state of this staircase which appears so out of place here and then think to yourself how, for that hour, this staircase blended in perfectly with the new view of the immediate world for anyone near the towers on that day. Here is an excerpt from the museum to explain them:
This staircase once connected the northern edge of the World Trade Center’s Austin J. Tobin Plaza to the Vesey Street sidewalk below. On September 11, 2001, the stairs and an adjacent escalator provided an unobstructed exit for hundreds seeking to escape. To reach the stairs, many had to cross the Plaza beneath treacherous debris falling from the North Tower.
“Go down this set of stairs and then just run, run as fast as you can.” David Brink, Lieutenant, New York City Police Emergency Service Unit, recalling what he said to evacuees on 9/11.
It paints a vivid picture. The people running underneath the falling debris… this was not a movie and these were not stunt doubles or otherwise trained people. In fact, for some of them, the craziest thing they might have encountered in their life before this was a damn fire drill. But at the moment- the sky was falling and they had to give it their best shot in order to survive.
Escaping was not a coordinated, planned and practiced event. It was merely an exercise in quick movement and luck.
For all intents and purposes, the sky was literally falling. Pictured above is a small section of the massive transmission tower laying on its side with all its internal guts exposed in a manner that never should have been. This is 1/20th of the massive 360 foot transmission tower, which was affixed to the top of the North Tower. The photo below further depicts:
Next, I will further elaborate on a photo from my previous post, in which I made a case on the purpose of sharing this event, and any other experience I have, with you.
When they constructed the Twin Towers, one of the feats they had to overcome was the time it takes to carry people from the Earth to the “stratospheric heights”of the upper floors. There is a certain population that suffers from claustrophobia and to them, a 30 second or one minute ride in an elevator was one thing- but three minutes of constant ascent was something completely different! Here is the explanation of this massive motor from the 9/11 Museum:
The Twin Towers were the first skyscrapers to employ a system of local and express elevators, an innovation that reduced elevator travel time and made the buildings attractive to occupants of the upper floors. In addition to the elevators serving basement levels, each tower’s 99 elevators included freight, local, and high-speed cars. Two express cars traveled directly to the Windows on the World restaurant in the North Tower, and two went to the South Tower Observation Deck. This elevator motor, the largest model in the world when installed, powered one of the express or service cars, which moved at a speed of 1,600 feet per minute. A total 99 motors operated the elevator system in each tower.
“Vertical transportation is the lifehood of the building.” David Bobbitt, maintenance program manager for vertical transportation, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Ninety-nine motors. Each Tower. And every single one of them was retired long before their service life. How many thrilled tourists did this motor carry? Did it carry executives to endless mundane corporate meetings? Did wide-eyed boys and girls ride this motor to the top of the tower only to ask the question if they should retire from being a boy and a girl to become a husband and wife? Was this motor used by maintenance crews to carry trash bags, toilet paper and soap to the upper floor restrooms? How many mid-level white-collar just-trying-to-make-it types did this motor carry, day in and day out? We don’t know. We can’t ask. Terrorism took the almost meaningless questions away from us too. Meaningless… I suppose that word only makes sense in context.
On September 10th, 2001, those questions and the thousands others would have been considered meaningless. From September 12th, 2001 and forward, they are meaningful.
I suppose that statement holds true for the transmission tower, the stairs and the fire truck. Before the event, nobody would care to see a section of stairs ripped out of the ground and thrown into a museum so that a couple people could say, “I walked down those stairs.” As a result of this event, there are now thousands of people that will visit this museum and say, “I walked down those stairs!” Still, a few others will exclaim, “
Those stairs saved my LIFE!” Context.
Above is a picture of the actual slurry wall that is keeping the Hudson River out of this museum and entire World Trade Center site. I recall that during the initial phases of the aftermath, there was a massive concern over Lower Manhattan disappearing into the hudson river as a result of the potential for this wall to collapse inward. From the 9/11 Memorial Museum:
The proximity of the Hudson River posed a significant challenge to the original excavation and construction of the World Trade Center, which began in 1966. River water threatened to seep into or flood the site. The slurry wall technique, not previously employed on such a vast scale, presented a novel solution that led to the construction of a watertight enclosure known as the bathtub. Using technology pioneered in Italy, workers dug a trench around the perimeter of the site and filled it with a mixture of clay and water. This slurry stabilized the trench, allowing engineers to pump in concrete. Heavier than slurry, concrete sank to the bottom of the trench, displacing the slurry from the ground up and hardening into a solid, watertight wall. Construction of the wall took 12 months, after which reinforcing steel cables, known as tiebacks, were drilled into the wall and anchored into bedrock.
The plot of land on which the World Trade Center was built sat directly adjacent to the Hudson River. To anchor the towers to bedrock located more than 70 feet below street level, laborers excavated more than a million cubic yards of earth from the area inside the slurry wall, known as the bathtub. They deposited this fill into the Hudson River, expanding the island of Manhattan and providing the first 23.5 acres of landfill on which the World Financial Center and Battery Park were later built.
To solve the threat of the slurry wall imploding int he aftermath of 9/11, additional cores were drilled through the slurry wall with larger, deeper tiebacks installed. Equipment from one of my previous employers, NationsRent, was all over this site during this time. I was nobody special, nor was NationsRent, but there was a certain amount of pride seeing our equipment all around the site. In fact, in one section of the museum where photography is not permitted, there is a Stihl TS-400 cutoff saw on display with the black and silver NationsRent Inventory tag affixed.
Within that same day and for a long time afterward, equipment was sent to the site. Not ordered- not paid for- and vaguely tracked by serial numbers handwritten on pieces of paper. We are talking millions of dollars worth of lights, lifts, saws, compressors, tow-behind generators, backhoes, excavators and the like all transported, around the clock, on hand receipts. Saw blades, jackhammer points and the like were just donated. I know that is no oh-so-impressive, but it is all we could think of that we could do.
We could not render assistance ourselves, there were already ambulance and fire crews from as far out as Philadelphia in the mix of first responders. There were so many first responders that they quickly had to figure out how to manage traffic flow for just the ambulances!
All that occurred during construction in the 1960s was memorialized in this bruised dedication pedestal. It now suffers the scars of experience, but like America, it still stands. From the 9/11 Museum:
Construction of the World Trade Center began on August 5, 1966, under the auspices of the Port of New York Authority (later known as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey). The agency sought to create a contemporary international trade and business hub that would revitalize the economy of lower Manhattan and the metropolitan region.
The first tenants moved into 1 World Trade Center (North Tower) in December 1970 and into 2 World Trade Center (South Tower) 13 months later, before construction of either skyscraper had been completed. The world’s tallest buildings were dedicated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 4, 1973. This stainless steel pedestal was installed on the five-acre Plaza to commemorate the occasion.
In my opinion, the site certainly was a contemporary international hub. During the Summer of 2001, I took a tour to the top of the South Tower. The building was beautiful. The world up top was quiet and massive. I looked down to the Statue of Liberty and had the same view as if I was in an airplane. They were tall, and they should not be spoken of in past tense!
This concludes my presentation of the 9/11 Museum, my personal history of the World Trade Center and my memory of 9/11. It is not unique or fantastic in any way, but I offer it to the world to be woven into the fabric of the
thousands millions of other personal accounts of the same subject. Before we depart the past and look at the present and future, we must recognize the importance of one statement and one display:
So you see? Terrorism lost, as they always do. Terrorists are not the martyrs. The victims are the martyrs because they are the only ones remembered here and everywhere.
. . .
The Freedom Tower’s official title is it’s address: One World Trade Center.
This is our world, and it is the only one of its kind.
If the intent by the Port Authority in the 1960s was to make a contemporary hub for trade and business, then the new One World Trade Center tower surely will not disappoint.
The design of the tower is the union of two towers: They are together, one turned 45 degrees from the other. So in this regard, the Twin Towers lives on- but as ONE.
The weather on September 11th… It was such a beautiful day. No, it was supposed to be such a beautiful day.
Thank you all for visiting the World Trade Center with me. I hope to see you guys soon-
Thank you for reading, and if you found it worthwhile please let me know in the comments and/or share this article with others. We hate to remember this, but we mustn’t forget.
Further- please share your story of this event in the comments below or elsewhere. In history, every detail is the most important detail.