Susan and I put in another very full day, but finally came back to the apartment for a rest and to upload the pictures from today. She’s resting and I’m doing what I love and that is sharing my day with all of you. It’s better than a nap, and besides, who needs to sleep when they’re in New York? As promised, I am going to start right where I left off last night before I had to shut my eyes for a few hours.
When I last left you, I believe we were getting on the ferry to Ellis Island. It’s a very short four or five minute ride and the dock is unique in that it sits in the middle of the buildings. The ferry pulls right up to the concrete wall and is tied off and we disembark with a gentle sea breeze blowing across the island. The building that houses the museum is old but regal, large but not overwhelming and I had the impression that it was military or institution style architecture. Nothing fancy, very practical and built to accommodate large numbers of people.
We ascended a wide platform of steps and entered into Immigration hall. The outside might have felt utilitarian but the minute you enter into the hall that 12 million people passed through on their first day in America, the building becomes sacred. This is history. This is how many of our ancestors came to America. This was how America was built. As you walk through the exhibits and you hear their stories, you definitely have a sense of pride for the strength and courage it took to cross those oceans and enter a world totally different from the one they left behind.
For me it helped me to understand more about how New York developed as a city. The area we are staying in is predominantly Polish, and today I went to China Town and of course there’s Little Italy and the Jewish section. There are many more ethnically based neighborhoods and one of the surprising things for me has been that as isolated as some of these neighborhoods seem, from what I’ve seen, there is very little racism today in New York city as a whole. This place is such a melting pot and when you stand on the subway platform you hear conversations in at least five different languages. Everyone here manages today to live and work and play together and New York should be applauded for that. Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, that was not the case. Some of the immigrants came as indentured servants and were considered below 2nd class citizens. No wonder that after being processed through Ellis Island they gravitated towards anything that could bring a sense of home and of who they were as a people. Neighborhoods formed where your neighbors spoke your language and the markets carried the foods you were used to. Churches were built that allowed you to pray as you did in the old country and customs were carried from the old world to the new.
After we toured the exhibit we were able to look for records of my husband’s relatives as I knew that he had some uncles and maybe even his father come through at some point. I found his surname and it made me feel connected to know someone whose family name is in the book. It was a nice history lesson and it was one that made you realize how little differences there really is between us as humans no matter where you come from or no matter what country or year your own ancestors might have been processed through Ellis Island.
We went out to catch the ferry and there was already a throng of people waiting to go back to the city. We went and stood in line and a ferry came along quickly but very few people actually departed to tour Ellis Island. They were staying on the boat for the return trip to New York. So, we had to wait for another one. The line moved just a couple inches. We waited for another one and once again the line moved barely at all with everyone at that point starting to jostle and push to try to go forward. Again, no room on the ferry. I have to say that while the National Park Service does a good job with many things, crowd control and getting people to and from this particular park is not one of them. It was pretty warm, there were at least a 1000 people in line, which wasn’t really a line, just more of a throng and we waited about two hours before we were finally able to board. To confess, I did have a bit of a melt down and had to apologize to Susan for getting grumpy and impatient. At that point, my hip was already hurting and standing for two hours just about did me in. I thought I was just going to finally have to fight my way out of the crowd and just go lay on the grass until the Park Service physically removed me. It was bad. I could have fought to hold my tongue with the young lady who felt she needed to be in front of me in line. I was fairly rude and to the point of tears when we finally made our way onto something like the fifth ferry to see dock beside us. Finally, relief and a return to my senses.
We disembarked back at Battery Park and had to quickly hoof it over to the 911 Memorial and Museum because we had tickets for 4:00pm and by the time we exited Battery Park it was about 3:45pm. The jogging actually felt pretty good after standing for so long and we arrived out of breath just as the 4:00 people were being admitted. It was 4:02. Whew! We made it, but barely.
Now, I’m gonna stop here for just a second and forewarn everyone who might me sensitive or emotional, because the next few paragraphs are heart wrenching. I hope I bring the emotion and the respect that it deserves, but I was very emotional during my three hours in the museum and I’m probably going to make you shed some tears if you do continue reading from this point.
As soon as you enter through the glass doors, there is a security checkpoint. It’s very orderly and everything is so new, it even smells new. New paint, new carpet, new security screeners. Once you clear security you descend down an escalator and you see twisted rusty beams at the bottom. Sitting at the bottom of the escalator are two of the tridents that were both support and decoration for the two towers. If you will look at a picture of the towers you will see beams that split into three prongs as they go upward in the building structure. To stand there and see those two symbols of the tragedy that day, made it real for me in a way that seeing it all on television could never do. I saw those tridents and knew that I had to go forward and witness first hand the history of the evil that was perpetrated on New York on that September morning. Directly behind the tridents, through the glass is the tallest building in the United States, One World Trade Center. What a perfect framing of the old and of the rebuilding of the new. Just like the human spirit.
From there we moved into the actual start of the museum with a huge map showing the hijacked planes routes and at what time impact occurred. When I looked at the map and thought back to that day, I remembered of course, exactly where I was and what I was doing minutes after the first plane flew into the building. At that moment an audio recording was played recounting details of where from various people about what they were doing when they heard the awful news. The first man said: ” I was sitting in a coffee shop in Knoxville, Tennessee.” That gave me goose bumps when I I heard what the man had just said, as he had interrupted my memory of exactly where I was that day. I was just waking up and turning on my t.v. in Knoxville, Tennessee.
You then walk through panels displaying the many photographs that were captured early that day after the first and then the second jet exploded through the towers. Hundreds of photos of people staring skyward, shock and disbelief showing in their expressions and the horror showing in their eyes. Many had their hands over their mouths in what appeared to be an effort to hold in the terror that New Yorker’s had to feel after the second plane flew through the South Tower. Once through the panels you come to another escalator and a large area that overlooks the floor below. On the immediate left side is the actual slurry wall that held back the Hudson river the day of the attack. Also along this wall is the section of twisted iron that the nose of the hijacked plane sliced through. It’s sheared at the top and horribly twisted the entire length of the massive, steel beams. It’s the closest you have to seeing the impact of the jets as you are presented with a real life piece of evidence of the horrific act that was committed against not just New York and America, but the entire human race. It just makes your heart race with the knowledge that there is that kind of evil in the world.
To the right and not in direct line of sight, you see a wall covered in blue tiles. Blues of every hue from light to dark and every shade in between. There are almost 3000 tiles along this wall along with the inscription: “No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory Of Time”. Behind and below this wall is a repository for many of the unidentified remains that were recovered. The artist wanted to capture the exact shade of blue that was the New York sky that morning before the smoke and ash obscured the sky. No two hues are repeated and it’s peaceful and soothing and somber. It’s appropriate and serene and necessary and painful.
The museum has a very hushed quality and you see many walking around with tears tracking down their face without a moment of embarrassment. What you see and hear and feel as you walk through exhibit after exhibit cannot be contained and in the more emotional rooms there are pedestals with Kleenix for your use. And, they get used. Other than a docent and some guides, I never heard a voice above a whisper. There’s reverence here from everyone including children that had not been born when the attacks occurred. The little ones were on their best behavior and I applaud the parents who brought them to learn what happened and understand the greatest attack on American soil in the history of our country.
Each exhibit told a different story of all the horrors of that day. North tower, South tower, Pentagon, Pennsylvania. Timelines and news clips and first hand accounts from survivors and families that lost a loved one. There was an exhibit explaining who attacked us and why they attacked us and I couldn’t stomach it at all. I quickly moved through glancing only briefly at the facts and at the faces of these madmen. I left the room and honestly feel like they were given too much space. I understand that they are a part of the story, but their faces are not something that I ever want to look upon again.
The toughest room of all for me was one that had entire walls covered with the missing posters that loved ones tearfully made that day. I could feel the terror and the hope in these hastily made posters with phone numbers and messages begging for any information on their loved one. Then there were door sized cards in memoriam for husbands and fathers and wives and mothers. Memorials that had sprung up close to ground zero and at fire houses and in neighborhoods. Teddy bears, flowers, cards, messages of love and balloons all reminding us of the pain and the grief that so many people suffered through because of a radical religious group that thought that killing thousands would change something. It did change something. It changed the lives of thousands and it changed our nation forever. It also changed our world forever.
Near the end of the tour there is an exhibit where no photographs are allowed and it’s called the Memorial Room. Adorned on all four outside walls are photos depicting all to die in the attacks not only from 911 but also the people that lost their lives to this same group of terrorists at the same building in 1993. There’s a smaller chamber that has benches and a recitation of each name of those who died and a tribute from someone they knew. Bag pipes play Amazing Grace softly in the background.
We left with a feeling of gratefulness and hope in the human race. Not only did the museum hold nothing back and told the story in a sometimes, in your face, brutal manner but it also reminds of the the great resilience that we’re capable of. It’s important that we all remember those who lost their lives that day, but we should also honor all the survivors that have had to be brave and have the courage to go on. What happened on that beautiful September morning should never happen again. To anyone. Anywhere. For ANY reason.
This was one of the most powerful and moving things I have ever experienced and I would go back again, but not for a long time. It’s that strong. It’s that painful. It’s that important. I’m honored to have walked in history and to be able to respect all the good that was shown when evil showed her ugly face. The people of this city are to be praised and applauded for the bravery that was shown not only by the New York Fire Department and the New York Police Department, but by the every day people, the people of New York, that stood up to be heroes when heroes were needed.
We met up with a friend of Susan’s and after the long and emotional day, I excused myself fairly quickly and after much reassurances to Susan, I made my way from Manhattan to the apartment by myself. Yep, you read that right, I rode the subway home by myself last night and almost felt like it was the most natural thing in the world. Pretty liberating, I can tell you that.
Well, dear ones, it’s about time for dinner and I’ve been on here sharing with you for over two hours. I know Susan’s hungry and my stomach is starting to rumble so today’s tale of our adventures will just have to wait until either later tonight or sometime tomorrow. I hate getting behind once again, but you know a girls gotta have her New York pizza which I think we are just about to order.