In November of 2007, I went to New York for a National Writing Project Annual Meeting. It was exciting to be in a hotel right on Times Square and to play the tourist, taking a bus tour, walking up to Rockefeller Center to watch the skaters and to see the Christmas tree with a huge Swarovsky crystal at the top.
Of course, attending the meetings and reconnecting with colleagues from all across the country was stimulating. NWP meetings are always a treat.
But the highlight of my trip was the extra day my friend Maggie and I stayed so we could visit Ground Zero. Of course the construction was in high gear, and the memorial and museum were still on the drawing board, but we discovered the wonderful Tribute WTC Visitor Center, a museum already in place displaying over 1,200 photographs and memorabilia donated by family members of those lost in both the 1993 attack and on 9/11.
The Tribute Center embodies the need to gather at the World Trade Center site, connect with the people, places and events of February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001, and reflect. Tribute WTC Visitor Center is a project of the September 11th Families’ Association, a 501(C)3 non-profit corporation. The Tribute WTC Visitor Center expands upon the September 11th Families’ Association mission to unite and support victims of terrorism by incorporating the entire 9/11 community – families, survivors, residents, rescue workers and volunteers affected by 9/11/01. The Center creates a central place for information about 9/11 at the WTC site. Visitors learn factual information about the events on September 11th, the identity of 2,973 people killed in the attacks, the unprecedented rescue and recovery operations and the tremendous spirit of support and generosity that arose after the attacks.
Our walking tour, which took us around Ground Zero, was led by a man who survived 9/11 and a young woman whose father managed to escape from one of the towers, but whose uncle, a New York City firefighter, was lost. She was still in high school in New Jersey on that day. Because they couldn’t get home nor could they get word about their families, she and her friends went to the neighboring elementary school to take care of younger children whose parents could not come to pick them up, many of whom worked at the World Trade Center. Hearing their first-hand stories was moving.
Walking through the Tribute Center was almost painful as we looked into the faces of so many people whose photographs cover two walls of the center. There were artifacts of the devastation in glass display cases: a fireman’s mangled helmet, a shoe, a stuffed lamb, its head cocked upward as if watching the events of that morning.
There are paper cranes. So many paper cranes. An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by a crane, such as long life or recovery from illness or injury. The stairwell going to the lower level hangs thick with these colorful cranes, but the most touching tribute of paper cranes is in a small acrylic box mounted among the photographs on one wall. In it were 1,000 tiny paper cranes folded lovingly by the children of an elementary school in Hiroshima, Japan. (Click on the picture below to see just how small these paper cranes are.)
This museum, right across the street from Ground Zero, is a beautiful tribute to those who died, those who survived, and those who have dedicated their lives to keeping the memories alive. I hope people will not overlook it in their rush to see the new memorial and museum which opens tomorrow.
Post Script: Today, among much of the other 9/11 coverage on TV, I came across a documentary called “Rising” on the Science channel about building the new Tower 1 and museum at Ground Zero. Central to many of the stories told about those who were lost and those who remember was Lee Ielpi, founder of September 11 Families’ Association and the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. If they repeat this documentary any time, you MUST see it.