The memorial sits on 180 Greenwich Street. Smack-dab in lower Manhattan. The memorial is busy today. But then…
“It’s busy every day,” says a cop standing nearby. “This is what everyone comes to see in New York. Everybody in the world remembers exactly where they were that day.”
It’s cold outside. Biblical throngs of tourists are bundled in jackets, sipping from obligatory Starbucks cups. Conversations come in all languages.
This isn’t like other New York tourist attractions. This isn’t “Hamilton,” or the Met. The mood is somber. People are reverent.
A family from Ohio peers into a gaping hole where the north tower used to stand. There are manmade waterfalls rushing into a cavern. A cavern where bodies were once found. Approximately 3,000 of their names are engraved around the memorial.
“I was on my way to work that day,” says the mother of the family. “I was getting dressed, after a shower. I saw the second plane hit, I was dripping wet, and I went numb.”
Almost as if on cue, a commercial airliner flies overhead, past the One World Trade Center skyscraper above us. The plane flies well below the summit of the tower, an eerie reminder.
There is an old man escorted by a young woman. They are hooking arms. He is from Santee, California. He remembers where he was.
“I was in a coffee shop,” he says. “In San Diego. The shop closed down, that’s how serious it was.”
Tickets to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum are cheap. One ticket will buy you admission into hell on earth. This is a hard place to visit.
The museum is impossibly crowded today. Standing room only. It’s worse than a major airport. And yet this is the quietest place in New York. There is no laughter. No idle conversation. You can hear your own heartbeat.
There are artifacts that survived the attacks. A blackened wallet. A mangled shoe. Stuffed animals. A cracked fireman’s helmet. The mutilated remains of a firetruck. A crushed ambulance.
There are several school kids taking the tour, maybe 10- and 11-year-olds. Their little feet tread on holy ground. The kids wear enormous backpacks on their tiny shoulders. They aren’t horsing around. They’re restrained. Reverential, even.
Their fifth-grade teacher remembers. “I was in college, in Virginia. They shut my school down that day. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, it must be pretty bad to close school.’ I remember being so scared.”
There is an inner room in the museum. There are thousands of photo portraits on the walls. Also projected on the walls are transcripts of audio recordings from family members.
I meet a man in the exhibit. He is from Long Island, touring the museum with his in-laws. “I was actually watching from the street when the tower collapsed. I’ll never forget it. Everyone was talking on cellphones, trying to let their family know they were okay. That’s why the cell towers were jammed and I couldn’t call my mom.”
To me, nothing is quite as sobering as the commemoration pools at Ground Zero. They are surreal.
It is surreal, remembering how closely Americans pulled together after the attacks. Surreal, remembering how every supermarket, car dealership, bank, school, K-Mart, churchhouse, courthouse, doghouse, henhouse and outhouse flew American flags.
Surreal, remembering how multi-millionaire country-music executives unselfishly used the subject of patriotism to sell more crappy records.
Surreal, remembering the World Series that year, when the cheers of Yankee Stadium nearly ripped a hole in the ozone.
I stand at Ground Zero. There, I meet a man clad in janitor’s clothing. He’s an older guy. He isn’t with anyone. He’s just leaning on the guard rail, gazing into the middle distance. We talk.
“Yeah, I come here whenever I have a little time before work,” he says, lighting a cigarette.
I ask if he knew someone who died in the attacks.
“No. But I’m American, so in a way, I knew every one of them.”
Oliver Rhett Talbert - February 13, 2023 12:51 pm
That there can be a place of such quiet remembrance, in a city famous for often losing it’s collective mind, is reassuring.
George Robert Leach - February 22, 2023 5:47 am
Auschwitz is just as awesome.
mccutchen52 - February 13, 2023 12:57 pm
A great way to show, those of us who haven’t been to the memorial, a look into the hearts and lives of the people who died there and the people who are remembering them.
lisaweldon - February 13, 2023 1:00 pm
I am SO enjoying your time in the Big Apple. At age 58 I took a month out of my life and went to NYC. I went there to reinvent myself professionally, but more importantly, to process some major trauma in my life. I tore a map of Manhattan into 20 pieces and walked one piece per day until I covered the entire island. The stories I found, the people I met, and the time alone changed my life. New York is a special, special place. I am thrilled that you and Jamie are enjoying it as well.
Ginga Smithfield - February 13, 2023 1:07 pm
Each person who died on 9/11 was a member of my family! They were a member of your family! They were a member of the American family. All of the first responders were and are members of the American family!!
Denise Walker - February 13, 2023 1:11 pm
It still amazes me how Americans came together that day/week/year. We were Americans that day. We were united against a foe—not each other. How odd that such a sad occurrence united us into one people.
George Robert Leach - February 22, 2023 5:45 am
Our foes were misguided terrorists just like those we have now. We need to keep being kind and helpful of others.
babs - February 13, 2023 1:23 pm
I had the radio on in the car, I was just pulling into the veterinarians office – “A plane hit the World Trade Center” I sat there confused, unable to move. finally, we went in to the office, my pup and I and asked if they were listing to the radio, No, they said but turned it on, we all sat there in the tiny office, the Vet, his office girls, three women and their dogs, a young boy and his cat…no one said a thing.
Jill - February 13, 2023 1:25 pm
“…I’m American, so in a way, I knew everyone of them.” 😭
Linda Lewis - February 13, 2023 1:28 pm
Wow! This is so powerful. Thank you for reminding us. An American tragedy at its worst. I pray that we never have relive this.
Betsey Matheny - February 13, 2023 1:29 pm
You captured the mood in words that I felt when I visited there. Something I had trouble describing. Thanks!
sjhl7 - February 13, 2023 1:36 pm
A time that brings back memories – mostly sad and heartbroken memories but also memories of Americans coming together in that time of loss and sadness. That unity is difficult to recapture in today’s world at least on that large a scale.
George Robert Leach - February 22, 2023 5:41 am
Not really. We can be kind and helpful daily.
Darlene Raughton - February 13, 2023 1:41 pm
I love your writing.
Bonnie Stewart - February 13, 2023 1:51 pm
We need to always remember the closeness we felt as Americans with no adjective, just Americans together.
Susie - February 13, 2023 1:53 pm
Bittersweet remembrance. Thank you, Sean.
Linda Askey - February 13, 2023 2:35 pm
Waterworks. The grief never stops.
David Britnell - February 13, 2023 2:37 pm
A sad day in our history
George Robert Leach - February 22, 2023 5:40 am
No sadder than today. We need to help others always.
EP Gregg - February 13, 2023 2:42 pm
GOD Bless America
donna from Iowa - February 13, 2023 2:47 pm
I thank you for this column–; don’t think there isn[‘t one soul who won’t remember exactly where they were when that news came through
Stacey Wallace - February 13, 2023 3:04 pm
Sean, thanks for this wonderful memorial to those Americans who lost their lives on that tragic day. May we always remember and honor them And May God bless their families.
Patricia Gibson - February 13, 2023 3:24 pm
It is a shame we can’t band together like that all the time💘 Going is on my bucket list.
Great story as always.
George Robert Leach - February 22, 2023 5:38 am
We can and should band together daily. Be kind, help others, stay alert to needs.
Jean Tidwell Wilson - February 13, 2023 3:30 pm
I remember where I was on that horrible morning.
I was getting ready for work, listening to Rick n Bubba when they started talking about an airplane that had flew into the World Trade Tower.
They were busy talking trying figure out why when minutes later another plane flew into the other tower.
At that point we all knew neither were accidents..
We!! Our country was under attack by someone.
The rest of the day and weeks and months were a mix of emotions!
I could hardly wait to reach my family who only live 70 miles away, give them hugs and let them know how much I loved them.
Gayle Wilson - February 13, 2023 3:52 pm
You’re right about pulling together. That was a time when time stood still. Probably every one that was old enough to have memories, remembers that day. I find it sad too, that it takes a tragedy to bring people together and remember that we are Americans from all walks of life and from different parts of the world. It is also sad that it took a tragedy of this proportion to hear news people send up God’s blessings on those that died, the family and friends they left behind, and on our country.
Robert Chiles - February 13, 2023 3:57 pm
We were all brothers and sisters, back then
George Robert Leach - February 22, 2023 5:35 am
We still are brothers and sisters. We are all part of the human race. We are all neighbors. We can’t change just because of some silly notions of an old man. Be really kind to everyone.
Te - February 13, 2023 4:13 pm
I was working at an attorney’s office in Boca Raton, FL when my daughter called. All the office had was a small 12″ tv so my boss and I drove like demons to where we knew we could see it on a 50″. In time to see both towers disintegrate into dust and hear that the Pentagon had been hit. I felt a cold chill: we were at war. Not just a foreign war in some remote location, but on our own soil. Later we learned the truth, but at the time, it was chilling. They were Americans. They were all our family. There was a great disturbance in the Force that day.
Elizabeth Holleman - February 13, 2023 4:35 pm
You have written such an accurate, painful, and reverent description of the 911 Memorial. It is a hard place to visit but everyone should.
Kathy - February 13, 2023 4:37 pm
Awesome article. If you have the opportunity, also visit the flight 93 memorial in Western PA.
I have been to Ground Zero a few times, but I need to go back and see the additions to it. The Sounds of Silence are sobering!
Peggy M. Windham - February 13, 2023 4:40 pm
I was in a Multi Needs meeting with colleagues. Someone came in and mentioned something about what happened and we turned on a TV. What we were seeing was unbelievable! Like every American, I will never forget! It was also my sister’s birthday. 🙏🙏
Anne Arthur - February 13, 2023 4:55 pm
I was in Jamaica, getting dressed for work when my daughter urged me to come quickly to the living room to watch a TV report, which she thought couldn’t be real… and then the second plane hit. We knew that it was no science fiction film but the bitter truth. My niece worked near Ground Zero and walked all day to reach home, we didn’t hear from her until late at night. What a horrible day it was, 9/11.
Steve McCaleb - February 13, 2023 4:58 pm
It’s odd that it takes a tragedy to pull us all together. Strange that the worst of times brings out the very best of what we have to offer. I guess that goes with being human……or so I’ve been told. May God continue to bless our country despite how increasingly undeserving we have become.
Paul Sams - February 13, 2023 6:40 pm
I was getting ready to go out of town that day. Good Morning America was on. I heard them talking a bout a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. As they started showing video I saw the second plane hit the towers. I was so stunned, I didn’t really know what I felt. I told my wife that it could not have been an accident. After making some phone calls, I knew I had to travel that day as it was a long drive. I told my wife I needed her to come with me on this trip.
pattymack43 - February 13, 2023 7:29 pm
Linda Moon - February 13, 2023 7:40 pm
I remember exactly where I was when President Kennedy was shot. I was in high school. I remember where I was when the Trade Centers came down. I was a school counselor. I needed consolation from educators in 1963, and in 2001 I became a consoler while needing it myself. My experiences and memories of those two events made me become a better American who doesn’t take Freedom for granted.
George Robert Leach - February 22, 2023 5:29 am
I was in high school Biology when we learned of JFK shooting. I was working at directory assistance when the towers fell. Nothing is ever the same.
carl robacker - February 13, 2023 9:02 pm
very good article, I remember were I was what I was doing at that time
drkidnurse - February 13, 2023 9:34 pm
It was surreal that night. 4am. Volunteer medical team. Standing on the corner of Chambers & West St (the big highway to the west), under the white walking bridge to Stuyvesant High School. Dark. Quiet. Duetsche Bank tower glowing 1/3 of the way up, in it’s core. The corner coffee truck – everything covered in 1/4-1/2″ of dust. A mix of drywall and concrete and who knows what else. It was everywhere. And 220 stories of Towers reduced to about 6 stories of mangled stuff. Where were the desks, the chairs, the elevators, the …..everything??? How could it be real? It really felt like being on a Speilberg set with amazing special effects, between takes. But it was. Real. And firemen needed eyes rinsed out, and rescue dogs needed singed paws wrapped, and… and… so we worked. It was hallowed ground, a holy place. We were there to treat the survivors. Hoping hospitals would be overwhelmed, so trauma triage was set up. Sadly, we weren’t really needed for that. It was a quiet place. Too quiet.
Julianne - February 13, 2023 9:45 pm
I was in the little midwestern town of Storm Lake, Iowa. After work I was walking with my dog to church, which felt like a place to pray blessings into the horror and a safe space to be. As we left the house there was a huge BOOM that shook the windows and floors and sent both me and Toby to the ground. Neighbors came running out, someone called 91I. Turned out that they had scrambled jets from Offutt Airforce Base in Omaha, Nebraska, and as they flew over Storm Lake they broke the sound barrier. We prayed through the night for those whose lives would never be the same, and in gratitude for safe and simple life in the rural Midwest.
Peggy Howell - February 14, 2023 12:28 am
Kay - February 14, 2023 12:38 am
Jeannette - February 14, 2023 1:41 am
Do we need another horrible event to unite this country? I hope not.🙏🏻
George Robert Leach - February 22, 2023 5:24 am
We already have another terrible event. Will we survive?
Kim H - February 14, 2023 2:18 am
I remember where I was too. It’s something I will NEVER forget 💔💔💔
drkidnurse - February 14, 2023 2:35 am
Julianne – We in NYC appreciated those jets. They flew low and slow, so we knew they were there – protecting us. They flew at night for months. When you live near an airport (and since there are so many, almost everyone in NYC immediate area lives near an airport) you learn the sounds of the engines. These were different – they were fighter jets. 2am, 4am. Keeping watch for months. Grateful.
Diann - February 25, 2023 3:51 pm
Oh I love this! Did not know they did that- my Dad was career Air Force- makes me so proud
drkidnurse - February 14, 2023 2:36 am
WAIT!! You were HERE???? Did a miss a book tour? I’m so bummed! Would love to hug you (mask on)!
MAM - February 14, 2023 2:53 am
Yes, we all can remember exactly where we were that day. I’m old enough that I also remember exactly where I was when JFK was assassinated. These traumatic events tie us together. Why can’t we unite in the same way, every day, every place in our love for our wonderful country, the United States of America?
leonard carter - February 14, 2023 3:17 am
My wife and I were heading to the airport in Charlotte for a flight to Philadelphia and then to Amsterdam.
Lynne - February 14, 2023 7:37 pm
I was home doing laundry, not close to a tv when my husband called, his words still make me cry when I think of them, as he was in the Pentagon.
He was so very lucky. If the plane had been 8 ft farther over, he wouldn’t have survived. He helped people walk away from the building and then hitchhiked home. They closed his office for a few days so the damage could be cleaned up.
Thank you for your writing about this, we will never forget.
Msgt Richard Rocheleau USAF ret. - February 15, 2023 5:05 am
I was at Otis ANGB when the first two F.15’s scrambled and we were soon notified that we were on possible war status! 🇺🇸
Sheri K - February 16, 2023 5:45 pm
“God bless America! Land that I love! Stand beside her and guide her” Anen
Sue Ellen - February 19, 2023 4:54 am
I drove my Meals on Wheels route that day.
People that grew up in the Great Depression and WWII had to watch those buildings fall. Great Americans every one. 🇺🇸♥️
George Robert Leach - February 22, 2023 5:20 am
I was at work, an operator for Verizon. It was the weirdest day working, trying to connect people to others. Very somber.
Diann - February 25, 2023 3:47 pm
It’s been a few years but I have been there and just reading this brought fresh tears to my eyes. Thank you for never letting us forget.
Renee Welton - March 18, 2023 11:46 am