The site of one of the worst tragedies in American history has been transformed into a stunning sanctuary of peace. That was my reaction, as I walked into the new 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan.
As you stroll through the trees and past the giant waterfalls that now cover the footprints of the twin towers, there are moments when you almost forget that you’re in the middle of American’s biggest city.
“The reaction we get when people step onto the eight acre site is that it immediately feels like you’re in a very special place”, said Joe Daniels, the president of the memorial.
When it was unveiled in September, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the memorial drew world-wide attention as families of the 9-11 victims saw it for the first time.
Since then, the group that runs the site has issued more than one million tickets to visitors requesting to see it, and thousands of people now flock to the site each day in lower Manhattan. Ticket requests have come from all 50 states and from 85 countries around the world.
“It has been an incredible experience so far,' Daniels said.
Daniels tells me he’s spent some time in North Texas recently talking with officials at Ft. Worth based American Airlines, about plans to memorialize the crew members and passengers who died on board the hijacked American flights.
Eventually, they will be honored along with others who died that day, in a museum expected to open at the memorial site next year. Their names are already listed on the rails that line the fountains. On the northwest corner of the north fountain – you’ll find the names of the pilots flight attendants and Airlines flight 11, including Betty Ong, the flight attendant who made one of the first calls for help from her seat on board the plane.
“The first first responders that day were the flight attendants on those planes”, Daniels says.
Visiting the Memorial requires some advance planning, at least for now. Tickets are free, but visitors need to reserve in advance through the Memorial’s website. A small number of tickets are also released each day at a reservations office in New York.
Within two years, Daniels hopes to get to the point where visitors will not need a pass. But, because of ongoing construction of the new Freedom Tower and other surrounding buildings, Daniels said the tickets were necessary for safety and crowd control in the area.
Today, visitors pass through a checkpoint, with airport style security, before emerging onto the giant plaza.
On a recent November morning, leaves on the trees were showing golden fall colors, with one exception: “the Survivor Tree." It’s the tree that was plucked from the wreckage of the trade center and replanted at the site. It stood out still covered in green, a reminder of those who were lost and still live on in memories. Like the memorial itself, it's also a reminder of how New York is rising again. Moving forward but never forgetting.