THE 9/11 MEMORIALS: PRELUDE TO AN ANNIVERSARYArticle - Monday, August 1, 2011
New York Social Diary
By Carol Joynt
When Alice Greenwald stepped up to the podium at Washington’s National Building Museum last week the image beside her said “46.” It took a moment to come to terms with its relevance. What it meant was that in 46 days the The National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center would open in lower Manhattan. It was a jolt to the mind and the heart, absorbing that in barely more than a month we will observe the tenth anniversary of the catastrophic terrorist attacks that occurred in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington. Greenwald, who is the museum’s director, said the New York memorial is “a symbol of our commitment to remembrance. Everyone will always know there was a before 9/11 and an after 9/11.”
Greenwald was in a panel organized collectively by Chase W. Rynd, Executive Director of the National Building Museum, and Brent Glass, Director of the National Museum of American History and a member of the Flight 93 Memorial Commission. The other speakers were Jeff Reinbold, Site Director of the Flight 93 National Memorial and Jim Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, and a survivor; his brother was killed at the Pentagon. The event had a simple title: “The Public Memory of 9/11.
The small audience who gathered were privileged because, as Glass said, “this is the first time all three 9/11 Memorials will be discussed at one time,” making it a fitting early step in preparing for the anniversary. Unlike many historic events, he said, “We’re not nostalgic about September 11, but there was a public consensus the people should be memorialized. In creating memorials in the places of violence and death we are creating sacred ground.”
With the exception of the Pentagon memorial, which was managed with the rigorous discipline of the military establishment, there’s been more fluidity and sometimes-heated debate about the New York and Shanksville memorials. “The debate continues today,” Glass said. “What should be left in, what should be left out, and also forces to consider; for example, religion.” He lauded the panelists for their mettle in navigating the projects. “It takes courage to do what they do.”
Alice Greenwald narrated a virtual video tour of the World Trade Center memorial, taking the audience step by step from the entrance to the exit. Her background with the National Holocaust Museum was apparent in that the New York memorial museum, in the foot print of the Twin Towers, achieves similar results: taking you through the experience with an unflinching respect for the horror and the victims. She called it a “cathedral like” space, and it does appear that way, especially at the moment visitors arrive at the iconic slurry wall, the only piece of the original structure that remained intact.
In the overall eight-acre plaza, the cavities of the towers will be marked by two pools, each with a 30-foot waterfall cascading down the sides. “We’ve been testing the waterfalls and to be there is awesome,” she said. “Most museums house artifacts. Our museum will be within an artifact.”
But there will be meaningful exhibits. Real time voice recordings from that day, from people trapped inside the towers and first responders; projections of the hundreds of missing persons posters, a piece of steel that was penetrated and melted by American Airlines Flight #11, the first plane to hit; a fire engine, a 37-foot high column which was the last piece of the building to be removed from the site and, most of all, the names of all the victims, “incised in bronze,” ranging in ages from two to 85-years-old.
Greenwald highlighted a timeline of events “in all the affected locations.” She said, “We have asked ourselves what kind of promises are we trying to make. This is a site where people were murdered. But it's not a grave. It's a memorial. The memorial is in the cavity of what was there.”
Jeff Reinbold faced unique challenges in Shanksville, PA. Rather than rubble and wreckage, there was nothing left of United Flight #93, except a charred hole in the ground. But the legacy of the passengers is profound. “Trial documents indicate the flight was headed to the Capitol,” he said. “The passengers called their loves one, took comfort in each other and decided to fight back.” The cockpit voice recorder and other evidence indicate their rebellion forced the plane down in the Pennsylvania field. “Human remains are buried on the site,” he said, “but nothing remains of the impact but the location.”
“The challenge was creating a memorial in a site that was not a terrorist target, but a rural working class community,” said Reinbold. “How do you introduce a quarter million visitors to this small rural town? Everyone would be exposed. We had to do an environmental impact, and we had to raise $30 million to make it a reality.” They bought the surrounding land, amounting to 2,000 acres. “Our goal was to protect the crash site and the land around it.”
Similar to the Pentagon Memorial, the United Flight #93 Commission opened the design competition to the public, to anyone who paid the $25 entry fee. “The place demanded something different, something fresh,” Reinbold said. The winning design, featuring expansive landscaping and a “Tower of Voices” with wind chimes, was from Paul and Milena Murdoch of Los Angeles.
Reinbold did not venture there in his prepared remarks, but the Murdochs’ initial “crescent” design drew criticism from some who thought it had Muslim overtones. Family members and others disagreed; there was debate and some modification. Clearly there’s a more complex story that still needs to be told. What Reinbold emphasized is that the design “reflects careful consideration for land that has spiritual content, a cemetery. There is debate over whether it is architecture or landscape architecture, but the design suits the site.”
The memorial is, in many ways, a vast open space, reached after a mile walk from a visitors’ center still to be completed. The site is lined with trees honoring the victims, and there is a wall of names, which will be dedicated on September 10th. “The memorial will grow and change and so will we,” he said.
Jim Laychak began by talking about his brother, Dave, who was killed when hijackers flew American Airlines Flight #77 into the Pentagon, where he was a civilian employee. Another 183 passengers and Pentagon workers died there, including five children aboard the plane. Laychak got involved with the memorial project right away and became the President and Chairman of the Pentagon Memorial Fund. “What struck me were the questions: how are we going to remember this? How are we going to memorialize this? That’s what started me on this journey. We had one chance to get it right, and I thought let’s not focus on the money first. Let’s focus on a great design.” Though, he said, an initial $1 million from Anheuser Busch “was critical” to the fundraising.
Thousands entered the blind competition for the Pentagon design. The winners were New York architects Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman. The location is adjacent to the side of the Pentagon where the plane hit. The principal feature is individual benches, over pools of water, memorializing each victim. At night they are lit from beneath and the site is evocative with the Pentagon in the background. Night is a popular time to visit, Laychak said some people come in the middle of the night, and for that reason the memorial is open 24 hours.
On September 3rd the National Museum of American History opens its own 9/11 exhibition, which will be on display for only nine days. According to Brent Glass it will include more than 50 artifacts from the three sites and, in an unusual turn, they will not be displayed behind glass but on tables, enabling visitors to have a more “intimate experience.”