Visiting New York City’s 9/11 Memorial

Do you remember where you were on Sept 11, 2001?  Many of us know and recall that moment.  I was driving to work when I first heard of the crash and the tragic events that forever changed many lives, a city’s landscape, our security and how we travel.  We spent a few days in New York City after our Europe trip this past summer and visited the National September 11 Memorial and Museum or commonly called the 9/11 Memorial which opened last year.

9/11 Memorial Waterfall

We instantly heard the sounds of water flowing as soon as we entered the area.  These were coming from the country’s largest artificial waterfalls that cascaded into identical one acre pools located where the Twin Towers once stood.  Known as “Reflecting Absence”, the two pools each had 30-foot waterfalls flowing down its four sides into a square bottomless pit in the middle.

911 Memorial Fountain

It was simple with a sense of sadness.  Created to commemorate the many lives lost and to symbolize the physical location of the towers, it was a moving experience being there.  There were 2,983 names inscribed on 76 bronze panels on top of the waterfalls.  They represented the 2,977 killed as result of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania and the six who were killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

9/11 Memorial Names

The names were arranged using a process to group the victims based on their location, affiliation and personal relationships.  Electronic directories were also available to locate each name.

9/11 Memorial Location marker

I still have a hard time grasping at the enormity of the 9/11 events many years later so how could I make my kids understand the importance of this memorial?  At ages 6 and 9 during our visit, they knew what happened during that fateful day.  Their school had a ceremony last year for the 10th anniversary and questions came up then.  We tried to answer their questions and explain the best way we knew how with honesty and simplicity.  But, a visit here helped a lot more.

9/11 Memorial with kids

My 6-year old couldn’t quite wrap his brain around the number of people these names equated to and could only utter “that’s a lot of people that died”.  Seeing the nearly 3,000 names lined up that seem to endlessly go on was sad and heartbreaking.

9/11 Memorial names

It was emotional to see the names, touch the inscriptions and know that their names forever etched here have left a tremendous void in someone else’s life.  We’ve seen pictures with flowers on some of the names but didn’t find any during our visit.  What affected me most was seeing a few women’s names followed with “and her unborn child“.  It was a poignant and powerful reminder of lives lost too soon or ones that never got a chance.

911 Unborn child sign

The sound of the waterfalls was supposed to drown out the sounds of the city.  The memorial site was also designed as a place of serenity and reflection.  During our visit, it was in the middle of a construction zone where at times the noise was deafening and hard to ignore.  I’m sure once the buildings are completed it will accomplish that purpose.

9/11 memorial Construction area

Almost 400 sweet gum and swamp white oak trees will eventually fill the remaining six acres of the Memorial Plaza.  The surrounding area around the fountains looked very much like a park.  There were plenty of seating areas and wide open spaces so it never felt crowded.  The landscaping wasn’t completely done yet with some areas still needing grass.

9/11 Memorial Park area

One of the features in the memorial park is the Survivor Tree.  A callery pear tree was retrieved from the World Trade Center site on October 2011 barely alive – badly burnt, covered with ash and with one living branch.  The tree thrived under the care of a Bronx nursery and even survived an uprooting in 2010 during a storm.  It has become a “symbol of hope and rebirth” and now prominently grows here.

9/11 memorial survivor tree

The 9/11 Memorial will eventually occupy eight acres – half of the original World Trade Center site.  The museum was still closed during our visit.  We were told it was scheduled to open next year.  The museum will contain the victims’ personal stories, artifacts and mementos.  Its primary exhibition will be the remnants of the foundation slabs and exterior structure of the Twin Towers – seven stories below the ground.

9/11 Memorial side fountain

A preview of some artifacts was located in the small Visitor’s Center and store.  This place got very crowded but has a lot of items for sale that benefit the memorial.  On one side was a video continuously playing survivor stories.  Don’t be surprised if you catch yourself tearing up or crying with the rest of the people watching this emotional video.  This ashy fireman’s hat was one of the displays.

9/11 Memorial Fireman hat

For many children born after the event or too young to remember, 9/11 is part of history they’ll learn.  But, many of us remember the fear, helplessness and panic we felt that day followed by the sorrow and anguish as we watched it unfold.  All we can pass on to them is to focus on the heroes that saved many and to remember those who died and to realize people’s perseverance and see how we’ve rebuilt since then.

9/11 Memorial side fountain

The 9/11 Memorial accomplished all of that.  It was a beautiful and touching tribute to the heroes and victims.  One of the last wall sculptures we saw outside the memorial was this one of the firefighters with a fitting reminder for all of us.

9/11 memorial May We Never Forget

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial Basics and Tips:

  • Get tickets online.  Reserve FREE Visitor passes with the date and time you need.  We reserved far in advance for our specific dates.  We preferred to print out our tickets but they can also be picked up.  Visit the 9/11 Memorial reservation site.
  • Get there early.  As a rule of thumb with many attractions, getting there early means you don’t have to line up for a long time getting through security.  We got there around 10AM and by the time we left, the security and entrance lines doubled.
  • Take the subway.  With all the construction going on around the area and being in New York City, parking is hard to find or at a premium.  There were various subway and bus stops within a couple of blocks of the memorial.  We took the subway from our hotel in the Times Square area.  Check the Getting Here portion on their website for the many options.
  • Security checks.  Be prepared for screenings similar to the airport minus the taking off the shoes part.  There were also a lot of security guards walking around the area.
  • No restrooms available. Since the museum was still closed, there were no restrooms available within the 9/11 Memorial Plaza. There were plenty of hotels and restaurants around the area for those necessary breaks.
  • Night visits.  We would love to return to see the memorial all lit up at night.  The pictures we’ve seen show a special glow and look to the fountains.

*Have you visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York?  Do you remember where you were when you first heard about the 9/11 events?

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