Written by Adam Perkinson
Last month, I took a trip to New York City for 4 days. I stayed in Times Square, but that’s not what stuck with me — it was my tour of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It emphasized just how big the attacks were. It’s easy to read the statistics and not think twice about them. 2,996 is just a number, right?
That’s what I thought before I went. Yes, each number represented a life with families and friends impacted, but it’s hard to visualize the scale of something like that. I hadn’t even really thought about the exact number too much but when I walked into a roughly 50x50x25 room lined with photos of the victims, it was harrowing.
Up on Ground Zero where the Twin Towers once stood are now deep pits with water cascading from each side. Along each edge are the 2,996 names of the victims killed at the Pentagon, the Towers, and on the planes. In the middle stands One World Trade Center — a 1,776 foot tall monument to the perseverance of the American spirit. Ground Zero itself is almost eerie; one block away and it’s the normal hustle and bustle of NYC. However, once you walk past St. Paul’s Chapel, it’s like you walked into downtown Wake Forest. I would gander that if not for the construction still taking place, downtown Wake Forest would be just as loud as the WTC Plaza.
Walking into the museum, it’s like going through an airport. You empty your pockets, go through a metal detector, and go down an escalator into an open lobby. It starts with recordings of people’s voices as they recount where they were on that cool Tuesday morning while pictures of pedestrians reacting to the Towers being hit and collapsing cycle through. This immediate punch to the emotional gut sets the tone for the rest of the “tour” (I call it a “tour” because it seems insensitive to compare the recounting of events that resulted in 2,996 deaths to a tourist attraction). And that tone is a mixture of somber respect, dignity, and remembrance. On more than one occasion, I saw groups of people huddled together, some crying, some praying, and others looking around with a look in their eyes that you don’t really see outside of funerals. And, in a way, for the possibly hundreds of unidentified bodies stored behind a massive wall deep within the museum, everyday is their funeral.
Every American ought to go to the 9/11 Museum at least once in their lifetime. One can’t really get a perspective on the tragedy until you walk on the same ground 2,996 people died on.