The iconic Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre are now replaced with the elegant pinnacle of the Freedom Tower. The many people who died and suffered because of the terrorist actions of 9/11 will not be forgotten.
In the early 1970s the North and South twin towers of the World Trade Center in the financial district on the southern point of Manhattan were completed.
The towers were 110 storeys high, over 1350 feet, the North Tower being slightly higher than the south tower.
They were stunning buildings, best viewed from the river to get a good impression of just how tall and beautiful they were.
I was also very impressed by the speed of the express elevators. The system of elevators was specially designed to move people quickly and efficiently through such tall buildings. Each tower was served by 23 express elevators, 72 local elevators and 4 giant freight elevators travelling at speeds of up to 1600 feet per minute.
The views from the 107th floor of the South Tower observation deck were incredible: right from the George Washington Bridge and northern point of Manhattan to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the south.
Thirty years later these beautiful buildings were destroyed in a terrible act of terrorism.
Briefly, what happened on September 11, 2001 involved terrorists associated with al-Qaeda hijacking four airplanes and targeting four sites in the USA.
Shortly before 9 a.m. one airplane was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Minutes later a second aircraft was flown into the South Tower. Both towers erupted in flames. Less than an hour later the South Tower collapsed, followed half an hour after that by the North Tower. Huge dust clouds rolled for blocks into the city, fires were ignited in surrounding buildings - several hours later WTC7 collapsed, fortunately it had earlier been evacuated.
The third aircraft slammed into the Pentagon. The fourth aircraft had a delayed takeoff and passengers knew, from phone calls to the ground, that the hijackers on their plane did not intend to land the plane. Incredibly bravely they attacked the hijackers in the cockpit sending the aircraft plummeting to the ground.1
Almost 3,000 people died including over 400 firefighters and police officers.
Watching footage of the events1 even many years later evokes great sadness and pity for the victims.
Returning in 2015 we wanted to learn more about the events of 9/11 so we went on a Ground Zero tour2 with a terrific guide, John Garay, who gave a moving personal insight into the terrible human tragedy of that day and the following weeks and months. He said, in fact, that people were still suffering mentally and that many people have medical problems directly attributable to the events of that day. For a long time he found it very difficult to think or talk about the events but now finds that guiding helps, though he doesn't do it more than a couple of times a week.
John was Supervisor of Registration for three departments - the Emergency Room, Admitting Department and Ambulatory Surgery - at NYU Downtown Hospital (now NY Presbyterian). The hospital is only three blocks from the World Trade Center (WTC) and consequently many injured people were treated here and many relatives and friends came looking for loved ones. The hospital wasn't actually equipped to deal with the types of trauma that 9/11 victims experienced but everyone did everything they could, working long shifts and supported by many volunteers.
We went into St. Paul's Chapel, just a block away from the World Trade Center, where there are very moving tributes to victims, emergency service personnel and volunteers. This Episcopal church was a volunteer centre at the time where volunteers worked tirelessly serving meals, counselling rescue workers and generally providing whatever support was needed on the day and in the months that followed. Outside the chapel stands the Bell of Hope, presented to the church by the Lord Mayor on behalf of the City of London. It is rung on the anniversary of 9/11 and in tribute to other victims of terrorism such as the London and Madrid bombings. The bell was cast at the Whitechapel foundry, the same foundry that cast the Liberty Bell and Big Ben.
A large sycamore helped to shield the church from the devastation. Though it did not survive a cast was made of its root system and the sculpture, by Steve Tobin, now stands as a memorial in the grounds of Trinity Church on Broadway and Wall Street, the parish of which St Paul's is a member.
Frantic friends and relatives created fliers with photographs and contact details of their missing loved ones, handing them out around the city and posting them on walls and fences at hospitals and rescue centres. In St. Paul's a Memorial Altar now contains some of the original fliers and photographs as well as prayer cards and mementos. The display is personal and really brings home the sorrow and loss.
John met us again outside and continued to tell his story. Trying to help distraught friends and relatives is one of John's most hard-to-bear memories. They were, of course, hoping to find their loved ones alive, perhaps injured, but hoping against hope that they were not dead. John recalled that later he saw photographs (many were posted on the railings of St. Paul's) on "missing" posters of people whom he had seen dead. Many victims remain unidentified which has left relatives and friends with no opportunity for a burial or cremation, no final farewell.
John worked right through the day, feeling the shocks as both towers came down - he was at a window when the dust cloud moved through. After working a twelve hour shift he went outside and was covered in dust.
When John was off-duty he was allowed into Ground Zero where he worked as a volunteer handing out bottled water, food and paper face masks to protect against the dust. Later he began to take photos. At first, thinking it was disrespectful, he had refrained, but seeing what fantastic work the emergency services and volunteers were doing he began to document their efforts. He said the gut response of so many people to make their way to the area to help was very heart-warming. On a couple of night shots he was puzzled to see that the prints were covered with tiny pinpricks of light - these were the flash reflecting from dust particles still in the air.
He knew many of the statistical details of course: 200 people were trapped in elevators, only 15 escaped; 11 pregnant women died; 71 police officers and 343 firefighters died including six from 10 House, the closest to the World Trade Center .
John also spoke about his brother, a police officer who was off-duty at the time. He was actually in the zone and saw the South Tower collapse - he just ran as hard as he could away from Ground Zero. He and a number of his police friends volunteered to help, two of his friends were killed, including Mark Joseph Ellis. Quite amazingly, by chance, we had photographed Mark Joseph Ellis's name on the memorial.
Apart from these tragic events, John is also very knowledgeable about the city and seemed to have an anecdote on every street corner: the guy who walked a tightrope slung between the Twin Towers - an amazing feat, especially considering the towers swayed as much as twelve inches! He pointed out the location of Occupy Wall Street and explained that, because the ground was privately owned, city laws didn't apply so the protestors couldn't be evicted (eventually the courts sided with the owner who was allowed to evict them).
We finished the tour at the Memorial Site. The two beautiful pools below the Freedom Tower are set within the footprints of the original Twin Towers. Waterfalls plunge into the pools on all four sides which are edged with bronze sheets inscribed with the names of everyone who died in 9/11 and the 1993 terrorist attack in which six people died after a bomb exploded in the underground garage of the North Tower.
Here John told us about the only tree to survive the attack, a Callery Pear tree, which, though severely damaged, was coaxed back to life by the New York Department of Parks and Recreation.3 It was replanted at the Memorial in 2010.
It was one of the most interesting, certainly the most moving, tour we'd ever been on.
Soaring 1776 ft into the air, the Freedom Tower (One World Trade Center) is an elegant pinnacle of symbolic resolution to deny terrorism any kind of victory. Nevertheless, the security measures built into the building are immense including elevators and stairwells encased in 1m thick concrete walls. 1776 is of course the year of American Independence. The ground level area of the Freedom Tower is equal to that of the two original towers combined.
We had waited to return to New York until the tower was open to the public and so we were among the first to experience the amazing elevators, projected films and fantastic views.
Unlike the elevators in the Twin Towers there was absolutely no impression of speed, though it takes less than a minute to rise to the observation decks at exactly the same height as the observation decks of the Twin Towers. During the ride a film is projected on the walls of the elevator depicting a time lapse of the city through more than 500 years of history - it is quite something to see. Heartbreakingly the Twin Towers appear towards the end and disappear almost immediately.
But even more spectacular is the film shown on an expanse of wall just before you enter the observation area. Bright scenes interwoven into a portrait of the city from parks to subways, people going about their business to the city at night with a voiceover and music background. The music built to a crescendo as a nighttime city skyline unfolded onto the wall which suddenly raised to reveal the spectacular view of the city skyline itself. Having no idea that this incredible theatrical "reveal" was going to happen, we were wonderfully amazed, along with just about everyone else judging by the loud gasp of astonishment. Especially as we had a perfect sunny day and the view stretched for miles.
The Sky Portal is a floor projection of a live view of the city streets below - not many people seem to want to walk on it!
It is possible to eat at the Observation decks but there was nothing there we really fancied and, besides, we'd heard wonderful things about Shake Shack and there was one not too far away so we hightailed it off there and had truly great burgers and fries. The frozen custard of the day was a peanut butter and jelly which didn't appeal - pity the mint chocolate fudge wasn't on!
Being at the World Trade Centre on the anniversary of the attack was very moving. We made our way to the memorial site after breakfast but of course only families and dignitaries were allowed in for the memorial service.
After spending the day in the city we returned in the evening, visiting Ten House - the closest fire station to the World Trade Centre comprising Ladder Company 10 and Engine Company 10 (ladder trucks carry multiple ladders and rescue equipment while engine trucks carry firefighting equipment such as hoses). Six firefighters from Ten House died on 9/11: Lieutenant Gregg A. Atlas, Firefighter Paul Pansini, Lieutenant Stephen G. Harrell, Firefighter Sean P. Tallon, Firefighter Jeffrey J. Olsen, Captain (Ret.) James J. Corrigan.4
The inscriptions on the reflecting pools were studded with thousands of flowers and flags
Not realising we had already photographed the name of Police Officer Mark Joseph Ellis5 on the memorial we located its position using the computer system at the site and with the help of an official.
72 police officers died on 11 September 2001 as a result of the terrorist attacks, 71 of these were at the World Trade Center.5
There were speeches and pipe bands and a million people at the Memorial paying their respects.
In the evening the Tribute of Light sent twin light columns vertically into the sky. The beams were first projected in 2002 and the tribute has been repeated on every anniversary of 9/11 since 2003.