On September 11th 2001 I was in Australia, working as a nanny/mother’s help on a cattle station in the middle of the outback. ( See my blog post Australia) It was a day like any other on the cattle station – I did some laundry, played with the kids, did some cleaning, probably did some gardening (a part of the job I didn’t enjoy). And then I went to bed, unaware of the horror that was to unfold in New York City while I slept. Due to the time difference between the 2 countries, by the time I found out it was September 12th, and it was all over – the planes had crashed in the twin towers, and they had both already come down, the Pentagon had been hit, and the 4th plane had come down in a field. In fact it took several minutes for the TV to tell me what had happened- I had to watch probably 10 minutes of speculation about how many had died, and who would do something like this, without actually having any idea what had happened. Unlike everyone in Europe and America, I didn’t watch the terrible events of that day unfold on the TV, worrying about what would happen next.
On Friday, while I was still in New York I went to the 9/11 Musuem and Memorial. The museum is very well done, and goes through what I didn’t- the confusion and panic of the developing situation. There are clips of the TV presenters breaking the news to America. There are precious last messages from loved ones on the planes, or trapped above the fires in the towers. There are messages to the victims asking if they’re ok. There are posters asking for help to find missing friends and family. There are stories of heroism, of people helping others, like the men who carried their paralysed work colleague down dozens of stairs. There are stories of tragedy, of people going to help others, and not being seen alive again. There’s the growing realisation when the first tower came down that the second tower was inevitably also going to come down, and with that realisation came the acknowledgement of how helpless the situation was. There is even a TV screen which shows how quickly US airspace was emptied that day as all civilian planes were grounded. It shows a side to that day which fortunately I didn’t experience (I don’t know anyone who died or who was there), and also missed due to the time difference, and it does in a moving and sensitive way. It’s an emotional musuem to visit, and there was a number of people crying as they walked around.
In addition to the information boards and videos, there are artifacts from the day, dusty shoes and clothes, crushed police cars and fire trucks, the staircase which so many survivors came down. For me, the most poignant of all was the seat belts from the planes. They should not have been on the streets of New York City, but they were.
Above all, the museum is a memorial to those who died. There is a room where you can look up a victim and then read about them and see more pictures of them, and learn a little of the life that was lost. The walls of this room are covered in row upon row of pictures of those who died. And it’s sobering to see them like this – firstly just the sheer number of pictures, but also the pictures themselves. They are wedding photos, graduation photos, work photos, pictures from days out. They show lives cut short.
The actual memorials are outside, 2 deep pools of water built on the sites of the towers, with the names of all those who died written around them. Sadly, due to pouring rain on the day I visited I didn’t really pay proper respect at the memorials – I just took a couple of photos and left.
That was actually my last day in New York City. I flew home later that evening, absolutely worn out from all the walking – I tend to wake up early and just go…and keep walking until I can’t walk anymore, usually when my back gives up as it did on this trip. But, I loved just about every minute of my time there (sore back moments being the low points). And I will definitely be back one day…