Playground Zero

The title of this post comes from something that was said when I was at the 9/11 Memorial.

It refers to an article published in the New York Post, where it was discussed that the Memorial site is becoming a tourist attraction. Where parents sit their children on the bronze panels that bear the victims names, splash the water from the fountains on their faces and in one case, spill coffee on the names.

Click for the original article.

I don’t think there is any getting away from it, the site is a tourist attraction, I think that was always going to be from the moment it was decided to have a memorial, rather than put buildings up.

The reason I visited was because of what had happened there, coupled with the fact I have watched lots of programmes about the rebuilding of the site, the creation of the name panels, the fountains and saving the ‘miracle’ tree.

I didn’t go there to tick it off a list of things to do in New York, although it seemed many have done and will continue to do so.

My visitor pass was booked long before I left for the USA, but it wasn’t until I was in New York and had visited the Memorial preview exhibition and St. Paul’s Chapel that the thought of visiting the place where nearly 3,000 people were murdered, all felt a bit odd.

In essence the site is a graveyard and should be treated as such. Whenever I visit a church or graveyard, I do so with a sense of respect; I keep my voice down, if I’m in a church I take of any kind of head wear and generally take care to mind my behaviour. Respect your surroundings.

To get in to the site, there is understandably a lot of security; bags are checked, you are checked with an airport style scanner, belts off! and your pass is checked about 5 times as you are funneled towards the entrance. I heard a few complaints but it seemed fine to me considering where we were.

I’ve seen many programmes about the site, so it was both fascinating and amazing to be in the space. Then of course you think back to that day, and try to make sense of the space you are in whilst the images of the towers in flames, falling and the aftermath flood through your mind.

My entry time was 7pm, so I had about an hour before it closed. I stood for a couple of minutes trying to take it all in and then the first of a few annoyances passed before my eyes.

If you have seen pictures of the Memorial, you’ll know that there are lots of trees.The area around the trees is covered with bark, the rest of the ground is covered by paving slabs. A man obviously in a hurry to get somewhere, pushed passed me and walked over bark. That may seem trivial but it irked me, why didn’t he just walk around?

I sat down on one of the many seating areas, and watched as group after group, all laughing and joking as they lined up for photos in front of the many bronze panels, that let’s not forget, list each victim of this and the previous attack on the World Trade Centre. Would they all crowd around a headstone in a graveyard?

Not being able to believe what I was seeing, I walked over to the South Tower footprint to read some of the names and to see the scale of what was once there. Having been annoyed by the antics of Joe Public, I debated with myself as to whether I should take a photo or not. It wouldn’t have me in it, so I took one single photo looking across from corner to corner of the South Tower footprint. I also took a very short piece of video to capture the sound of the waterfall.

Having been annoyed at the public’s reaction I was then annoyed at my own decision to take a photo! As I put my camera back in my pocket, still deciding what to do with the image, a man who had been standing very still in front of the panels, asked a nearby volunteer where he could look up a single name. I’ll admit that my mind raced as to why he was only now 11 years later looking for a name.

I also spoke to the volunteer, and mentioned that I found it odd to be standing in the place I had seen on the TV for all the wrong reasons, and that it had appeared to have become one of those places to ‘tick off’ in New York and that I was appalled at the behaviour of some visitors.

She was thankful for my comments and also very grateful for reminding her that some people do visit with the correct attitude. We spoke for a while; on 9/11 She was working nearby and her daughter was in the South Tower. Hers was an amazing story that thankfully had a happy ending at least for her daughter, they both knew many people killed when the towers came down. It was this volunteer who mentioned the New York Post article.

I mentioned that I had taken a photo and a small piece of video, and that as I was appalled at all the other photos being taken, that I was going to delete it. She told me to keep them both and when I look at them, to remember those who lost their lives on that day.

As I moved over to the North Tower, I was surprised to see just how close they were. I saw a young woman with her back to the panels but with her foot on the firmly on the wall, across from her I could see someone taking a photo of something they were holding in their hands. It turned out to be a birthday card left by the sister of a victim; why photograph it? It’s a personal item left in a very personal place.

Despite my reservations about the behaviour of some visitors, I’m glad I went, not only to pay my respects but also to see the site and get a sense of scale that is not possible from pictures or the TV screen.