Story by Nygel Jones

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Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial Site in Manhattan, New York City

September 11th | 3 Years Old

The World Trade Center has always had a special place in my heart. From the time I had first visited the plaza months prior to the tragic Tuesday morning that claimed the lives of thousands, I always felt a significant connection to the site. I don’t remember much of my visit to the former site, but I do remember the vastness of the towers. How mighty they stood against the sky. How they dominated the other buildings around them. The thin sheets of aluminum and glass that stretched out towards the sky. It was such a vivid image that I would never come to forget. Those towers left an impact on me, and I became curious about their whereabouts. I was three at the time of the September 11th attacks. I don’t remember much of the event itself, but I do remember the aftermath. I found myself questioning where the towers had gone. The prodigious buildings I had once looked up to were no longer apart of our skyline. Looking through picture books of the site in its state subsequent to the attacks left me further puzzled and saddened. I had learned about the events of September 11th in school, but I always felt that it was glossed over, polished for my young ears. I yearned to hear the stories of those who worked in the towers, those who experienced them daily. I desired to see the World Trade Center through their eyes. As I grew up, it pained me knowing that I had been at the site prior to its destruction, yet I was too young to fully cherish and bask in the grandness of the site. I wanted to be apart of it. I wanted to learn more. I dedicated myself to studying the towers and the entire complex, savoring the knowledge that I had collected. I would often present small details to friends, and it would bring about a joyous feeling to discover that they too wished to know more.

Blue Star Museums

When I was given the opportunity to visit the National September 11th Memorial and Museum with Blue Star Families, I graciously accepted, eager to increase my knowledge of the site and hear people’s stories.

The massive memorial pools that had replaced where the towers once stood have always lured me. Though, as much as I tried, I couldn’t imagine the towers themselves in their place. I needed something more visual to remind me of their greatness, to remind me of the awe I experienced as a toddler. When I visited the National September 11th Museum, my eyes were immediately drawn to the two structural beams that had been retrieved from the site. Stripped of its aluminum dressing and glass. People once walked through those revolving glass doors. People once gazed out those windows. Seeing such a relic immersed me into the former site immediately. I found myself engrossed in every detail. The photograph of Lower Manhattan, depicting a beautiful late summer day, minutes away from being tarnished and rotted by a disastrous event. The sky looked a grandiose blue, clear and full of sunshine. It had never occurred to me that such a tragedy could occur under the bluest of skies. The section of the steel facade of the North Tower that had been struck by Flight 11 also allured me. These fragments of steel had once been apart of something grand, something loved and cherished by New Yorkers and the world itself. To see them in such a rusted, dilapidated state was moving. The destroyed staircase on Vesey Street, which led hundreds to safety from debris, also left a profound impact on me. Stairs that had once been casually walked by employees and visitors were suddenly transformed into a pathway to refuge. Ladder 3, which reminded me of the sacrifice and heroism of the fire department and other emergency personnel allowed me to reflect on their sacrifice and courage. Their dedication in ensuring others’ safety above their own. All these relics assisted in having the experience feel more realistic for me. However, the main exhibit is what really fascinated me.

How A Day of Peace Ended In Horror

The front pages of newspapers that day were displayed on a wall. News networks were broadcasting the start of the day. Commuters were making their way throughout the city. Business was as usual. Tranquility before the storm. It was astounding to see how a seemingly average day could be transformed to one of sublime significance over the course of a few hours. Watching the event unfold was as heartbreaking as always. The frantic phone calls, panicked pedestrians. I saw the day unfold in their eyes. I saw the precise moments of terror as the planes struck the buildings, and the precise moment when they collapsed. I heard the stories of those seeking safety, the stories of those who had lost loved ones, friends, and co-workers. I saw how a day of peace transformed into one of horror. There were also items placed around the exhibit that were recovered from the site or donated by survivors. Minute objects such as a dining tray from the Marriott at the World Trade Center held such importance. That tray had once been used to serve meals. Those telephones had been used to call loved ones. Bags used to shield from falling debris. All of these objects served a purpose, and seeing them in this exhibit added more to the realism and depth of the tragedy. The end of the exhibit acted as a reflection of the towers and the site itself, as well as its new beginnings. Since its conception, the World Trade Center had always had a place in the heart of New Yorkers. It stood as a recognizable world wide symbol of power and strength. They were portrayed so much in television series, movies, video games, and other forms of media. They were indisputable icons, perhaps even more so than the Empire State Building. They left their impact on the city and the world, and that will never be forgotten, nor will the lives lost on that tragic day.

“These stories will forever ring in my heart.” – Nygel Jones

I learned and experienced a lot from my visit to the museum.  The intimate gathering of Blue Star Families members and neighbors allowed me to hear from a 9/11 widow, a retired first responder and a former Cantor Fitzgerald employee gave me insight into how other lives were impacted by 9/11.  These stories will forever ring in my heart. I was able to connect how the events of that day led to my father being deployed multiple times throughout the years. I would certainly love to visit the museum again, and would encourage others to go. It is an important part of our history and should be reflected upon and memorialized. I left the museum with more knowledge about the site than I had already acquired and felt the satisfaction that even though I couldn’t appreciate the towers to my full extent as a toddler, I got to as a young adult, through the eyes of many. May the souls of the deceased rest in peace.

To learn more about our Blue Star Museums program, please CLICK HERE.