Hit the Road: Trying to get a sense of what happened at Ground Zero

This truck belonged to Ladder Company 3, located in Manhattan’s East Village, not far from the World Trade Center complex. The crew asked to be deployed to the disaster even though many had worked the previous night. The company last reported from the 40th floor and lost most of its men that day. The truck was damaged beyond repair when the North Tower collapsed. Photos by Jerry Ondash

This truck belonged to Ladder Company 3, located in Manhattan’s East Village, not far from the World Trade Center complex. The crew asked to be deployed to the disaster even though many had worked the previous night. The company last reported from the 40th floor and lost most of its men that day. The truck was damaged beyond repair when the North Tower collapsed. Photos by Jerry Ondash

It’s a clear autumn morning in New York City, much like it was on Sept. 11, 2001, when four commercial airliners were hijacked by terrorists who flew the planes into two World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan and the Pentagon.

This 8-foot-by-5-foot elevator motor with a 10,000-pound capacity (most have a 3,500-pound capacity) likely came from the North Tower. It was installed in 1969. On Sept 11, 2001, it was used to evacuate thousands of people. John Menville, who installed it, also maintained it for 32 years. According to news accounts, “Menville was in Tower 2 when the first plane hit. He evacuated and raced to a friend’s store…to use the phone, then headed back to the towers to help. He was standing on Church St. when Tower 2 started collapsing.”

This 8-foot-by-5-foot elevator motor with a 10,000-pound capacity (most have a 3,500-pound capacity) likely came from the North Tower. It was installed in 1969. On Sept 11, 2001, it was used to evacuate thousands of people. John Menville, who installed it, also maintained it for 32 years. According to news accounts, “Menville was in Tower 2 when the first plane hit. He evacuated and raced to a friend’s store…to use the phone, then headed back to the towers to help. He was standing on Church St. when Tower 2 started collapsing.”

(The attempt to crash a fourth plane into the White House was foiled by heroic passengers.) My husband and I are standing at what has become known as Ground Zero – the now-beautiful plaza that once was a gigantic, toxic pile of rubble and the burial ground of more than two thousand people. It’s difficult to imagine the devastation that occurred on that cloudless morning, but we are here at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum to try to get a sense of what happened.

The fact that Ground Zero is, 14 years later, a beautiful urban space is a testament to the amazing resiliency and creativity of the human spirit and will. The leaders and designers of this museum and memorial had to figure a way to interpret the events of 9/11 in a respectful manner that didn’t minimize the terrifying effects of that day. They had to translate the deaths of several thousand people into an artful, meaningful and serene gathering place, and I think they more than succeeded.

The museum, which opened May 2014, contains 23,000 photographs, 1,900 oral histories, 500 hours of film and video, and 10,000 artifacts, large and small. They include massive pieces like melted metal architectural supports, crushed rescue vehicles and twisted machinery parts and communications equipment.

 This is a small replica of The Sphere, a 25-foot-high metallic sculpture by German artist Fritz Koenig. The original sat in Austin J. Tobin Plaza (between the World Trade Center towers). The sculpture symbolizes world peace through world trade. The Sphere was buried in the rubble of the Twin Towers and was eventually relocated in its damaged state to nearby Battery Park.

This is a small replica of The Sphere, a 25-foot-high metallic sculpture by German artist Fritz Koenig. The original sat in Austin J. Tobin Plaza (between the World Trade Center towers). The sculpture symbolizes world peace through world trade. The Sphere was buried in the rubble of the Twin Towers and was eventually relocated in its damaged state to nearby Battery Park.

There also are hundreds of small, painfully poignant items like the blood-stained high heels worn by a woman as she fled the South Tower; rosary beads, eyeglasses and lipstick belonging to a victim; a watch worn by a passenger aboard a hijacked plane; and the still-soiled flag that was hoisted at Ground Zero by first responders during the cleanup.

Seeing a window frame from one of the jumbo airliners that flew into the Twin Towers was jolting. Who sat on the other side of this piece of metal and what were they thinking and feeling as the plane plummeted toward the 107-story building?

A visitor to the National September 11 Memorial, two acre-sized pools with 30-foot waterfalls built in the original footprints of the Twin Towers, has left a white rose at the name of one of the victims. The memorial honors the nearly 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, near Shanksville, Penn., and the six people killed in the February 1993 bombing of the WTC. Every name is inscribed into bronze panels edging the pools. Often forgotten, the 1993 attack left a five-story hole in the subterranean levels of the towers and damaged a nearby hotel. More than 1,000 people were injured, including 123 first responders. About 50,000 were evacuated, including more than 100 visitors (some young children) who had to walk down 107 flight of stairs because the power was out.

A visitor to the National September 11 Memorial, two acre-sized pools with 30-foot waterfalls built in the original footprints of the Twin Towers, has left a white rose at the name of one of the victims. The memorial honors the nearly 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, near Shanksville, Penn., and the six people killed in the February 1993 bombing of the WTC. Every name is inscribed into bronze panels edging the pools. Often forgotten, the 1993 attack left a five-story hole in the subterranean levels of the towers and damaged a nearby hotel. More than 1,000 people were injured, including 123 first responders. About 50,000 were evacuated, including more than 100 visitors (some young children) who had to walk down 107 flight of stairs because the power was out.

We spent almost three hours in the museum (not enough) and emotions roller-coastered between horror, anger, sadness, confusion, pride and wonder. It was an exhausting but necessary experience. I knew our visit would be disturbing, but as one who lived 9/11 from the safety of the opposite coast, I felt an obligation to understand the event and the experience more deeply.

A few steps from the museum is the September 11 Memorial – two acre-sized pool with 30-foot waterfalls that flow into the footprints of the Twin Towers. Around the raised edges, carved in bronze panels, are the names of all of the victims of 9/11 and the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. Often forgotten, this explosion killed six people, injured more than 1,000 people, including 123 first responders, and blew a five-story crater in the floors below the center.

Visit http://www.911memorial.org/.

E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at eondash@coastnewsgroup.com

or

Log in with your credentials

or    

Forgot your details?