Reflecting the Project

Preparation

Once we decided to investigate the remembrance of 9/11 for the module “Popular Culture – Independent Studies Project,” we had to think about how such an investigation should be done. To us it was clear that we wanted to be in New York City for September 11 and a few days after, in order to experience the atmosphere and witness memorial ceremonies first-hand. We also wanted to use the opportunity to visit memorials and museums to find out in what way they commemorate the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and if their focus was similar. However, this is where we encountered first problems, as it proved to be rather difficult to find memorials and museums or other institutions dedicated solely to the remembrance of 9/11. Through an extensive internet research, we found several memorials all over the United States, but not in New York City, before we finally detected the Fire Museum and information about the Wreath Laying Ceremony, as well as the Ground Zero Museum Workshop. We then wrote Linda Burke, the director of the Fire Museum and Gary Marlon Suson, founder of the Ground Zero Museum Workshop, hoping to be able to either get more information about other memorials or to set up interviews. Both were immensely helpful and we are very grateful for their support. Ms Burke also pointed out the Tribute Center, where we later had the chance to interview Ms Kimberly Grieger and Mr Suson was available for an interview as well. In general, everybody we contacted during our research was very helpful and supportive of our project and we were able to get information and an insight into the ways of remembrance we could not have gained without traveling to New York. In order to illustrate how we collected the information presented on this website, we will describe our research trip and our experiences. While this might be somewhat personal, we still think that our reflection will shed light on the usefulness of our project for the investigation of the ways of remembrance, which is also a topic within American Studies.

 

On-site Investigation

For the trip itself we did not have an itinerary, since we could not set up interview dates, so we had only planned to visit the Fire Museum, the Ground Zero Museum Workshop and the Tribute Center. The rest of our trip, we thought, we would organize along the way, hoping to find more events or memorials during our stay in New York. So the only date that was set before we left was the Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Fire Museum on September 11, 2010 at around 12.30. This was a very interesting experience. We were not only able to explore the memorial within the museum, which is dedicated mainly to the 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the attacks and the recovery, but we also had the chance to listen to the speeches of those who experienced the attacks or were affected by them. These speeches were very moving and enabled us to grasp the scope of the tragedy, but also the bravery and solidarity it engendered. We would have liked to interview Ms Burke, too, but since she was very busy we moved on. We had already been to the site and collected impressions and visual material from the commemorating ceremony – a first-hand experience that was very impressive and moving and showed the various organizations that were created after 9/11, but also religious tensions due to the planned building of a mosque near the site, but foremost it illustrated to what degree this event influenced people’s lives, especially with the metaphorically “wound” or “scar” of the WTC site ever present. However, it was only at the Tribute Center that we really realized what 9/11 meant to New Yorkers and Americans in general. This museum is not only dedicated to the remembrance of the attacks or the memory of those who lost their lives, but also presents the WTC as an extraordinary working place, taking into account its history, the internationality of the businesses and employers, as well as the first attacks of 1993. The basement rooms are reserved for temporary exhibitions, which allows for changing topics and thus makes it possible to show the various angles and impacts of the attacks, for example the topic of how it can or should be taught in schools and what it could teach us. In general, we observed that the focus of most places of remembrance we visited were on the positive aspects, as far as one can speak of “positive” as regards a tragedy of that scope. What is meant with “positive” can probably be best described with one poster we saw during the commemorating ceremony. It promoted the idea of “turning it around,” of turning, for example, cruelty into kindness. This was the general mood we perceived and also the atmosphere of the Tribute Center, not only in the emphasis of the exhibitions (which, for example, featured dozens of Japanese paper cranes as a sign of solidarity), but also in the Walking Tours, which are very personal and give an impression not only of the impact of 9/11, but also of the importance the WTC had as a working place and a landmark in New York City. This is again an impression we gained from taking part in a Walking Tour and from talking to our tour guides, who were very friendly and helpful. As mentioned before, we are very grateful to the people we met and who gave us their time and advice of where else to go. Especially Ms Kimberly Grieger should be mentioned here, since she gave us her collection of events related to the memory of 9/11 that took place on the anniversary day and the days after. Since we already experienced an internet search for memorials and commemorating events as rather difficult, the list proved helpful because it called our attention to events we would have otherwise never heard of, like the 9-11 Memorial Floating Lanterns Ceremony which was held at Pier 40 at the night of the anniversary. The list of events prepared by Ms Grieger then was the basis for the further organization of our research.

The Ground Zero Museum Workshop gave us an impression of what happened after the attacks. When talking about 9/11 most people remember the images of the attacks, like the planes crashing into the towers or their collapse, since this were the pictures portrayed through the media. But Mr Suson concentrated his work on the time after the attacks and depicted the cruel reality of the recovery. It is important to mention that his images do not only depict the dramatic scale of these attacks but they also show how people, families, friends and strangers grew together and supported each other during the period of recovery. This museum invites the visitors to a very emotional journey through the period of recovery but it also shows comradeship, heroism and hope. Furthermore, as already mentioned, we had the chance to interview Mr Suson and ask him about how he experienced the recovery. Most fascinating was his depiction of the city and how people moved together to support each other during this period of time.

Another impressive place of remembrance was the FDNY memorial wall. This was also a memorial which we did not find in the internet but, in a way, stumbled across during our on-site research. The wall is a place to remember the 343 firefighters, who lost their lives on September, 11, 2001. The wall illustrates a scene from the attacks and beneath the scene the names of the 343 firemen are listed. Our first visit to the FDNY wall was on Saturday, the anniversary itself, and a great number of people came to commemorate the 343 firemen. When we revisited the wall on Monday morning we noticed the many pictures, flowers and flags which were laid down by families and friends on the anniversary day. One might argue that this is foremost a place for people to visit and remember their loved ones. The image on the wall shows the heroes of the attacks and therewith might give their families and friends the strength to overcome or deal with their grief.

Like the FDNY wall, many memorials and museums are situated right in walking distance to the World Trade Center Site, for example the Tribute Center, but also another, very informative place, the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site. This site is not a museum, but rather an information center which gives visitors information about the developments at the World Trade Center Site. In this ‘information center’ we were able to get an insight into the construction plans and discovered how the ‘new’ World Trade Center is going to look like. It was very fascinating to see that people really thought about how they could remember the attacks since they decided not to rebuild on the exact footprints of the two towers but memorize this area through two gigantic pools. In addition to the pools, there will also be a museum, which will display monumental artifacts and personal stories of 9/11. However, the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site is not only an information center as one is able to share his/her personal story, which you can record in a private room, adding the aspect of community and solidarity.

Conclusion

To sum it up, what connects the memorials and museums we visited is their emphasis on the positive aspects, such as the bravery and heroism of the firefighters, placement, volunteers and recovery workers. Furthermore, the feelings of community and comradeship that followed the attacks are portrayed, not only through pictures and personal stories, they are also reflected in the organization of the memorials and museum, for example in the Walking Tours of the Tribute Center. As Mr Suson said in our interview “right after 9/11 New York City came together and we have the big city become a little community.” Although people have returned to their everyday lives and the feeling of closeness might have subsided, this feeling of solidarity was revived during the anniversary commemoration and is remembered in the museums and memorials. In general, however, people face the future, rather than looking backwards and they try to turn grief into hope. This is illustrated especially at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site and the WTC Tribute Center, where the future development of the World Trade Center is presented. What we found also very striking was that the approach of the museums and memorials is rather emotional and personal, yet combined with facts. This makes visitors aware of the scope of the attacks and what it meant for New Yorkers in particular, and Americans in general, because one almost experiences it through the personal stories of those who lived through it. This especially helps people who did not experience the events directly (because of distance or age) to understand better what it must have been like and what impact they had on people’s personal lives. Because of our trip, we believe that we now have a better understanding of this, too. In conclusion we can say that our project was successful. We wanted to investigate the ways in which 9/11 is remembered and we gained an insight into the mindset that motivated the establishment and organization of the museums and memorials. In spite of the tragedy, the focus is on remembering the ‘good’ side: comradeship, community, heroism and hope.

 

Last updated: March 17, 2011.

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