Protests and Tribute on an October Night

The 9/11 Memorial provides quiet just steps away from the Occupy Wall Street protest

By Gabe Pressman
|  Thursday, Oct 13, 2011  |  Updated 1:07 PM EDT
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Dramatic Photos: Sept. 11 Anniversary

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Names of the victims from the September 11, 001 terrorist attacks are inscribed along one of the pools that is part of the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site.

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Time-Lapse Video of the 9/11 Memorial

This time-lapse video shows the 9/11 memorial being constructed from 2004 to 2011. The memorial opened to the families on the 10th anniversary and to the public a day later.
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The contrast was striking. Protesters tried to push their way to Wall Street, hoping to demonstrate at the very doors of the Stock Exchange. Other people streamed into the 9/ll memorial at ground zero to pay tribute to those who died here.

The police clashed with demonstrators and five were arrested at Broadway and Wall Street. It was about 7:50 p.m. on a crisp October night.

The waxing moon shone brightly in a cloudless sky. Amid the beat of drummers, demonstrators chanted anti-Wall Street slogans and, police said, some tried to break through their lines.

I happened to be visiting the memorial this night with some relatives from Norway. It seemed strange that, even as the streets were exploding in sound outside, the memorial was an oasis of tranquility. Indeed, the noise in the outside world could hardly be heard.

My wife had applied for tickets online -- and we had a 7 p.m. reservation. The tickets are free. A few hundred had elected to come at this hour. They were gathered around the very center of the memorial, the two square reflecting pools.

The pools, each about an acre in size, are placed within the footprints of the original twin towers. The very concept of the memorial is to stand separate from the frenzied activities of the city. It’s supposed to convey a spirit of peace and an opportunity for contemplation.

We approached one pool, and looked down into its black interior. It seemed very deep and the waterfalls flowing into the pool somehow brought a sense of sadness. The names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center are inscribed on the bronze parapets surrounding the pools.

As you look at the names and the water rushes down into the darkness beneath, you feel sorrow. Thousands of names. Thousands of deaths. You run your fingers over the names etched in bronze.

My wife, Vera, says: "When I touched the names it brought tears to my eyes. I imagined the families, how they must feel, how they deal with their horrible loss."

Our visitors, Vera’s niece, Siri Bergeroy and her 18-year-old son, Jon, were deeply affected. Said Siri: "It’s very powerful, silent and beautiful. The falling water is peaceful. And the black hole…I thought about the tragedy, the airplanes, the falling buildings. The park is so simple yet so beautiful in its simplicity."

Her son, Jon, said: "It made what happened more real for me."

Among the visitors this evening were Beverly Burges and her family. "You feel so sad," she said. "They did a beautiful job in building this memorial." And her daughter, Rene, agrees. "It makes me feel very sad too. This is heartrending. You get gooseflesh."

Jagdish Purohitchai: "It’s gorgeous but it made me very sad."

The architects who won the competition that produced the memorial, Michael Arad and Peter Walker, said their aim was to build a space "that resonates with feelings of loss and absence that were generated by the destruction of the World Trade Center and the taking of thousands of lives."

Of the cascades of water that feed the pools with a continuous stream, they wrote: "They are large voids, open and visible reminders of the absence" and, about the tall trees that decorate the memorial plaza: "Through its annual cycle of rebirth, the living park extends and deepens the experience of the memorial."

In a way, the angry sounds of protest, outside, and the poignant memorial, inside, symbolize something else.

The memorial pays tribute to those destroyed in a horrible plot against America and its values. The protesters enjoy those values even as they try to right wrongs they perceive in American society.

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