Kellianne Hickey, Public Policy Intern
Grace Elliot, Communications Intern
Last Monday, the VOICES summer interns journeyed into the city to visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. As the college interns of the group, we were in second grade at the time of the attacks. Immersed in the images and audio of the exhibitions, we heard the first-hand accounts of victims, first-responders, and survivors. The experience will forever be ingrained in our minds, as the museum exposed the gravity of September 11 that we did not fully comprehend from the shelter of our elementary school classrooms.
Along with Founding Director, Mary Fetchet, Program Director, Stephanie Landau, and Development Director, Susan Eng, we wound our way through the New York morning commuters, eventually finding ourselves in the peaceful plaza that is the National September 11 Memorial.
We started off our day taking in the splendor of our surroundings: the thousands of names carved into steel at the memorial pools, complemented by the calming sound of water. After taking our time to explore the memorial, we met at the Survivor Tree. The pear tree was discovered underneath the rubble, severely damaged but alive. Amidst the debris, this tree grew to represent resiliency in the aftermath of the attacks.
After a quiet morning, we made our way into the museum, descending seven stories underground. We were at once struck by the openness of the space. There were several pieces of wreckage on display that immediately emphasized the magnitude of the attacks: a piece of impact steel scraped by Flight 11, part of the North Tower antenna, as well as a charred FDNY Ladder 3 fire truck partially crushed by rubble. The enormity of these mangled objects put into perspective the destruction of that day, stirring our emotions more than any television film or picture could.
What was especially moving was the “In Memoriam” exhibition, portraying the thousands of lives lost on that tragic day. Although we had just seen the many names etched around the memorial pools, putting faces to those names humanized the experience and touched us all on a personal level. This feeling was amplified because these names and these lives were meaningful to us because we had spent the last few weeks working on the VOICES Living Memorial project. Walking by the wall of portraits and recognizing familiar faces emphasized what extraordinary people the world lost that day. It was harder to view than we anticipated.
The historical exhibition encapsulated the details of not only that day, but also the before and after events of 9/11. We were only allotted 45 minutes to explore and we all found that this was not enough time to experience everything the museum had to offer. The amount of artifacts, audiovisual clips, and their accompanying factual descriptions was difficult to take in, yet we could have spent many more hours pouring over all of the information.
After an emotionally heavy morning, we stopped by Essex World Café on Liberty Street for lunch. While we were grabbing our sandwiches, we could not help but notice the overwhelming presence of construction workers in neon vests placing orders and making their way to empty tables. The hard-hats we saw in every direction were a reminder of the strength of the city and their continued progress in rebuilding lower Manhattan. It was exciting to see the Flag of Honor hanging from the wall, a meaningful memorial created by one of VOICES partners to honor the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks.
We closed our afternoon with interviews of three representatives of the 9/11 Museum who were involved in creating the Memorial Museum. Although the high school interns “ran the show,” we were captivated by these knowledgeable women’s stories and insight. Jan Ramierez, the chief curator; Amy Weinstein, the lead oral historian; and Liz Blackford, a memorial exhibition coordinator, all were kind enough to take time out of their day to talk with us.
They not only spoke about their personal experiences with 9/11, but also the life journeys that ultimately lead them to become involved in the museum’s creation. Each woman spoke with such passion and dedication about capturing the history in a way that not only would allow those who experienced it to have a place to reflect, but also would serve as an educational resource for future generations.
Overall, our trip into New York was moving and insightful. While we left with heavy hearts that day, both of us are already making plans to return. It was an unforgettable visit. Although our experience was enriched by our summer spent at VOICES, it is a journey that we highly recommend to all.
Until next time,
Grace and Kellianne