A Holiday Thank You To the 9-11 Memorial Volunteers

Hope everyone is enjoying the Holiday season.  My wife and I had a wonderful time in New York City.  The weather was fairly mild and pleasant compared to last year’s blizzard.  On Christmas Day we headed downtown to “Ground Zero” to see the new 9-11 Memorial.  We’ve been to NYC plenty of times since September 11, 2001, but this is our first visit to the site of the attacks.   I guess dwelling on the events of that day and the loss of my cousin just never fit into previous visits, but after ten years and the dedication of the new memorial it was about time.  We chose to go down on Sunday thinking that it wouldn’t be too crowded.  The last thing I wanted to do was experience the site amongst a crowd of tourists snapping photographs.

We stepped out of the subway at City Hall and walked the few blocks south to the site.  Even on Christmas Day the area was mobbed with tourists and street salesmen peddling 9-11 souvenirs.  One of them shoved a collection of images of the most horrific images of the attacks in my face and asked if I was interested.  I felt a combination of rage and sadness well up inside of me.  As we moved closer it just got worse and by the time we arrived at the entrance to the site I felt emotionally drained and pretty much ready to leave.  It was clear that most of the people waiting to get in did not have tickets and the 9-11 Memorial Volunteers did everything they could to move the crowds away.  Neither did we.  We lined up in a small group around one volunteer and he gestured with his hand for us to vacate the entrance way.  He clearly had been engaged in the same gesture all day.

As he was moving us away I mentioned that we were family members, but did not have tickets.  At that moment he stopped what he was doing and moved us to the side.  He apologized profusely about the way we were treated, but I assured him that it was completely understandable.  What happened next was totally unexpected.   The volunteers name was Greggoire Martello and he escorted us personally away from the crowds and toward a room set aside for family members.  Another volunteer asked us a few questions about our relationship to the victim and if we needed any additional assistance during our visit.  We were given a packet to make an engraving and a map to guide us to panel S-44, where my cousin’s name helps to outline where the South Tower once stood.  We made three etchings of Alisha’s name.  A few people stopped to watch us, but they were very respectful of our privacy after which we walked a bit around the the rest of the site.

I am not going to offer any thoughts about the memorial or about my personal experience because I can’t effectively convey it with words.  What I do want to say is thank you to the staff at the 9-11 Memorial.  They treated us with the utmost respect and did their very best to welcome us as something other than a tourist or casual visitor.  Without such a welcome I am sure that my experience would have left me feeling even more depressed and unlikely ever to return.

It must be a difficult site to manage.  On the one hand the site is a memorial to those who perished on that day, but ten years later it looks like the site is just another stop in a series of tourist destinations in Lower Manhattan.  New York has always been a city that moved forward rather than dwell on its past.  It’s nice know, however, that when a family member arrives that there are people ready to assist them in making their visit as meaningful and as as pleasant as possible.

Thanks once again to Greggoire and the rest of the 9-11 Memorial staff.  The memory of my cousin is in good hands.

5 comments… add one

  • Pat Young Dec 26, 2011

    Tough place to visit. The mix of solemnity and hucksterism reminds me of the music blaring from the observation tower across Gettysburg National Cemetary. New Yorkers know that the visit can be profoundly emotional for those of us who lost friends or relatives there, as well for people who experienced our trauma vicariously through tv.

    Glad that the great volunteers there were able to support your visit.

  • Matt McKeon Dec 27, 2011

    I was in New York in October, and thought we’d “stop by” the site, which I had never seen. It was jammed with people in a long line, as Kevin describes. A policeman told us we had to get reservations online, for the next day. I couldn’t see myself doing that. We ended up going to the Episcopal church nearby which had a rich history, 9/11 being a recent chapter, and the Occupy Movement the latest.

    The Church building had been used by the firefighters and rescue workers in the days after the attacks. The Church displayed a collection of letters that had been sent to these people. One was from “Jessica, aged 10″

    “Thanks for coming here to help us.
    You tried your best.”

  • Keith Muchowski Dec 27, 2011

    Kevin, I’m sorry about your cousin. Several people who lived on my block were killed that day. I walked past the site just an hour ago. My wife and I had some business to do in the area. I have always felt queazy when passing the souvenir sellers, who have been there since the site reopened a few weeks after 9/11. It is good to hear that the people working/volunteering at the memorial itself are conscientious individuals.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 27, 2011

      Thanks, Keith. The staff certainly has their work cut out for them.

  • Will Stoutamire Dec 27, 2011

    “Even on Christmas Day the area was mobbed with tourists and street salesmen peddling 9-11 souvenirs. One of them shoved a collection of images of the most horrific images of the attacks in my face and asked if I was interested. I felt a combination of rage and sadness well up inside of me.”

    Wow. The commercialization of an historic tragedy – and I’m sure 9/11 is far from the only example. Stepping back a bit, from a purely academic perspective, it is fascinating (and will continue to be) to see how the collective memory of this event and it’s aftermath is evolving.

    Sorry about your cousin, Kevin. I’m glad you all were acknowledged by the staff and given some respectful space.

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