On a sunny Tuesday in September, the unthinkable happened: Terror attacks in the United States that would claim nearly 3,000 victims, fracturing families and workplaces forever.
Remarkably, it’s been 20 years since Sept. 11, 2001. To mark the anniversary, tribute concerts will be staged at Washington’s Kennedy Center and at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania. In New York City, 9/11-related events include a comedy benefit and the annual Tribute in Light, two beams of light that will shine four miles into the sky above the city, from dusk on Sept. 11 to dawn on Sept. 12.
But there are some places where the remembrance of 9/11 is a perpetual event. These public spaces were designed to honor those who were lost, and commemorate those who risked their lives to save others during the terror attacks. Most people are aware of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, located at Ground Zero, where the twin towers once stood. There is also memorial in the grassy field in Shanksville, Penn., where United Flight 93 was overtaken by hijackers and crashed, notable for the bravery of passengers who fought back and foiled attempts to divert it to the US capitol. At the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., where hijackers flew a plane into the building, a memorial serves as a timeline of the victim’s ages. Its simple but elegant design honors the 184 lives lost — including passengers of American Airlines Flight 77 (on what was meant to be a flight from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles) and Pentagon employees.
All three sites have been designated as sacred ground, to recognize the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. Here’s a look.
Flight 93 National Memorial
In this field in western Pennsylvania, United Flight 93, a Boeing 757, plunged to the ground on Sept. 11, 2001. The story is as wrenching now as it was 20 years ago: After four hijackers took over the controls of their plane, passengers and crew members valiantly fought back, storming the cockpit. Hijackers remained in control of the plane and flew erratically, ultimately crashing it before passengers and crew members could regain control, according to the 9/11 Commission report. This national memorial tells the story of that day, and the events that followed.
This stark and somber site, maintained by the National Park Service, has a striking feature, the Tower of Voices. This visual and audible reminder of the heroism of the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93, was installed and dedicated on Sept. 10, 2020.
Conceived as a 93-foot-tall musical instrument, the tower houses 40 wind chimes, representing each passenger and crew member of Flight 93. Each chime produces a distinct musical note to commemorate the 40 unique voices that went silent that day. There are no other chime structures like this in the world. Located near the memorial entrance, the Tower of Voices is visible from US Route 30/Lincoln Highway.
The architectural team of Paul Murdoch Architects in Los Angeles and Nelson Byrd Woltz of Charlottesville, Va., were awarded the project as winners of an open international design competition. The mood is quiet and reflective, within an expansive landscape of fields and surrounding woods.
A winding two-mile entrance drive leads to a visitor center, where a permanent exhibit shares the Flight 93 story within the context of the larger terror attacks. Artifacts and multimedia elements pay tribute to the passengers and crew of the flight. The tour is self-guided, but NPS rangers and volunteer ambassadors are on hand to answer questions. A black granite walkway marks the flight path. The crash site is accessible only to family members of Flight 93′s passengers and crew, but the Memorial Plaza skirts the boundary of the site, which is marked by a sandstone boulder.
On the Wall of Names, each name is recorded on a separate piece of veined white marble. Forty groves of maple and oak trees emanate from the allée. Visitors are invited to leave messages of tribute and read those left by others. Grounds open seven days a week, every day, sunrise to sunset. Free. 6424 Lincoln Hwy, Stoystown, Penn.; 814-893-6322. www.nps.gov/flni/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm
9/11 Pentagon Memorial
Designed by architects Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman, this site features 184 memorial units, aligned according to the year each victim was born. Lines span from the youngest victim, 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg, who was on board American Airlines Flight 77 with her family (who also perished), to the oldest, John D. Yamnicky, 71, a Navy veteran who was also a passenger on the flight that morning.
Denoted by stainless steel strips, age lines begin at the zero line, which spans from the gateway to the entrance of the memorial. Etched into the granite zero line is the date and time of the attack: “SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 9:37 A.M.” Each memorial unit is comprised of a cantilevered bench, a lighted pool of flowing water, and a permanent tribute, by name, to each victim, in one single element. Memorial benches are made of stainless steel inlaid with granite. Reflecting pools are illuminated at night, and a grove of crepe myrtle trees provide a canopy of shade. A piece of charred black stone marks the point of impact where the plane struck the west wall of the Pentagon.
The memorial is currently closed to visitors due to COVID-19, but will reopen when the Pentagon resumes public tours. (For a virtual tour of the site, the story of the events of that day, and audio comments from survivors at the Pentagon, check out the 28-minute video at www.pentagonmemorial.org.) Free. 1 Rotary Rd., Arlington, Va.; 703-996-9853; www.pentagonmemorial.org.
National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
Located at the World Trade Center in New York City, this site features two memorial pools that sit on the footprints of the North and South Towers, once home to 12 million square feet of office space (and so big, they had their own ZIP code). The companion museum vividly tells the story of 9/11 through media, personal narratives, architecture, and artifacts. The memorial honors the 2,977 people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center site, those who lost their lives in the hijacked plane crashes near Shanksville, Penn., and at the Pentagon, as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing on February 26, 1993.
Planning to tour the museum? Prepare yourself for an emotional journey as you recall the terror attacks and the days of search-and-rescue that followed. If you were very young (or not yet born) in 2001, you’ll experience the real-life sights and sounds of the day and get a sense of how they’ve affected our lives today, from international politics to TSA screenings at the airport.
Architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker named their design “Reflecting Absence.” Twin waterfall pools are surrounded by bronze parapets that list the names of the victims of the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The pools are set within a plaza planted with swamp white oak trees, a native species in all three of the 9/11 crash sites.
Each pool is nearly an acre in size, and they contain the largest manmade waterfalls in North America. Each descends 30 feet into a square basin, where the water drops another 20 feet and disappears into a smaller, central void. The pools represent “absence made visible,” architect Arad has said. Although water flows into the voids, they can never be filled. The sound of the cascading water creates a sense of tranquility amid the bustling soundscape of the city.
The names of the 2,983 people who were killed in the 2001 and 1993 terrorist attacks are inscribed on bronze parapets alongside the memorial pools, grouped by locations and circumstances. Names of friends and colleagues appear together, as well as the crews of the four flights and first responder agencies and units. The North Pool parapets include the names of those who were killed at the North Tower, on hijacked Flight 11, and in the 1993 bombing. The South Pool parapets include the names of first responders as well as victims who were killed at the South Tower, on hijacked Flight 175, at the Pentagon, on hijacked Flight 77, and on hijacked Flight 93. The memorial opened on Sept. 11, 2011.
The southwestern quadrant of the memorial plaza is dedicated to all who are sick or have died from exposure to toxins in the aftermath of the terror attacks. This population includes first responders and recovery workers at all three sites, relief workers, and volunteers, World Trade Center survivors, and lower Manhattan residents, students, and workers, including those who cleaned buildings in the vicinity of Ground Zero. Named the 9/11 Memorial Glade, it includes a pathway flanked by six large stone monoliths, each inlaid with remnants of World Trade Center steel, symbolizing strength through adversity. The Glade opened on May 30, 2019, the 17th anniversary of the official end of the recovery period.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum
Opened to the public on May 21, 2014, the museum has hosted people from all 50 states and more than 175 countries. The site is designated on the National Register of Historic Places, which typically happens 50 years after a space achieves historical significance. A visit here is an immersive experience, evoking a “you are there” sensation that brings the events of the day, and the aftermath, into sharp focus.
Museum spaces belowground, by architects Davis Brody Bond, incorporate authentic archaeological remnants of the World Trade Center. Guests descend a ramp to enter into the cavity of the original World Trade Center complex. At the end of the ramp, the Survivors’ Stairs provided an unobstructed exit for people fleeing the site on 9/11, leading hundreds of survivors to safety.
The largest space in the Museum is Foundation Hall. The backdrop for Foundation Hall is a monumental portion of the slurry wall, a concrete retaining wall built to hold back the waters of the nearby Hudson River when the World Trade Center site was first excavated. Following the collapse of the towers on 9/11, the slurry wall remained intact.
Exhibition spaces share the events of the day through artifacts ranging in size from small (posters of people who were missing after the attack) to large (a destroyed FDNY Engine 21 fire truck.) The centerpiece of Foundation Hall is the Last Column, the final piece of steel removed from Ground Zero. As rescue and recovery workers cleared the site after 9/11, they covered the 36-foot steel column with inscriptions, mementos, and signatures.
In Memoriam, the museum’s memorial exhibition in the South Tower footprint, commemorates each victim of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Feb. 26, 1993.
The museum also has two galleries for rotating, temporary exhibitions. The South Tower Gallery is dedicated to photography and artwork, while the Special Exhibitions Gallery, in the North Tower, explores topics of contemporary significance that speak to the ongoing ramifications of 9/11. This gallery is temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Memorial, free; open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Museum open Thurs.-Monday from 10-5, advance ticketing required. Admission $26; museum admission and tour, $46. Ages 7-12, $15/$35. 180 Greenwich St., New York, NY; 212-312-8800; www.911memorial.org.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org