The World Trade Center Shrouds
>> The doors of World Trade Center at Liberty and Church Street were one of many leading to shops, restaurants, offices, subways and Path trains. In front of this section, farmers set up stands every Tuesday and Thursday along both sides of the building.
By the time I moved here from Wisconsin to work in Manhattan, Friday business casual had already changed to everyday schlep. Where once this area was formal, with $600+ business clothing being the norm, by 2001, it was difficult to tell the difference between everyday workers and those farmers!
Think I'm kidding? Try to find a suit in the photo above, which was taken around 8:30 AM on July 21, 2001.
When I left my office at 9:15 AM on September 11, that area looked pretty much the same, framed by a bright blue sky, except that the two towers behind (top edge, left and middle section of the photo) were in flames and streets were littered with personal and business papers that flew out of the buildings when the planes hit. The south tower was preparing to implode (top edge, left section of the photo).
The next time I saw this corner was around 10 AM on September 25 when I returned to retrieve things in my Downtown office. This was a dark, rainy day, made darker by the smoke still drifting up from the ruins.
PHOTO: SEPTEMBER 25 FROM THE CORNER OF LIBERTY AND BROADWAY
Although my employer switched us to its New Jersey office, I've returned to the area five times, each time seeing a different view. During these visits, I heard people on buses talking about seeing Ground Zero. Mixed among those conversations were others who thought that the desire to see the ruins was macabre.
Despite the fact that our country stands for the freedom of informational exchange, there was considerable effort by New York City to hide the sorrow from interested eyes. This was done by erecting site-hiding, dark green, canvas-covered fences all along the perimeter. At Park Place and Greenwich, "No Pictures" was painted on the canvas.
PHOTO: NOVEMBER 21
People tried to see what was happening and were frustrated at the visual barricades. Patches plugged holes cut in the canvas and worse, some areas were blocked by multiple barricades erected for no other reason than to defeat viewing.
For all the leadership Guiliani provided, I feel he made a mistake when he decided that viewing the site was inappropriate. As a person who was at ground zero, I felt a distinct need to stay part of the changes. Most certainly those who lost loved ones did, too.
Although the scenes around the site were well documented via photo journalism and video clips, it is difficult to emotionally translate the scope of the situation without directly comparing the size of our own bodies to the size of the remains.
With that in mind, look at the height of the people in the very first picture and then, at the similar height of the people in the picture of devastation. These two photos are of the same building, one in peace and the other in sorrow. Can you imagine being there?
PHOTO: NOVEMBER 21 FROM THE CORNER OF FULTON AND BROADWAY
It bothers me that people had to struggle so much to stay in touch with what was happening.
By late December, most of the areas leading to what is now the pit were shrouded, but with the area at Park Place and Greenwich being accessible. An official ramp on Fulton and Church was being prepared to allow visitors to overlook what is now not there.
Why do people come to see this area? Perhaps an easier question to answer is "why wouldn't people want to see it?"
If people don't want to personally see it, perhaps they are afraid of sadness. Or maybe they are afraid of public displays of gentle concern, such as seen here.
PHOTO: NOVEMBER 21 ON WASHINGTON STREET, RUBBLE IN BACKGROUND
During my walks, I've seen as many people struggling to see where their loved ones died as I have those who were curious. The picture to the right was taken on November 21 at the heavily shrouded Washington Street. People climbed on top of whatever was available to see the destruction as well as to plant their own memorials along the tops of fences.
PHOTO: NOVEMBER 21. WASHINGTON STREET. SHRINES STICK UP ABOVE THE SHROUDS
Why were visual obstructions in our way? What caused this perverted need for censorship? It's well to remember that we are responding to despots, repression and terrorism, so it is strange to see the censorship here.
That said, we should not become what we say we revile. Hiding reality because of delicate considerations (such as Saudi's did in not addressing the terrorism threats growing on their own soil) creates ignorance, thereby weakening common sense and the ability to respond.
By December, the area near the Liberty Street corner you see in the top two pictures was completely shrouded (last photo). In answer to the first question, as to why people came, you can see that despite whatever the shrouding was supposed to protect, people pushed by the shrouds anyway, turning the covers into "I've been here" shrines.
The September 11th shrines of photos and candles that had been seen throughout New York City are now concentrated Downtown. As of December, you see very few pictures of victims, but more flowers and posters expressing concern.
Eventually, there'll be professionally designed and constructed memorials. I suspect, however, that these memorials will never be as significant as those spontaneously left by the people who passed by. It is for this reason that I urge you to go there and see for yourself. It's enlightening. It draws us together. It makes us strong.
PHOTO: DECEMBER 21, LIBERTY AND BROADWAY
PS: As of December 28, in anticipation of opening the Fulton Street overlook ramp, Guiliani announced in the New York Times that he now feels that the entire site should be retained as a memorial and everyone should see it. This is a welcome reversal of his earlier opinion indicating that it was inappropriate to visit and his support of maintaining the shrouds.
Article and photos by Karen Little. First published on 12/23/2003. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.