Monday, August 31, 2015

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City

Before leaving New York on my trip this week, I had a half day to essentially do anything I wished in New York City. The 9/11 memorial and museum were not completed when I was in New York City in 2008 when I was here last so I decided to spend my day visiting this historic site.

Everyone of this generation has their own 9/11 story. My own was as a teacher who had just started teaching in a new school district. I had just started my career at Liberty Public Schools a couple of weeks earlier - I'm still here after 15 years by the way. I was teaching on the third floor of what was then Liberty Junior High. During the passing period in the morning the teacher next door mentioned that something crazy had happened in New York - a plane had crashed into a building. Of course then more details unfolded throughout the day and significance of the events began to soak in. I didn't have a personal connection to anyone who lost their life that day but I will never forget the overwhelming feeling that night that things would never be the same again, for any of us. I wasn't sure exactly how things would be different but just like Pearl Harbor or the assassination of JFK, this would be a marker in each person's timeline that denoted the separation between pre 9/11 and post 9/11.

I got on the subway and arrived at the museum early. It opened at 9 am and I think I bought my ticket at around 8:50. It wasn't really crowded when I entered the museum but it progressively became more crowded throughout the morning. I opted not to rent the device to listen to the self guided audio tour for $7. The same content is available on the free 9/11 museum app. I tried to download it at the museum but the wifi wasn't fast enough - or I wasn't patient enough - to let it completely download. I walked the museum without the audio tour and never felt like I was missing out on anything but I'm sure it would be beneficial for some. I tend to read a lot of artifact tags and in parts of the museum there were video and audio clips included in the exhibits. 

The museum had two really powerful elements for me - the wreckage from the towers and the way in which the personal stories of the victims were shared. I have seen pieces of the towers in other museums but when see the steel that absorbed the impact of the first plane and the crushed New York City fire department truck it becomes real in a new way, or at least it did for me. The first part of the museum was largely about the building itself and objects from the towers. 

One powerful display in the first part of my museum experience was a wall made up of about 3,000 blue squares - each representing a person who lost their life on 9/11. The quote in the middle of the wall reads "No day shall erase you from the memory of time". The display explained that each square depicts a different shade of the blue sky that morning and each of the squares is a unique shade of blue. It represents the idea that each of us may see the same thing - like a blue sky - and yet each of us has a different way of describing and experiencing it. I thought this wall had a powerful meaning both artistically and emotionally. 

The second emotional part of the museum for me was the area in which each person who lost their life has their picture displayed on the four walls of the room. In the middle of the space is an enclosed room in which each person has a video with a description of their life, a picture and a family member telling a little about the person. The videos are on a continual loop. This was very powerful. To see all the faces and then pause to listen to a couple of these stories was moving to say the least. 

The final part of the museum for me was the area in which the events of 9/11 are described with video accounts, artifacts from that day and wreckage from when the towers fell. We have all seen the video clips many times but seeing the plane hit the towers still gets me. I was also especially struck by the items recovered from both the towers and the planes.

There were several times during visit when I got a pit in my stomach and felt very emotional. The museum was somewhat crowded at this point - tickets are timed but not everyone spends the same amount of time in various spaces - and yet almost no one spoke. There was an occasional child asking a parent "why did this happen?" Followed by a parent struggling to find words to explain. I also noticed many people from other countries which reminded me that this was not just an American tragedy, it impacted the rest of the world as well.

Perhaps the most emotional experience for me in the museum was a small area in which people could sit and listen to some of the phone calls made from Flight 93 - the United flight where people knew what was happening and quite a few made phone calls to loved ones saying that the plane had been hijacked, they loved their family members and hoped they would see them again. Of course it also goes on to describe how these passengers decided they must try to regain control of the plane and in the struggle it crashed in Pennsylvania. As I listened to those phone calls made from the flight I started to cry in a room full of strangers. I wasn't the only one but at that point the humanity of what I was seeing was too ugh to hold inside. I am actually on a plane as I type this blog post on my way back home to see my family. Looking out the window and thinking about what those passengers must have felt knowing what had happened earlier that day in New York and thinking about their loved ones is difficult. 

I left the museum feeling somber and trying to process what I had just seen and experienced. As I type this almost 10 hours later I am still reflecting on the day. After leaving the museum I visited the two reflecting pools located on the footprints of the towers. I looked up and saw the newly constructed Freedom Tower, a symbol that time moves on.

I think the museum and memorial are both successful in their attempt to both tell the story of 9/11 and honor the memory of those who,lost their life that day. It will continue to be a watershed moment for all Americans, even those who were not alive at the time and that is important. The 8th graders that I teach today have no personal recollection of experiencing that day and it difficult for me sometimes to remember that fact. I am glad that I visited the site today and I encourage everyone to visit if they have an opportunity. 

Exploring New York - Google NYC Offices, High Line Trail, Chelsea Market, Flatiron Building and Freedom Tower

This past week I was in New York City for several days doing some brainstorming work with Google. The only other time I have visited New York was back in 2008 so I was excited to explore some parts of the city in my share time this week. I have a separate blog post on the hotel at which I stayed – The Jane Hotel – and my visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.  In this post I wanted to share a couple of pictures and thoughts on some of the places I visited.

Twice during my stay I visited the High Line Trail in the evening.  The High Line is an elevated area that at one time was a rail line and in recent years has been converted to an urban walking trail with lots of great art and plants.  The trail itself is very cool with wildflowers and tall grasses on both sides as you stroll through the heart of New York and see the skyscrapers around you.  Several places in the trail have statues, unique places to sit and at numerous locations there are little restaurants and vendors selling items like ice cream sandwiches. 

I walked the High Line at night both times I visited and it was very popular, almost what I would consider ‘crowded” but to a native New Yorker it would probably be considered spacious. It was sunset on the first night I visited and I took quite a few pictures of the sun setting over the Hudson River.  It is a great collision of nature in an urban setting.

Just below the High Line trail, literally, is Chelsea Market. Chelsea Market is an eclectic collection of cool food and art shops in a historic building.  I walked around the bought a half price gourmet cupcake (it was close to closing time and it was delicious) as well as some fancy doughnuts. There was a great area in which a large collection of individual artists each had there own area to sell specific handmade items. My favorite was a gentlemen who had taken bike maps of the city of New York and then screen printed a picture of a New York City street scene in black ink on top of the map.  It would be a very cool framed print.

One of the items on my “must do” list for this trip to New York was setting the FlatIron Building.  You have probably seen the Flat Iron Building in pictures – it is the iconic tall, almost flat building in New York.  I have always wanted to see it in person but did not get a chance back in 2008 to see it.  I had a little bit of time one night to walk over to the Flat Iron around 7:30 in the evening.  I wasn’t sure what the light would look like when I got there since it was getting later in the day but I thought I would take a chance.  Luckily when I got there the light from the setting sun was still hitting one side of the building.  I thought it made an interesting shadow on the side of the building and I was able to take a few pictures that I think turned out well.  It was interesting to find angles to take pictures of the Flat Iron building with both showed it’s size and the unique flat shape.  I was happy with the pictures that I took and hope next time to maybe get over there in time to see what photographs would like at sunrise.

On my visit to the 9/11 Museum on my last day I took a few pictures of the relatively new Freedom Tower.  It is an interesting building to photograph because at different times of the day it can have a pretty intense reflection from the sun.  A couple of the pictures that I took include an area of the building that had a bright reflection.  Some of the pictures I took of the Freedom Tower are from the area around the 9/11 Memorial that includes trees.  It seemed a little unusual taking a picture of this huge skyscraper framed by trees.