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Aftermath of 9/11: Interview With a Ground Zero Tour Guide

By Cheryl Rodewig

October 12, 2022

NYC Ground Zero

For the anniversary of 9/11, one of our tour guides took Dan Snow of Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast to Ground Zero. Together, they revisited the site with its landmarks, its memories, and stories. It’s an emotional journey, but we’re honored to be able to share this with listeners around the world, some of whom will never be able to visit New York.

If you want to listen to the full episode with tour guide extraordinaire Ray Victor, you can visit Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast or click below.

You can also read the transcription below. 

After you do, we’d love to know what you think of the episode. Reach out on Facebook or Instagram or say hello when you’re in town. We’d love for you to join a tour of Ground Zero and learn more about this part of NYC firsthand.

“9/11: New York City in the Aftermath” transcription

Dan: On Sept. 11, 2001, the World Trade Center was destroyed by hijacked aircrafts. We talked about it last year for the 20th anniversary. We thought we’d revisit again this year, particularly as I’ve just been in New York, and I was lucky enough to meet Ray Victor. 

Ray is a lifelong New Yorker. He was there at the time of 9/11. He remembers the hours, the moment of the attack itself, and he remembers the strange feeling in the city afterwards. 

He’s now a licensed New York City guide, and he took me around the site. I actually haven’t been back since 9/11. We looked at the regeneration, we looked at memorials, and we talked about what it looked like 21 years ago — the missing posters everywhere, the gigantic hole that was left in the ground. And we talked about the largest amphibious evacuation in history, one that’s been overlooked, understandably, as people try and contend with the horror of what happened that day. 

This was recorded on location with Ray in New York. Here’s Ray Victor, taking me around the site of 911. 

Ray, great to meet you!

Ray: Nice to meet you, Dan.

Dan: How’s it going?

Ray: Excellent. Excellent. Beautiful day today. 

Dan: Thank you so much for coming in.

Ray: It’s an honor. Pleasure to meet you.

Dan: It’s good to meet you too. And we’re in one of my favorite spots downtown. You’ve taken me to your Colonial-era church. I feel kind of comfortable here. It’s like a little piece of old England.

Ray: Yeah, very good. I’m glad you know about it. So many other people have yet to learn about this church, but it’s definitely one of our great survivors. 

St. Paul’s Chapel is the oldest continuously occupied building that exists in our city. We have older buildings, but there’s always been someone present here, dates to 1766. It has survived the Revolution, the Civil War, there are two fires that nearly destroyed our city. But it also survived 911 as well. This is the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street right here. And it’s also known as the little chapel that survived as well.

Dan: Because right behind it, literally, it was in the shadow of the World Trade Center Trade Center. 

Ray: In fact, take a look here. Right across the street, you could not get any closer. But the significance also of this building is that this becomes the headquarters of the rescue operation of 9/11. 

And if you can imagine in such a small building — this is not the size of St. Patrick’s by any means; you could probably fit 12 of these inside St. Patrick’s — so if you can imagine all the firemen, the rescue professionals, the volunteers that came here from all over the world, to donate their time and to make a difference for others. That’s where that happened, right here. And that rescue operation did go on for eight months: 12 hour shifts, 24 hours a day, nonstop, eight solid months.

Dan: So first of all, talk to me about you as a New Yorker. You’re born and raised. 

Ray: I am. I’m from Queens, it’s one of our five boroughs.

Dan: And what are your memories of that September in 2001?

Ray: So that September, I was actually working in Midtown. I worked for a commercial production company. I was coming to work that day on the railroad and I heard a cell phone go off. I did not pay attention to it remotely. But I started seeing phones all over the train lighting up. I was sitting in the back of the train. 

And this is 2001. This is not like today where everyone owns a cell phone, and it’s standard issue. So if that many phones were ringing, there’s something very wrong going on. And we started hearing people saying things like “plane,” “Trade Center,” and I looked out the window — we all looked out the window — and we saw this massive plume of smoke that was just trailing out of Tower 1. 

We pulled into Penn Station a few moments later. I arrived just in time to see Tower 2 get hit by flight 175. We did not have enough time to even think it was just complete shock of what had happened. But we realized in that millisecond, we are being attacked. We are seeing an attack on our city in that moment. 

And I was not able to leave the city that night, I actually got stuck here. I had to get on the phone. My mom, my sister, my cousins, every one of my friends who lived or worked in Manhattan or both. So I tried to get them on the phone. The phones were not working. Landline service was hit or miss at best till about 11 that night.

Cell phones were absolutely useless. We had dial-up. I couldn’t even get any information: CNN BBC, anything on the internet, just for news, could not connect. So there was no communication, and there was no information. 

I tried to leave the city. They shut down Penn Station by the moment I got to the train station. 

And I would like to make the point — many of the guests that I have on my tours, they don’t seem to realize that this city did get shut down for a period of time. All subways, Long Island Railroad, PATH train to New Jersey, bridges, tunnels, everything was shut down — Penn Station and Grand Central — for hours.

Dan: And your family, your loved ones — when you were checking in, did you manage to get hold of them? Did they survive?

Ray: I did not manage to get a hold of anyone until later that evening when the phones were actually working again. I got very lucky. My father worked at Cantor Fitzgerald for a period of time. My sister worked downtown. She worked at 60 Wall Street — that’s only a few blocks away. My future wife worked three blocks away. And in fact, I’m married to my wife in part because of 9/11. 

I got very lucky I did not lose anyone. Everyone else I knew, they were supposed to be there. Even people in Tower 1. They weren’t there that day. I got very, very lucky with this. I was one of the few lucky ones that did not lose anyone.

Dan: And tell me now. So we’re sitting here, we’re looking at the new buildings that have risen up in the footprint of the World Trade Center. But give me a sense of what this place would have been like before that attack.

9/11 Ground Zero

Ray: Certainly. So if you came here 21 years ago — and I’ve only recently gotten used to saying 21 years ago — directly across the street, we will be looking at World Trade 5. Five was a smaller building. Many people I’ve met on these tours, they tend to think that the World Trade Center only consisted of two buildings. There were actually seven buildings at the site. It’s a massive site. It’s 16 and a half acres in size. 

And we can see right now, this is a massive site. This is the eastern edge of the plaza, those buildings in the distance are the western edge. So building 5 would have been right across the street, just to the left where the trees are today. That’s the memorial pool for Tower 1, that would have been the north tower, Tower 2. And that direction, that’s the south side of the plaza, we would have seen the building for Tower 2.

Right behind Tower 2 would have been a hotel, which was also known as Tower 3. And if you take a look where this glass tower is right next to the new One World Trade — or the Freedom Tower some people call it — that is the new No. 7 World Trade Center. Seven is actually unique. Seven is the only new building that stands precisely on the same footprint as its original predecessor. 

So that’s what the site would have looked like back in that era.

Dan: So it wasn’t just the two buildings that came down. It was all those other buildings as well.

Ray: Every building came down, and also below the plaza too. 

I should mention, many people were not aware, outside of Manhattan, that there was not only a five-acre shopping center — 80 stores service the buildings. They serve as the neighborhood. And then below that, you would have had the third largest subway hub that has ever existed in our city and is third in size behind Grand Central Terminal. 

So it gives you an idea of the scale that we’re talking about: 12 subway lines and a train that goes out to New Jersey called the PATH train. 

Nothing was salvageable at the site. Everything had to be rebuilt. So when this area became known as Ground Zero during the recovery effort, they literally had to dig down to the bottom, all the way down to the concrete, which was known as the bathtub. It was a 16-acre hole on the ground.

Dan: How quickly did you come down and look at the site after it happened?

Ray: Actually, there were two instances that I can give you around maybe two months after the fact. 

I worked for a commercial company. We used to do business at various production houses in the city. I had to go to Greenwich Village and I got off the subway, I stepped onto the street. I immediately noticed this horrific smell. 

It actually did not occur to me at that second that that’s what I was smelling was the Trade Center. It was almost like an electrical fire. If you’ve ever smelled an electrical fire, that’s a smell you never truly get out of your soul. You always remember that. It permeated the whole neighborhood. And that’s Greenwich Village — that’s further north of where we are. And if the wind blew just correctly, you could smell it all the way up at Midtown. 

So that was the first time, but the second time that I had come down here was about a year after the attacks. 

One of my best friends — in fact, the best man at my wedding — his mom and his uncle both worked in Tower 1, and we actually spent a lot of time here at the Trade Center. 

So he wanted to visit the site. He had since moved away. We came down here about a year after. So it’s 2002, 20 years ago, right about now. 

And seeing this site as a hole in the ground, seeing how some people were respectful, some people were not respectful… it just — it was too hurtful to be here. It was very difficult to see what happened here and to appreciate the scale of the event. 

I saw the entire year, working in this city, the missing posters that were all over our city — that’s every public space almost — for about a year. Penn Station, Grand Central Central Park, you saw missing posters. 

I have never seen anything like that. The human element of this, that was when it hit you — the pictures. You know, we hear numbers all the time in society — 2,977 people were killed that day. And that’s everyone. That’s Washington, Pennsylvania, and New York. But we don’t process tha. We’re a visual species. So seeing those pictures here as well, those missing posters. It was unbelievable. No one ever could have imagined something quite like that. I truly believe that. 

Dan: And if we’d been sitting here in this cemetery, just hours after the event, what would this scene of devastation look like?

Ray: I can actually give you a sense of it. If we look right across the street, what we would see would basically be a smoldering hole in the ground. We’re actually located right in the epicenter. so there would have been smoke in this vicinity. 

In fact, that’s Fulton Street that we’re sitting next to. Fulton Street was covered in debris. The churchyard, every inch that you would have stepped, you would have seen debris somewhere. Windows are blown out everywhere. Debris covered everything. You could not see through the smoke at certain periods. People would have been covered in that material. 

In fact, when I was on 6th Avenue a little bit later that afternoon, we saw vehicles coming up from downtown — every one of us that was stuck here that day — covered in the dust until they were maybe 30 feet from you. You could not make out the lights on the police vehicles, the ambulances, the fire engines. And they were not rushing to go uptown. There were no sirens on. And it was at that moment, we all realized that there are no survivors. They’re not rushing to go anywhere. 

And then we saw people traveling north following those vehicles, and they were obviously traumatized. Every inch of their bodies was covered in that debris. I’ve never seen something like this. It was in your eyes, their ears, their noses, every inch of their bodies, was just absolutely covered. 

But we did see something in that moment that was amazing. People came out of the restaurants and they gave those people bottles of water, they gave them towels so they can clean that material off of their faces. And that is the first image that I saw that day of people coming together to help each other and to make a difference. 

And that was one of the things — I do want to make the point — we saw happen immediately. People immediately came to each other’s aid. They came to help each other. And that’s important at that moment.

Dan: Very powerful descriptions. And in terms of the debris here that would be filled here in front of us, was it stacked several stories high? Because there was so much material.

Ray: It was. We have to realize that the Trade Center itself, not only is it a 16-acre site, but it’s about a 70-foot drop down to the bathtub, the concrete floor that is there. 

They estimate that there was just under 2 million tons of debris piled on top of this 16-acre site. 

And we do have to realize, too, that it was burning. For 100 days after the attacks, this site was burning. So the air was toxic at the time. That’s a hell of a fight for the firemen, just to try to control the fires and try to recover people at the same time. 

So this is a massive, unprecedented event that they had to deal with. And I don’t think we can ever underestimate the work that the first responders, the firemen, they all did here. I don’t think we can ever underestimate what they accomplished. It’s absolutely incredible. It’s absolutely profound.

Dan: Shall we go and check out the site now and you can show me some of the ways in which it was rebuilt?

Ray: Sure, let’s do that.

So one of the things that I would like to tell you about, because I think it’s one of the best unknown stories of 9/11, is the water rescue.

Dan:

I don’t know anything about that. Tell me. 

Ray: So on the day of the attacks, try to imagine that there would have been thousands of people that are running in that direction, where that glass dome is today. Now today, that’s part of a shopping mall. There’s restaurants there. It’s called Brookfield Place. But it did exist 20 years ago under a different dome. 

So if you can try to imagine that the day of the attacks, there are thousands of people running in this direction to get away from the plaza. But when you’re on the other side of that dome, you are at the Hudson River, you have nowhere to go. So unless you’re prepared to swim like Michael Phelps and get across to New Jersey, you’re trapped there. 

But 9/11 was a beautiful day. It was about 72 degrees here. We had an amazing day. People have their private watercrafts, their private yachts, their private boats out on the Hudson River, they began ferrying people from the west side, and they brought to the Jersey side. The Staten Island Ferry, the Circle Line, the Statue of Liberty boats showed up as well. 

They took people on by the hundreds and they took them across to get them to safety. Dunkirk — largest amphibious rescue in human history — happens: 340,000 troops. That was the largest until 9/11. It’s been estimated that just over half a million people were rescued on the other side of that dome, and that is from people coming together to make a difference. 

So I love that story. I think it’s an amazing story. 

Dan: That’s crazy. Half a million people.

Ray: Half a million people. And I think something to realize about our city is that we are a city of neighborhoods. And it doesn’t matter if it’s Little Italy or Harlem or Chinatown, if you grew up in this city, you understand. You take care of your neighborhood. You take care of your neighbor. 

So I love that that’s what happened on the other side of that building that day, and people took care of their neighbor. 

Here’s another one too, right across the street is a building called the Millennium Hotel. It was formerly the Millennium Hilton. This building I think plays a much bigger role a few years later.

In 2012, there’s a 21-year-old man that wants to become part of Al-Qaeda. Now he meets another terrorist online and they develop a lovely plan together. Their plan is to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank by Wall Street. We actually saw it a few minutes ago — largest repository of gold that exists on earth today. That’s where the world’s gold is held. 

Well, the morning of October 17, 2012, they drive a van with a 1,000-pound bomb in it. They park it at the reserve. They walk casually up this road through the revolving doors across the street. And this man pulls out his cell phone. And he just dials the number that will set the bomb off remotely. Well, he dials it, but nothing happened. 

A minute later, the FBI storms that building and they arrested him because the terrorists he was speaking to was actually an undercover agent. They tracked him. They wanted to know what he knew, what he was connected to, and they stopped him before we had another tragedy on our hands. 

But I think that’s an amazing story because it shows the post 9/11 world is a very different place. And we should also recognize since 9/11, cities like Boston, Paris, London, Nice, Manchester, Istanbul, Brussels, many others — there have been terrorist attacks around the world. This is not really over. It still continues. And there’s a lot of things that happen behind the scenes that we have no idea about. 

And many people that I’ve spoken to on my tour, they’ve never heard of this event, even people that live and work here. They did not know about this.

Dan: And that building, the one we’re looking at now, it was covered in dust. Some of the windows are shuttered, but that is still the original building.

Ray: That is the original building. In fact, if you look at older movies, movies like “Trading Places” and a few others, in background shots, you will see all of these buildings. The Century 21 department store that used to be a bank back in the day. That was a bank, Millennium Hilton. Now it’s a Millennium Hotel, but for years it was a Hilton. All these buildings were here

Dan: And the site now as well, there’s almost a festival character in some parts, very colorful. There’s a mixture of sort of grand architecture and restaurants, bars, play stuff, fun, beer gardens. Was there a big debate over what would replace the World Trade Center?

Ray: There was. There was a lot of debate for several years. In fact, some of the debate revolved around respect for what had happened here. There were many people that said, we should not build anything at all. There should just be a memorial here. 

But then there were also people that said we’ve lost a lot of businesses, so we need to have a combination of memorial but also office spaces. 

NYC Ground Zero

Well, we actually did lose a lot of businesses. You know, something that people don’t realize today, the Financial District — which was Lower Manhattan for a very long time — today, it’s almost Financial District only in name only. 

Money does not stop for anyone, as we know. So the Financial District very much moved Midtown, it moved uptown, and in some instances out of town. So today, much of the area that was once the Financial District, a lot of it is actually residential, especially by Wall Street today. 

So it was eventually decided that there would be a combination of memorial space, but also buildings here that would accommodate offices as well. 

And I should also mention that this building that we’re walking by right now, this was where World Trade 2 was supposed to be built. But they are having difficulty filling the buildings. In fact, none of them are actually at full capacity. So this space today is just an entrance to the new subway system that had to be replaced from the original site. Time will tell what they actually do. 

But originally, there was a building, No 2, designed to be right here. But today, that isn’t going to happen. Time will tell what they do with the site.

Dan: So I guess the pandemic coming only a couple of decades after 9/11 has changed the character of this area forever.

Ray: It’s definitely different. And I would have to say it’s not just the pandemic — 9/11 definitely changed the city. 

For many people that are native New Yorkers, there is sort of, I would say, a demarcation line in our city’s history. There was before 9/11. There was after 9/11. Because we experienced the aftermath of seeing the people in the city that suffered with PTSD, seeing the changes to our city security and otherwise. 

There are now many people that live in our city that are from other parts of our country. They’ve been here in the last decade or so. They didn’t experience any of that. So for them, it’s almost a foreign concept. They know what happened, but they didn’t experience it. So there is very much that before 9/11 and after for many of us that are from here.

Dan: So people like you who’ve been here and you now meet new friends, colleagues, or parents at the school gate. Can you tell us a little difference between you. Can you sort of guess who was here and who wasn’t?

Ray: Definitely. You can definitely see it. There is — I don’t want to say a lingering PTSD — but I don’t really know how else to say it. I’ll give you an example. 

My father worked in Tower 1. He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. Cantor had the highest casualty rates of anyone.

On that day, 650 people never walked out of Tower 1 from that company. My father got laid off from his job a few months before the attacks happened. But he knew many people that were there. I can never get him to speak about this. He will not come here. He will come to Manhattan, but he will not come to this site. 

And I’ve met many people that were here before that. That’s exactly how they feel too. They’ve either never been here, never planned to, or it’s just too difficult. And I understand that entirely. 

So Zuccotti Park, where we just met a few moments ago, that’s one of the oldest parks in our city. It’s been there since the 1600s. Actually, there was once a statue that sat in the park. It was essentially a Wall Street worker, and he’s preparing to go to a meeting. He has a briefcase in front of him — it was called “Doubletake.” 

Well, on the day of the attacks, there were firemen that were all over the Trade Center site, they happened to look in the direction of the park, and they saw what they perceived to be a person in distress. So they ran over to this statue, not realizing this is not a human being. So if you can imagine their surprise and probably relief that this is only a statue — it’s not a human being. 

But if you ever look at the picture, it’s eerie. It’s a very eerie sensation to see this and realize that this statue survived it. 

And he does still exist today. By the way, One Liberty Plaza, the black building on the left, he is on the Broadway side of the building. He’s still sitting in that corner. And it’s amazing how many people walk right by. They see that statue, but they don’t know the connection to 9/11. It’s an amazing piece of the story

Dan: So we just crossed Liberty Street and we’ve come to well, what’s this? This is one of the fire stations.

Ray: Engine and Ladder 10. It’s probably the one that everyone should visit that is at this site. We’ve lost 343 firemen in the line of duty that day on 9/11. And there is no precedent for this anywhere in history. It’s never happened anywhere on that scale. 

Six men from this company, including their captain, Captain Corrigan, were killed. And if you look to the right of the garage door, you will see a plaque and that plaque represents the six men that were lost. That is an amazing tribute. 

We have somewhere in the avenue of 225 active firehouses within the five boroughs of New York City. Many of them do have similar tributes. Many of them did lose at least one person. But I do want to make the point that we have two firehouses — they lost everyone, their day and their night crew — no one came home again. 

It is mind boggling that that could have happened, but it did happen more than once. 

Many guests that I have have asked me if this is a museum. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It is not a museum. It is one of the busiest firehouses in our city. I cannot count how many times I’ve given this tour, and they’re going out or they’re coming back from a call. Very important building to the city, to this story.

Dan: Ray, why were the casualties among the first responders so high?

Ray: There’s several instances why. I’ll give you an example. 

Many of the firemen were actually rushing into the buildings trying to get people out. Very narrow staircases existed inside the Twin Towers. They were about six and a half feet wide.

So you had many firemen, with almost 100 pounds or more of equipment, trying to get up the staircases to do what they needed to do. But you also have to realize that there are people terrified for their lives. They were coming down the staircases and they bottlenecked. That’s unfortunate, but that is the reality — that people did bottleneck inside the building. 

But you had firemen that were all over the site. So some were in the building. Some were below. They were everywhere. And unfortunately, when the buildings came down, they just didn’t have enough time to get out. And it’s just unfortunate that that happened. 

But again, we cannot underestimate the work that they did and the sacrifice that they made.

Dan: So we’re walking along now, we’re walking west and we’ve got a park with trees, lots of tourists around, a big water feature. This area feels very much like the memorial park.

Ray: Right, we just walked onto the memorial. Where we’re looking at here is the footprint of the South Tower. That’s Tower 2.

Dan: So it’s a big, sunken square with waterfalls cascading down the edges. This is the exact footprint, isn’t it?

Ray: So the footprints are not entirely exact. 

They did have to use GPS coordinates to figure out where they were located. But they are actually slightly smaller. They made them slightly smaller to accommodate the museum below. The 9/11 Museum is below our feet. 

The actual footprint of the building is closer to the tree line that we see right here, where these people are on the benches, that’s closer to the footprint — one acre in size were the footprints of the Twin Towers, massive buildings.

Dan: And towering above the whole thing is the new World Trade Center or the Freedom Tower.

Ray: Many people come here and they call it that, but Freedom Tower is actually a nickname. All the new buildings are numbered, as the original ones were, so the real name of the building is actually One World Trade. 

But the Freedom Tower nickname seems to have stuck in many instances. And it is today the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, tallest building in our city — 1,776 feet represents the birth of our nation, the year 1776, hence, the Freedom Tower nickname that it has earned today.

Dan: So now we’re walking towards the memorial pool. As you get closer, you just see it falling away, falling away. And OK, there’s the bottom. Oh, wow. But you can’t actually see the bottom in the middle because it’s so deep.

9/11 Memorial Fountain

Ray: No. And that’s part of the design, there actually is a lot of symbolism that went into this design. The gentleman that designed that — his name is Michael Arad — he wanted to have certain things represented. If you notice, that is not a solid wall of water. It’s individual jets of water — 2,977 — each one represents a single victim. 

The water that comes out is meant to be symbolic of tears falling into the hole in the center, a hole that can never be filled. 

And architecturally, the use of the water is very, very clever. As you stand near this memorial, you do not hear the traffic around you. You barely hear conversation around you. Part of the reason they did that was to focus your attention on the memorial. 

I always recommend, if people have the opportunity, come here at night. The sound of the waterfalls, the way that they light the memorial, it really does put your mind into a different place. It’s very eloquent. It’s very effective. 

And the name itself is very eloquent. It is called Reflecting Absence. Very simple, not a giant statue that’s here. It’s just the shape of the buildings implied using negative space to represent their absence. Nothing more. Very simple, but very eloquent.

Dan: And in front of us, there are metal plaques with names. We got New York Fire Patrol emergency services, and then you’ve got individuals’ names. Who are all these people?

Ray: So the names themselves are not in alphabetical order. They had wanted this to be much more personal than that. So several years of research goes into this project. In fact, some of the victims’ family members help them figure this out as well. They devise a system, what they call meaningful adjacencies. 

So the names are here in the order of people that had known each other or perhaps worked together, or they were together when they passed away. 

I had a young lady on my tour once, and she had pulled me aside and she said to me, “I’ve lost three friends in this building. I knew they were together.” Out of sheer curiosity, I just asked her, “How do you know for sure that they were together?”

But her response was that not only was she the second to the last person that ever spoke to them. She spoke to them 10 minutes before this building came down. She found their names together, and it made it personal. It meant so much to her that they were together and made it personal. It did exactly what they were hoping that it would do. 

And I also do want to mention, if you happen to see a white rose — and it looks like there was one right there in front of that gentleman — a white rose means it is that person’s birthday today. The 9/11 Memorial does have a team of people that will honor a birthday with a white rose, so no one is ever forgotten. They’re always remembered by someone.

9/11 Memorial Names

Any other color flowers that you might see here or even flags — there are 78 countries that are represented by the death toll of 9/11, so it’s not very uncommon to see flags from various countries here — that was a friend or a family member that came here to say hello and to pay a visit. 

And to our knowledge, no one was omitted in the research. Even unborn children, they are included as well. Whether names are selected for them or not, they are included.

Dan: And do you feel, as someone who was here at the time and knowing lots of people that lost friends and family, has this been well received by the people of New York?

Ray: I think it has been. I have to admit it’s also been very comforting to see that it’s been treated respectfully, that it’s been accepted. I think it’s extremely well done.

Dan: And then we’ve come now to a tree with lots of ribbons and messages tied to it and some dried flowers in the branches. What’s the significance of this tree? 

Ray: So this tree is known as the Survivor’s Tree. 

Around two weeks into the recovery efforts, the workmen had found a broken burned stump. It was in miserable condition. It had new growth. And they decided, let’s see if there’s anything we can do to save this tree. Well, a nursery in the Bronze was able to rehabilitate this tree. It took several years to do this. 

But they decided eventually they would give this tree a place of honor here as the last survivor. This was the last living thing that was removed from the Trade Center site, and it had seen all the adversity of that day. But it had also had an incident after Hurricane Sandy, it actually had its root system damaged, so it was struggling again, but they did get this tree to rehab for a second time. And now it’s here and it’s thriving.

I love that this is the first tree on this site that gets its leaves in the spring. It’s an excellent symbol of survival, like the people that made it out of here or like St. Paul’s. It has been through a lot. It is still with us. But it’s also amazing in that it has outlived its life expectancy now, I believe, by about 15 years. This is a callery pear tree. It’s not supposed to live as long as many of the other trees around us. The rest of the trees here today that have been planted are white oak trees, but this is a different tree.

And I also really appreciate, they take clippings from this tree. They grow saplings. And those new trees have been sent to the cities around the world that have experienced terror tragedies. 

I’ve seen the ones in Boston for the marathon bombing years ago. Paris, London, Manchester, Istanbul, they’ve all received them because it is a symbol of solidarity.

9/11 Memorial

And I do feel that if there’s anything we can learn from this event or maybe COVID or mabe any of it — we as a people, we can choose to stick together. We’ve done this before. We can do it again. It’s just another form of adversity that we can overcome together.

Dan: What a beautiful place to end it there: the Survivor’s Tree. Thank you very much indeed, Ray. That was outstanding.

Ray: Thank you. Thank you for your time today.

Dan: If people want to come and join one of your tours, how do they do that?

Ray: I’d recommend you go to [our website] and you can book our 9/11 Memorial tour

We provide you with not only the facts of the day, but we also provide you with a personal experience from people that experienced this event or witnesses or lived through it. So you get a personal touch. It’s not just facts and figures. We do add a personal experience.

And I do think, in order to teach history, we do indeed to understand the importance of it, why it impacts the current generation, why it’s still important. Facts and figures are meaningless to people unless they understand why it’s important to them.

Dan:

Thanks so much, buddy.

By Cheryl Rodewig

October 12, 2022

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