September 11, 2001, will forever be one of the most significant days in our nation’s history. This year, we’ll commemorate the 20th anniversary since the terrorist attacks. And while looking back to this terrible day brings back very sad and difficult memories, it’s important that we do so.
Remembering 9/11 (and learning about it) is part of recognizing our nation’s history. Looking backwards isn’t always fun, but it’s important to remember the good as well as the bad. Not only is 9/11 part of our history, but it significantly altered our world. New York City will never be the same. Whether it’s for better or worse, it can’t be ignored.
For me, as a New Yorker, commemorating the anniversary is important to honor the innocent lives that were lost. That means not only acknowledging their passing but the pain and grief of thousands of their family members and friends. It’s both a personal and universal tragedy.
As they do every year, the city has plans to pay tribute to all those involved in 9/11 and memorialize the day that changed everything.
Local accounts of September 11th
In order to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we want to start by sharing a few excerpts from some of our guides’ 9/11 accounts. They witnessed the attacks first hand, from inside the city.
I was in my office when the first plane harpooned the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. At 9:03, the second tower was struck with the resulting blast slamming the building, bending in the windows, followed by the concussions of the sound, and then the transfer of energy through the rock which shook the building.
On the street level outside, it was a stream of chaos: emergency vehicles, people standing in shock, crying, pointing. The smell of burning materials and debris flying in the air was coupled with not knowing what else may be coming to destroy us.
As I approached downtown, near the Brooklyn Bridge exit, I saw the World Trade Center towers. The sight was appalling — wreathed in flames and surrounded by hellish black smoke against the clear blue sky. I stopped.
Sitting in my car barely half a mile from Ground Zero, I saw the South Tower fall. The opaque wall of dust spewed from the collapse and came nearer and nearer, block by block.
In the evening, I was able to get a subway ride home to Brooklyn. As the train came out from underground to cross the Manhattan Bridge over the East River, the few of us passengers on board all stood and went to the windows to look at the now permanently changed skyline still fuming with smoke.
Two days later, I returned to work in a city that had completely changed. Military soldiers with machine guns lined the street in Times Square as I walked to my office.
Only a few minutes after getting to the windows, we watched, all of us struck silent, as the second plane screamed towards the South Tower.
The explosion when the plane flew into the tower was almost blinding, and we could feel the shockwave hit the windows and set them vibrating. We could hear the rumble from across the river and see as pieces of steel and glass flew out of the South Tower into the clear blue sky.
In a split-second, my entire office went from stunned silence to frantic action as the fire alarms sounded.
I was a photojournalist in my neighborhood of Brooklyn when the planes struck. My assignment brought me uptown to St. Vincent’s hospital to cover the care of survivors. Hundreds were on the closed avenue waiting to donate blood for the injured, but no one came. It was eerily quiet, and looking south, there was only dust.
NYC events for the 20th anniversary of 9/11
Throughout New York, there are a number of events planned to mark the 20th anniversary this year.
9/11 Memorial commemoration ceremony
As they do every year, the 9/11 Memorial will hold a commemoration ceremony, where all the names of those killed in the September 11th attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing are read aloud by family members.
Throughout the ceremony, there will also be six moments of silence, corresponding with the times when each of the towers were struck and fell and the times of the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93.
The ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m. Only 9/11 family members will be permitted access. The memorial will re-open to the public after the ceremony concludes (around 2 or 3 p.m.). After that time, the memorial will be accessible to anyone. However, the museum will remain open exclusively for 9/11 family members for the remainder of the day.
At sundown, the “Tribute in Light” will begin. This annual tradition lights up the sky with two bright beams, emanating the look of the original Twin Towers. For a few hours, people all across the city can look up and see the towers once again as part of the skyline.
St. Paul’s Chapel
Just down the block from the World Trade Center, St. Paul’s Chapel will hold its annual morning bell services, ringing the Bell of Hope at precisely 8:46 a.m., when the first plane crashed into the North Tower.
At 3 p.m., there will be a special service including the Calling of the Names. Each of the first responders, rescue and recovery workers who died will have their name read aloud.
Airing on WNET, at multiple dates and times, is the documentary “CHIEF.” The film is about Bill Feehan, the oldest and highest ranking firefighter to die on 9/11. Bill was an incredible hero, and a friend of one of our guides, Robert Maass.
On the 20th anniversary, there will be a special screening of the documentary at the Museum of the City of New York, followed by a Q&A with filmmakers and their team. You can pre-register to reserve your seat, but this is not required. Admission to the screening is free with a ticket to the museum. But you must show proof of vaccination and wear a mask.
NYC Still Rising After 20 Years: A Comedy Celebration
This year, in honor of the 20th anniversary, comedians Jon Stewart and Pete Davidson have organized a comedy event at Madison Square Garden to benefit 9/11 charities. Some of the comedians include Dave Chappelle, Michael Che, and Bill Burr, among others.
The event is scheduled for Sept. 12. Tickets are still available online.
Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Another great way to commemorate the anniversary is by visiting the 9/11 Memorial and the 9/11 Museum. Keep in mind, the museum is closed to the public on September 11 and the memorial isn’t open until around 3 p.m. However, you are more than welcome to visit in the days before and after.
The memorial features two pools, each in the footprint of the twin towers, with the name of the victims engraved in the parapets around them. While walking around the memorial you can also see the Memorial Glade, the Survivor Tree and the World Trade Center Sphere.
Admission to the museum must be purchased. Tickets are available both online and at the entrance. The exhibits give guests a first hand account of the attacks and a rare look at hundreds of artifacts retained from the rubble of Ground Zero.
If you’re interested in hearing more in-person accounts of September 11th and looking for an insider’s look into the memorial, join us on a guided tour. Our local guides will share everything there is to know, as well as some of their personal stories. Again, tours are unavailable on September 11, but we run Ground Zero tours on both Sept. 10 and Sept. 12.
September 11th: 20 years later
While September 11th remains one of the worst days many of us have experienced, I continue to remind myself year after year that the days that followed proved just how strong New York City really is. People from all over coming together to help and to grieve, sacrificing their time and their health. It’s one of many reasons I’m proud to call myself a New Yorker.
The twenty years since 9/11 have seen so much change in the city. Ground Zero has completely transformed. Five brand new buildings have been built for the World Trade Center (with more to come), and a beautiful memorial was created to honor all those who were lost.
But even through all this change, we will never forget. We will continue to remember the sacrifices that were made and the lives of the thousands of innocent victims, this year and for many years to come.