Everything began as normal on the day that changed the world forever. In Manhattan, busy traders, engineers, security guards, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters made their ordinary morning commute. But, as we now know, September 11, 2001 was to become the latter date on nearly 3,000 of our brothers’ and sisters’ gravestones. Three-thousand people brutally murdered in four clouds of fire, destruction and hate.
Eleven years later, as a first-timer in the city, I felt it important I visit the place where those iconic towers once stood. I wanted to show my respects to those who died on TV channels around the globe. I wanted to think about the families they left behind. Unfortunately, other things would occupy my mind. I was to realize that, while many people came to the 9/11 Memorial Park to show their respects for the dead, others saw it as just another tourist attraction. One more thing to do in New York City.
The line to enter the memorial snaked almost the circumference of the park. People were chatting quietly, and mostly, cheerily. It looked more like a line for an amusement park ride than for what is, essentially, a graveyard.
An overhead speaker announced that entrance to the Memorial Park was free, but donations were appreciated. The average donation was $10 and all proceeds would go back into the site itself.
I was dispirited to find the donations raised through this method (donations that reached close to $20 million in 2011 alone) were to remain within the confines of the memorial site. My first guess would have been that money raised in the name of 9/11 would be best deserved by the few charities, such as The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and The Firefighter Cancer Foundation that have seen their workload become considerably heavier since that day.
After collecting my ticket, I exited the main office through the gift shop.
The gift shop?
This was somewhere, surely, that a collection of trinkets did not belong. But there they were. 9/11 memorial T-shirts and key chains with the fallen towers still standing proudly. It saddened me that the day that had caused hundreds of millions to stop and weep had been reduced to just another market. A coffee mug. An overpriced necktie. Another chance to capitalize.
Speaking to Anthony Guido, head of communications at the 9/11 Memorial, I was assured that no profit is made from such sales, and that, to his knowledge, there have been no complaints of the apparent tastelessness these curios seemed to radiate.
Yet, I find it difficult to see respect and consideration in those who visit places of unimaginable terror, despair and grief whilst holding knock off knick-knacks and casual conversations.
Alarmingly, it is not just the 9/11 Memorial more reminiscent to an art museum than to a place of mourning. The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Auschwitz both provide visiting tourists souvenirs to quench their thirst for consumerism.
Once inside the park, I felt calm again. The beautifully designed pools where the towers had once stood were tasteful and spread a contagious silence over the once-bustling crowds. The designers of the park had clearly put a lot of consideration into the memories of those lost that day.
I left confused. It is funny how something well-intentioned can, when put to practice, seem rather insensitive. When a memorial attempts to sell more than educational material, it cheapens the memory it is there to protect. Memories are images in our minds, stories on our lips. If you need a coffee mug to better remember a tragedy, then you probably don’t care enough about it.