President Obama Visits Ground Zero: A Report from the Scene


It was a brilliantly sunny day in Lower Manhattan when President Obama visited Ground Zero around lunchtime. It wasn’t as cloudless as September 11th, 2001, but the similarity was uncanny enough to make many of the reporters waiting on line comment about how alike the two days felt.

If you hadn’t been within the 16 acre site where the World Trade Center once stood in the last decade — as few have who aren’t construction workers or members of law enforcement — the stillness was extraordinary. It’s especially unsettling when you reflect upon how noisy it was during the wee hours of Monday morning and how loud it would get when the armada of security surrounding the President arrived.

But equally startling as the lack of noise was the light. Even with 1 World Trade now some 67 stories tall, it’s on the periphery of the site and the vertical openness of the sky is vast. The amount of sunshine is so different from the memory of how dark the sky was when the Twin Towers stood here. Clouds floated lazily by, reflected in the newly constructed walls of glass covering 7 World Trade (and floors 15 through 35 or so of 1 World Trade).

An honor guard of NYPD and FDNY in their dress blues were the first to enter, holding a wreath donated by a florist who once had a shop in 4 World Trade. They were followed by three young women and another woman. According to the White House, President Obama read a letter on Monday from 14-year-old Payton Hall, who’d written to him about handling the loss of her father, Glen James Wall, who died on 9/11. The White House invited her to the wreath ceremony, where she was joined by her mother, her sister, and another friend (who lost her dad that day.)

The three young women stood shivering slightly — one looking like she was going to cry at times — but each remained remarkably poised for such an occasion.

And then the silence was briefly punctuated by the sirens of the President’s motorcade. Obama arrived on the plaza, accompanied by Mayor Bloomberg and Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie. The President made his way down the honor guard, shaking the hand of each person and spending some moments chatting with a couple of them, before walking the wreath over to the tree and bowing his head in a moment of silence. The only sound was of clicking cameras.

The President then turned around and spent some time embracing the women behind him. A delegation then joined them on the plaza, including Senators Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillbrand, and Frank Lautenberg. It was the first time Obama had been in this spot since 2008, when he and John McCain visited what was still just a construction site.

Now, it’s noticeably becoming a park, the green a reminder that the omnipresent rubble will eventually disappear. As the President departed, the wind kicked up a bit. The leaves on the memorial tree shook harder, and the few clouds overheard blew away, allowing even more sunlight onto the plaza.

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