9/11 Memorial

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The 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City is a solemn space. It is located within the footprint of the World Trade Center and filled with artifacts from the buildings as well as other items to help place the events of 9/11 in historical context.

But there is only one work of art that was commissioned for the museum, a more than 60-foot-long, almost 40-foot-high display in the museum’s Memorial Hall by artist Spencer Finch titled “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning,” the subject of my photo of the week.

The artwork is comprised of 2,938 watercolor squares in various shades of blue. Each watercolor square represents a victim of the World Trade Center terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 and an earlier attack on Feb. 26, 1993. The squares — hand-painted by Finch on Fabriano Italian paper — hang reminiscent of the many missing person notices placed on posts and buildings in the days following the attack and frame a quote from Virgil’s Aeneid: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” 

We visited the museum in 2017, 16 years after the attack. I admit that I was reluctant to go. Even 16 years later the events of that day were fresh in my memory. 

I was in my office that morning and had just changed channels from a morning news show to business news on CNBC. Monitoring news was part of my job as head of media relations for our corporation. It helped me better anticipate what reporters would be asking as the day progressed.

Moments after I switched to CNBC the anchor reported that a small plane had hit the World Trade Center. I jumped quickly to a cable news channel to see what was being reported. A few minutes later the first footage aired, showing the smoke and the damage. That’s when I realized it wasn’t a small plane and it likely hadn’t been an accident. 

I was watching in disbelief with some coworkers when the second plane hit the south tower and later as the two towers collapsed. And, like everyone else, I was glued to the TV the remainder of the day.

I was very familiar with the World Trade Center site. I knew reporters who worked or lived in buildings surrounding the towers and, during business trips to New York, I was a frequent passenger on the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) train to Jersey City that used a station under the towers.

Less than two weeks before the attack I had ridden the PATH from the World Trade Center to visit reporters at their office in Jersey City, directly across the Hudson River from the twin towers. When I returned I bought a frozen lemonade at a stand in the mall under the towers, as I did every trip, before I continued to my next appointment. But this day I noticed a yellow Labrador retriever, held on a leash by a Port Authority police officer, standing a few feet from me. I asked the officer, Sergeant Lim, if the dog would bite my hand off if I tried to pet it. He laughed, said Sirius (the dog) was trained to detect bombs and was very friendly. I petted Sirius for a few minutes while talking to the officer about the lab’s training before moving on with my day.

The day after 9/11, while watching news coverage from home, I saw a reporter interview Sergeant Lim. He was distraught, describing how he had been in his office in the basement of the south tower when the alarms were triggered. He secured the dog in its kennel, then ran upstairs to assist. Sergeant Lim was injured when the south tower collapsed, requiring treatment at a hospital. Sirius died in the collapse. His remains would be found four months later.

I had spent the day checking on friends who worked or lived in the shadows of the World Trade Center. All were OK. The thought of nearly 3,000 innocent people who died left me numb. It was difficult to comprehend or emotionally process death at that scale. 

But the news story about the death of the dog I had met just days before broke through the numbness. It hit me hard.

Those feelings were rekindled as I walked through the museum, viewing the many artifacts, photographs and videos. But seeing “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning” in Memorial Hall put the human impact of all the museum’s displays into context. And it’s fitting that it is the only artwork in the museum.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.

TECHNICAL INFORMATION

Date/time: Aug. 28, 2017, 11:36 a.m.  
Location: 40°42'41” N, 74°0'51” W 
(Show in Google Maps)  
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II  
Lens: Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 (10mm)
Aperture: f/4
Shutter: 1/60th second
ISO: 6400