Sunday, 23 January 2011

St Paul's Chapel and the NYC World Trade Center Site

St Paul's Chapel NYCNot an easy subject to write about but I'll give it a go. On the afternoon of our fifth day in New York we visited the area surrounding the World Trade Centre site.

Initially, we were in a garden-like area at the end of the Brooklyn Bridge surrounded by roads with New York City Hall, the very ornate French Embassy and the start of the large skyscrapers of the Financial District. We had just walked across the Brooklyn Bridge but the only thing overriding our desire to see more of the city was the call of nature.

In Starbucks we each bought something and waited for what seemed a lifetime in the queue for the one restroom. Managing to not wet ourselves, we successfully each eased our bladder pressure before leaving.

Norngirl's laptop doesn't have a memory card reader so we first of all took the opportunity to buy a card reader so we could, later on, see and back up our photos from the previous 4 days.  Once our nerdy necessities were out of the way, we then we visited St Paul's Chapel which is open to the public.

Plaque on St Pauls Chapel NYC

St Pauls Chapel Lower ManhattanIn the building itself there is a memorial to the victims of 9/11 as well as religious and historical displays and memorials, such as another commemoration plaque to note the Chapel's link to George Washington, who apparently frequented it to worship back in the day. It seems somewhat bad to visit a place just to dwell on times of pain and suffering but we'd already happened to watch most of the documentaries recounting the events of the day during a previous anniversary of 9/11. Being in the vicinity really does remove some of the distance from the event in more ways than just the geographic, which TV just doesn't always provide. Norngirl had done some research beforehand and knew that the tribute here existed and had been warned, understandably, from visiting memorials that still insensitively referred to the place as "Ground Zero".

In regards to the memorial/tributes, I remember watching the events unfold live on TV back in 2001 on what was an afternoon after school for me.  I can remember it well but the Chapel's tribute gave a different feeling compared to the memories and documentaries on TV. Personally, being what I would consider quite desensitised like most of my generation seems to be, seeing things on TV always seems somewhat detached from the reality. The tribute is quite poignant and really brought home the scale and the lives of those who were caught up in the tragedy but it also gave a more personal perspective from the community in this part of New York, admittedly (being a religious venue) displaying most prominently religious-worded tributes. Amongst other things there were personal photographs and a collection of badges from fire fighters and other emergency services around the world, left in honour of their American peers who lost their lives that day.

Tributes of emergency services in St Pauls Chapel

As you probably know, I'm not a fan of churches and their role in society for the most part but I have to say that this one is that little bit special due to its position, circumstance and role. As well as its history and function, going by the information on display, the Chapel did quite a lot for the area when it needed it most and was an important source of comfort for many. Leaving through the rear of the chapel into the graveyard you really do get a sense of the scale and how close to the collapsing towers the Chapel was. For outside, across a graveyard and literally within a couple of hundred meters, is the site of the former World Trade Centre towers and current site of the World Trade Centre site redevelopment project (Link is a PDF document from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation).

Cemetery of St Paul's Chapel NYC

Construction of  WTC redevelopment plan Tower 2

It really is quite amazing being there and thinking that two skyscrapers once towered above all the buildings that still stand now but that they imploded without leaving much of a mark on most of the buildings around them, even though the mark that was left on humanity is so great. Leaving the grounds of the Chapel, we took a look at the World Trade Centre cross memorial, and then visited the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site which was brought to our attention by the fencing spanning the construction site.

World Trade Centre Cross Memorial

In the Preview Site, apart from all the things for sale, which in all honesty seemed a little tacky given the reason the place existed in the first place, there were some informational boards and displays about the new memorial site featuring two large pools/waterfalls and the buildings that are to be built around the site. The site itself is under construction and it's aimed that the main buildings will be completed in 2013 going by the accounts I can find.

As we were in the area, and to lighten our spirits a little after a sombre afternoon, we had a wander around a department store followed by what turned out to be the worst Subway sandwich I've ever eaten. We then walked up Broadway, criss-crossing between shops looking for some gifts for family back home. We didn't find much, just repeating shops all selling the same things. About a mile along the avenue we were starting to feel the ache in our feet and so got a non-food-related subway uptown where, after some more shopping, we headed back to the hotel early and ordered in.

Overall I found making the trip to the World Trade Centre site quite humbling but worthwhile.  Being close to the site and walking the streets around the site after finding the USA not all that far across the world made the scenes I saw on TV back then, the personal stories and tributes on TV since then and the displays we read in the chapel at the time, all seem an awful lot closer to home.

Though we took some photos of the new buildings being constructed, for memory's sake, the place is not a tourist attraction in the traditional sense. Undoubtedly the curiosity and empathy of people both near and far will bring tourists (who didn't personally know those lost) to the site as we did, to pay respects, to put context to a memory, to learn more. All being well, the 'reflecting absence' memorial that is being constructed on the World Trade Centre site will be a suitable and fitting memorial and the 'footprints', waterfalls and trees certainly seem like a nice idea.

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