In the end, it was about the people, not the place
September 12, 2002
In the center of downtown Manhattan, the moment of silence observed Wednesday at 8:46 a.m. was so complete and intense that people could hear the sound of cables from window washers’ scaffolds slapping against buildings in the wind.
Basalt resident Tom Egan was there, listening intently until the name of his brother-in-law, Joseph Marchbanks, was read, along with the names of the other 2,800 people who died on that spot exactly one year ago. Marchbanks was a fire battalion chief in Harlem, Battalion 12.
While his wife Doreen’s family was gathering at the Marchbanks’ home in New Jersey, Egan crossed the George Washington Bridge early on Wednesday morning to join Marchbanks’ battalion at the services being held at Ground Zero.
“I was the only one in the family who decided to go to Ground Zero, but I think that they don’t feel they have very much in the way of a connection to that spot, honestly,” Egan said Wednesday during a telephone interview. “It’s where everything happened, but it’s been cleaned up, shipped out and covered up. This whole thing ends up really being about the people that died, like my brother-in-law, and the focus of the day was here at Joe’s house.”
But Ground Zero was a historical, important place, and Egan felt compelled to attend the ceremony, as did hundreds of thousands of others.
“It was kind of an awesome sight. People were everywhere you looked, and TV stations were broadcasting from every balcony you could see,” he said. “People were shoulder to shoulder, but uncharacteristically for New York, everyone seemed to have personal space. There wasn’t a lot of pushing or shoving. For New York, it was an amazing turn of events.”
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On the exact spot where the World Trade Center once stood, family members gathered in an area known as “The Pit,” the concrete-lined excavation that once held the foundations of the towers.
Like the day exactly one year ago, Egan said, the skies were crystal clear. In the windy weather, dust blew from up from the excavation, where a subway tunnel has been rebuilt.
Reading the list of victims’ names took more than two hours, beginning with the first name recited by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Egan said some family members and friends of victims’ cried, while others just looked around at each other, and the spectacle of the crowd.
Egan stayed at the memorial until Joseph Marchbanks’ name was read, and then drove back to New Jersey to rejoin his family. Only when he arrived at the front door were last names beginning with Zs being read.
After visiting the site a few days after the attacks, then again six weeks after, and now one year later, Egan said he’s had time to reflect on the actions of a few that affected the lives of so many.
“I look at it as a spot where a bizarre event happened,” he said. “In a year’s hindsight, I still want to ask, why did this happen? It seems pointless. It doesn’t seem like anything [the terrorists] wanted to accomplish was accomplished. But it’s a special place, and it will remain that way.”
[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com]