BY RACHEL SHARPE
When most people think about September 11th, 2001 the first thought that comes to mind are the images of two immense towers crumbling to the earth and thick, black smoke forming a cloud over Manhattan. The fact is most high school students don’t remember much of the horror that ensued on that day because we were young when it happened. My recent visit to the Ground Zero Museum Workshop in New York City truly helped me connect to both the tragedy we now call 9/11 and the heroism that ensued in its aftermath.
With striking photographs and artifacts from the recovery process, items worn by recovery workers, and rare video footage from inside the World Trade Center site, the Ground Zero Museum Workshop provides visitors with an unforgettable look at the events which have altered our country forever. The museum was created in 2005 by a man named Gary Marlon Suson. Suson began documenting the event on behalf of the Uniformed Firefighters and Fire Officers Association and soon after was chosen by New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the official and only photographer to have access to photograph the long, difficult recovery process. After witnessing the World Trade Center collapse first-hand, Suson quickly realized how important it was to document this act of terrorism for future generations. Having been interested in photography his whole life, Suson came up with the idea to create a website full of pictures from the recovery that would tell the story of what happened on that dreadful day.
“It was very important for me to capture emotionally moving images that could convey to people around the USA and the world exactly what we were living through,” Suson said.
Suson was inspired to display his photographs in an actual museum after touring the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam. Standing in the room that Anne slept in and seeing letters written to her family from the Nazis, he became emotionally connected to the Holocaust and gained a better understanding of what really happened as a result of Hitler’s power. Suson even got to watch a video interview with Mrs. Gies, the women who hid the Frank family in her own attic. His experience at the museum made him quickly realize that Anne Frank was full of life, hopes and dreams, just like so many 9/11 victims were.
Thus the idea of the Ground Zero Museum Workshop was born. In 2005 the museum held its grand opening. The goal of the museum is to tell the stories of the victims as well as the stories of the heroic rescue workers, through Suson’s photographic collection. The museum educates students about the true impact of terrorism and provides an emotionally safe place for children and the families of 9/11 victims to grieve. Proceeds from tickets sales support six charities including one that treats sick and disabled Ground Zero recovery workers.
When I first walked into the museum, I was surprised by its extremely small size. In fact, they call it the biggest, little museum in the world. That’s because, within one small room there are hundreds of deeply moving photographs and artifacts covering nearly every square inch of wall space with display tables crowding the center of the space. I was deeply moved by the images of people coming together during a time of crisis and all the love that was packed into the tiny museum. Rather than focus solely on the tragic events of 9/11, the museum provides an extremely sensitive insight into the less publicized months of recovery afterwards.
I was given a headset and a short introductory movie was played, that was narrated by Mr. Suson himself. The video was very emotional for me, because it was a very loving tribute to those innocent victims whose lives were lost. I found it truly amazing to know how many people were able to come together during the recovery process, despite all of the hardships they so evidently endured.
Once the video was over, I was able to view all of the photographs and artifacts, at my own pace. The recording playing on my headset acted as a guide with Mr. Suson giving a first-hand narration of what each photograph meant to him. I was even given the rare opportunity to see a piece of the plane that crashed into the towers, as well as hold artifacts that were actually in the World Trade Center. Some of the artifacts, displayed in glass cases, were reminders that September 11th began as just another regular work day. Others, such as a clock with its hand forever frozen at 10:04 illustrate that it was a day when time stopped forever.
“Shooting the rubble and personal effects that it contained was an important part of my documentation,” Suson said. “I feared that people would become desensitized by seeing constant images of the towers collapsing and forget that HUMAN BEINGS were inside. With that in mind, I felt that by shooting personal effects and symbolic items it would help humanize the event and help people connect to the real tragedy of what was lost: Human Life.”
While my experience at the museum was incredibly sad, I left with a true sense of hope and love. It reminded me of all the compassion that exists in our world, even in such trying times.
In an interview with Paula Zahn from CNN, Suson proudly said, “If you can’t connect, you can’t heal, and so I’m hoping that these images will serve that purpose.”
Suson even went on to publish a book called REQUIEM that is available to purchase in the museum, along with other memorabilia. He often comes into the museum to sign copies of his book and answer any questions that visitors may have. Suson is even working on writing his own play that will further illuminate the effects of 9/11.
“Eventually, I will give the public the opportunity to own these images,” Suson said. “Time has a way of dulling our memory and people may forget what happened that day and the valuable lives lost on 9/11. I hope my images will insure that people never forget.”