World Trade Center site

Lower Manhattan skyline, courtesy of James Preston

Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, visitors to New York are still drawn to ground zero to comprehend firsthand the horrific events of that day and to pay their respects to those who lost their lives there. 

“It’s not out of morbid curiosity that people want to go see the site. People want to go out of respect more than anything else,” said Stuart Hall of ABS Travel Group. 

Hall traveled from Rapid City with a group of 40 people to New York for an annual New England fall foliage tour just 10 days after the attack.

“It was an incredibly sobering experience for everybody. You could have heard a pin drop on that boat as we approached the smoldering debris. Until you saw it with your own eyes, you could not believe it. When you see the damage that has been caused by the actual event, it really brings it home,” he said.

Hall said people still visit today because they want to see what really happened, and only through seeing the site firsthand do visitors gain a sense of the magnitude of the attack and its disastrous effects.

“People go to ground zero now because it’s an imperative part of their trip to New York City and an important piece of tragic American history. It is not so much a tourist attraction as it is an informative documentation of the fact that that day happened. The people on our tours continue to be in total disbelief that something of this magnitude could have happened,” he said.

James Preston, who visited the site last year on the anniversary of the disaster, said, “It’s a very emotional experience. It’s very easy to become teary-eyed. It is truly a surreal experience being there and certainly worth seeing.”

“It hits you in the stomach when you see the little St. Paul’s Chapel that stood yards away from the World Trade Center and wasn’t severely damaged. When we first saw it in 2005, you could see all the green grass and trees at the church and then you see the ashes and the hole in the ground next to it that was the World Trade Center,” said Krista Preston.

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“But it is only through speaking with those who were there that day that made this event real to me. How do you ever accept that this occurred? Many New Yorkers still have anxiety about the event and living in the city, and yet I think New Yorkers and as a nation we are healing. All of life is just a process of healing,” she said. 

On their most recent trip to the site, the Prestons said that the memorial structure was about halfway completed and that the site is still under construction.

“It’s beautiful now. It’s amazing the progress that has been made. The museum they are working on is also pretty amazing. They will list all the names of those who lost their lives there; every name will be there. You will also be able to see a picture of every person,” said Krista Preston.

The museum is scheduled to open Sept. 11, 2012. It will have 120,000 square feet of exhibition space under the 8 acres that were once occupied by the World Trade Center.

“I think we have come full circle,” said Gemma Hall of ABS Travel Group. “What initially drove a large number of people away from the city through fear and apprehension has now drawn people back in huge volumes. They go not only to respect the victims, but also the first responders and everyone who stepped up to help in such a tragedy. When visitors encompass themselves with all the events that took place after that day, they can feel still how New York and the American people came together as a whole and dealt with the situation, and that is something for all of us to be proud of,” she said. 

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