September 11, 2010


The Last Full Measure (Steven Malanga, Summer 2006, City Journal)

From Lookout Point at Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange, New Jersey, you see some of the most spectacular views in the New York metropolitan area. No wonder that early settlers used it as a surveying station and that in the Revolutionary War, Washington’s army set up a post there to chart British movements. Today, the point reveals an unobstructed view of New York’s skyline 15 miles away—which is why Essex County officials chose it as the site for a September 11 memorial. Opened barely a year after 9/11, the $1.2 million, privately financed memorial features a bronze sculpture of an American eagle in flight, inscriptions of the names of all those who died on 9/11, and individual tributes to rescue workers. In its first year, the site attracted some 75,000 visitors, and it continues to draw thousands seeking to remember the dead, to contemplate the heroic acts and sacrifices of that day, and to recall the Manhattan skyline back when the Twin Towers graced it.

The impressive Eagle Rock memorial is one of dozens that have gone up in and around the New York metropolitan area since 9/11, even as controversy and fecklessness have paralyzed efforts to create a memorial on the grounds of the former World Trade Center itself. At Ground Zero, the projected cost of the proposed memorial ballooned to a staggering $1 billion, even though no construction ever began. The commission formed to build the memorial, in utter disarray, has fallen far short of fund-raising goals, prompting the recent resignation of its head and the sharp downsizing of its plans. The monument’s proposed design—dubbed by its creators Reflecting Absence—has faced intense criticism for its vacuity, fastidiously rejecting any tribute to the heroism of the day or the rock-solid American values that the terrorists attacked.

No such paralysis seems to have encumbered the dozens of commissions that local governments and ordinary citizens set up around the tristate area to honor the dead and remember the day. Though the terrorist attacks were a tragedy for the entire nation, they hit home most acutely in the scores of commuter towns within 100 miles of New York City, where many World Trade Center workers lived. Those communities have responded with a wide array of memorials.

Most are modest in scope and cost, but they are often inspired and poignant. Some serve as gravestones for local victims who have no known resting place. Others commemorate the valor that Americans exhibited on 9/11, especially New York’s rescue workers. By contrast, the World Trade Center site will have no unique memorial to the sacrifices of the city’s firefighters and police. In an age when many memorials, like Reflecting Absence, are abstract gestures that avoid invoking anything except loss—and not even directly but in a glass darkly—some of these local monuments are throwbacks, robust statements of American ideals, rendered in an unapologetically realistic style that might dismay postmodern critics but that successfully translates our common feelings about September 11 into concrete form. Deeply moving, a tour of these memorials also reminds us of the gigantic failure that has left Ground Zero little more than an opening in the earth.

One thing that comes through in visiting these memorials is just how much people miss the Twin Towers.

We moved to NJ in the mid/late '60s and lived in East and West Orange, so Eagle Rock was a frequent haunt. The view of the NY skyline is amazing and the Towers were always a blight upon it. I always wondered how we'd manage to tear them down, so felt weirdly guilty watching them fall.

[originally posted: 7/25/06]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2010 12:18 AM
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