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New York's other 9/11 memorial offers a glimpse through survivors' eyes

The Tribute WTC Visitors Center tells the story of 9/11 through tour guides that are all survivors. It offers a unique look at the World Trade Center for visitors and a sense of solace to 9/11 survivors.

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To fill that void, the group decided to lease a store front across the street from ground zero and transform the space into a visitor center.

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Over the following 2-1/2 years, the center interviewed hundreds of 9/11 survivors, responders, and victims’ families to produce text and films for its galleries. Construction costs for the center and its exhibits were around $5 million, which was funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In September 2006, the center opened to the public. Since then, more than 2.5 million visitors from more than 130 countries have taken the center’s WTC site tours or passed through its five galleries.

Galleries include audio recordings of firefighters as they communicated calmly from inside the burning buildings, as well as photos of victims interspersed with small mementos – a trophy, a mug, a child’s letter to her mother. Chains of 10,000 paper cranes dangle above a stairwell, gifts from high school students in Hiroshima, Japan.

The guided ground zero tours are led by pairs of volunteers – nearly 500 individuals have been trained – who experienced the events of 9/11 firsthand, as emergency responders, office workers, downtown residents, rescue and cleanup volunteers, or parents.

The idea behind the tours – and the entire center – is that the story of 9/11 is best told by those who survived it.

“This is one of the most historic places in America, and we are the living history,” says Jennifer Adams, the Tribute Center CEO who volunteered at ground zero for several months during the recovery period.

“It’s like sitting down with Thomas Jefferson,” says Ms. Adams, “and saying, ‘What really happened?’ ”

Living history

On his tour, Tomolonis shared trivia amassed during his 28-year career at the World Trade Center: the twin towers possessed 43,600 windows, 40,000 doors, and 198 elevators. From his offices above the 60th floor, Tomolonis said, he could watch storm clouds rumble outside the windows.

Lila Speciner, who worked in a south tower office for 15 years, helped Tomolonis lead the tour. She described her escape on 9/11, when she clasped a blind woman’s hand as the two fled down 88 floors and outside to safety.


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