By Scott Eidler
Hundreds of New Yorkers, out-of-towners, and dignitaries visited a photography and video exhibit commemorating the events of 9/11 in the lobby of The New York Times over the weekend marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
The exhibition featured content from the paper’s own coverage of Sept. 11, including 150 photos and several video interviews of victim’s families and service members who enlisted shortly after the attacks. Items collected and sent by readers were also on display. Among them: a crumbled front page of the New York Times on Sept. 12 and the red shoes one woman wore on the day of the attacks.
“We didn’t want to commemorate what was 9/11,” said Valerie Stinger, who came with her daughter, Lesli, 36. “But we felt that the Times would do justice and let us remember what happened and move forward in a not kitschy, sensationalist way.”
Nora Walsh, 50, who was working in Manhattan on Sept. 11, also brought along her sister and niece to show them what happened that day. “I wanted them to get a sense of what that day was like to commemorate it, to honor it,” she said, as she held back tears.
Seeing the photos led some visitors to understand the day’s events in a new way. “I hadn’t seen all the details before,” said Bernard Rudegeair, 70, visiting from Pennsylvania. “Not the facial expressions, the look of agony, despair and grief on some of these people.”
The vivid images of the poor air quality—with the smoke, the dust, and the debris—seemed to jolt Rudegeair the most, he said, as he stood in front of one depicting a first-aid responder surrounded in a gray fog.
“I’m realizing they’re breathing in stuff they didn’t know they were breathing back then,” he said as he looked at the photos. “It’s like steel workers who worked in mines in their 40s and 50s, and now they’re in their 70s and 80s paying the price for what they breathed when they were younger.”
The imagery even led Mary Arnold, 72, from Brooklyn, to re-experience sensations she felt while visiting ground zero after the attacks. “I can feel the same acrid smell in the air that made you feel you needed to clear your throat,” she said.
Daniel Santana, a security supervisor who works in the Times lobby, said that on Friday between 100-150 people were in the gallery at peak hours, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “You couldn’t walk through,” he said.
For some visitors, the exhibits brought up unlikely, seemingly unconnected, memories. Boris Leibovitch, 60, who traveled to New York for the commemoration with his wife from St. Louis, said the photos reminded him of living in the Soviet Union after the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded in 1986.
“What I saw in the next months [after 9/11], reminds me somehow a little bit of what I saw in Chernobyl and my childhood following World War II,” he said. “Some places weren’t restored.”
Other visitors recalled horrific war tragedies, like the Holocaust. “It’s a similar feeling to that: How could this have happened?” said Nora Walsh, adding that the photos reminded her of how of an earlier visit to concentration camps in Europe. “You come here to see this. It really did happen.”
Maria Guttadauria, 65, said that she found this 9/11 gallery more poignant than similar exhibits commemorating wars she had visited. “This is more impactful,” she explained. “I lived through this.”