Dave Castner, 46, an actor, was given an illicit mercy admission to the opening day of the 9/11 Memorial by explaining he had volunteered on the pile, and had come from Akron, Ohio – this time to see the transformation of the traumatized site.
“I could feel their souls down there,” Castner said when he emerged. “I broke down a couple of times. You touch the names around the reflecting pools and it’s like they are right there with you.”
Yesterday was the first time the public was able to walk upon the hallowed ground of the World Trade Center since that Tuesday morning 10 years ago.
And to a person, some of the toughest critics around pronounced the park-like environmental tribute a success.
“To see life there and people enjoying the site – it’s just beautiful,” exclaimed Lisa Kennedy, 39, a mother of three from Louisville, Colo., who lost her father, Michael E. Tinley, in the attack.
Because her family never received remains, the memorial is, in a way, her father’s grave. Kennedy was ushered into the memorial via a special family entrance with her sister, Jenna Mather, 35, of Los Angeles.
She and Mather emerged after spending $300 on gift-shop merchandise, mostly for their children. “We want to support the memorial,” she explained.
Kennedy had only one quibble: “I wish ‘The Sphere’ was here,” she sighed, referring to the iconic bronze sculpture. “It’s what we remember most about the [original] plaza, standing by it with our dad.”
Jimmy Epifanio, 58, of Greenwich Village, reserved his pass two months ago.
The memorial “is not gaudy, and it’s not political – no names of mayors or presidents,” he said approvingly.
The retired attorney appreciated the stark simplicity, but said seeing the nearly 3,000 names revived his anger over 9/11.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col Tim McCaffery, who lives on the Upper West Side, said the Memorial finessed the issue of being respectful and thought-provoking without tipping into despair. “It’s very humbling. The scale and construction are very well done. . . . It will be a great asset for the city,” McCaffery predicted.
Most of the people who had taken the trouble to reserve admission passes for the opening had some personal connection to the site. Many came from far away.
Even the sonic design was impressive, noted Jeanie Tauss, 55, a geriatric social worker from Huntsville, Ala. “The water is loud in a good way – it makes you focus on the memorial.”
Gabe Lopez, 41, a firefighter from Beaumont, Calif., who worked on the pile for two weeks, was happy to see that the firefighters were listed by their company. “We all identify with the engine company we come from,” he explained. “We spend so much time together, it’s almost like a marriage.”
The memorial, pronounced Lopez, “is beautiful. It honors everybody.”
Visitor passes – which must be reserved in advance – may be obtained at www.911memorial.org