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Pandemic forces two 9/11 ceremonies for reading of victims' names

At Ground Zero — the official ceremony since

At Ground Zero — the official ceremony since 2002 — the names have been prerecorded this year, part of an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Todd Maisel

Separate 9/11 anniversary ceremonies to remember the 2,983 killed in the attacks are planned for Friday — just blocks apart in lower Manhattan — after a disagreement over whether to read victims’ names in person or via a recording. 

At Ground Zero — the official ceremony since 2002 — the names have been prerecorded this year, part of an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

And at a new event, nearby on Liberty and Church streets, the same names are to be read live and in person — and Vice President Mike Pence and his wife are scheduled to attend that one.

“The horrific loss of life from the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil requires that we read these names — out loud, in person, on this day, every year,” said Frank Siller, chairman and chief executive of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which is named after his firefighter brother who perished on Sept. 11, 2001.

There will still be coronavirus-prevention precautions at both ceremonies, including mandatory masking and social distance. Spray disinfectant and Lysol wipes will be used at the lecterns where the names are recited in person, Siller said.

This is the first year the foundation is holding its own ceremony to read the names, after the official ceremony’s organizers, the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum, announced the prerecording plan, according to foundation spokesman Trevor Tamsen.

Both ceremonies will commemorate the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and aboard United Airlines Flight 93; and the first terrorist attack at the trade center on Feb. 26, 1993.

Last year, Pence, whose press office could not be reached for comment, spoke at a memorial in Shanksville, in rural Pennsylvania where one of the terrorist-hijacked planes crashed after a passenger-led mutiny.

This year, President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, are to be in Shanksville for memorials.

Frank Siller said Pence’s office reached out to the foundation to ask whether he could participate in their New York City ceremony, where most of the readers of the names are loved ones of the dead. A reader will be at one of two lecterns, reading a set of names, and “they’ll alternate readers and we’ll clean them in between,” he said.

Of the Pences’ role in the ceremony, Siller would say only: “Vice President Mike Pence will be doing something very spiritual that day along with his wife.”

Not everyone is able to attend this year, Siller said, because of a state quarantine order by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo requiring those traveling from coronavirus hot spots to self-isolate to limit transmission.

Reading the names at Ground Zero has been a rite since 2002, since former Mayor Rudy Giuliani began the tradition. This year, family members may stand at their loved one's name etched in the memorial while hearing the recorded name.

At both ceremonies, the readings are punctuated by moments of silence: 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower; 9:03 a.m., when United Airlines Flight 175 struck the south tower; 9:37 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon; 9:59 a.m., when the south tower fell; 10:03 a.m., when Flight 93 crashed; and 10:28 a.m., when the north tower fell.

Afterward, the 9/11 museum is set to reopen for the first time since March. That is when exponential cases of coronavirus infection led Cuomo to order museums across the city to close.

Now, temperature checks are mandatory to get into the 9/11 museum. Families of 9/11 victims are to be allowed in first, with the museum reopening to the public the next day.

Last month, concerns over the pandemic had initially led the museum to cancel another memorial tradition: Tribute in Light, an annual light-installation tribute to the fallen Twin Towers, in which two blue beams shine skyward at night.

Amid an uproar over the cancellation, the museum agreed to reverse course after New York State, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg and others said they would put up money to offset the additional production costs to produce the installation safely.

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