NEW YORK—Days before the fifth anniversary of the destruction of New York's World Trade Center by terrorists, city officials gathered on the site where the Twin Towers once stood to dedicate the newly completed 9/11 Memorial Hole.
"From the wreckage and ashes of the World Trade Center, we have created a recess in the ground befitting the American spirit," said New York Governor George Pataki from a cinderblock-and-plastic-bucket-supported plywood platform near the Hole's precipice. "This vast chasm, dug at the very spot where the gleaming Twin Towers once rose to the sky, is a symbol of what we can accomplish if we work together."
Pataki then cut a ceremonial ribbon to release a giant blue plastic tarpaulin, reportedly the largest of its kind, which fluttered and snapped while slowly settling into the detritus and mud at the bottom of the 70-foot Hole, drawing a long, tired sigh of resignation from the estimated crowd of 50,000 who had assembled to watch and shake their heads.
Begun only days after the 2001 attacks, the Hole covers almost the entire footprint of the original World Trade Center, contains over 16 acres of empty space, and is visible as far away as Hoboken, NJ. Over $175 million has been spent on the Hole's development, and thousands of pages of proposals and designs concerning the site in which the Hole was excavated were reviewed in over 2,800 hours of meetings. Work crews comprising more than 7,500 welders, equipment operators, excavators, and other construction specialists spent long, often unpaid shifts in its depths.
"These five years have been admittedly difficult," Pataki said. "Inevitably, we heard from the naysayers who said we would never accomplish anything on this site. To those people, I invite them to gaze down at this magnificent pit if they want proof of New Yorkers' dedication to this project."
The Hole contains several symbolic features: A massive reinforced-concrete foundation known before 9/11 as the "Bathtub" now serves as the renamed "Remembrance Facing." According to official memorial literature, a gently declining plane into the heart of the memorial stands for the gradual but steady passage of time, and permits construction vehicles to enter and exit the site. Chain-link fences symbolize the present but nonetheless scalable barriers between different cultures. Lastly, the "Eternal Puddle," perhaps the Hole's most notable and arresting, as well as bottommost, feature, allows visitors to reflect on the tragedy, while the rainwater-and-seepage-fed Puddle itself reflects muddy swirls and oil slicks.
Officials did not immediately explain the significance of the ubiquitous yellow "Keep Back" tape present at the site.
Pataki refused to take sole credit for the Hole's completion, instead congratulating former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and current Mayor Mike Bloomberg, saying awareness of the World Trade Center site as a political symbol was important in ensuring the future of the Hole. Pataki also praised The Port Authority Of New York And New Jersey, "whose expert management of the site saw to it that nothing would obstruct the Hole once commuter-train service was restored.
The governor also thanked site developer and leaseholder Larry Silverstein, whose "keen business sense and stubborn desire for the area to be profitable was instrumental in this effort."
Pataki expressed deep admiration for the families of the victims, saying that "their endless and highly vocal input about the memorial were crucial to making the Hole possible in time for the fifth anniversary of the attacks."
"And of course, I commend President George W. Bush, whose administration provided the kind of ample, unquestioning financial support to the rebuilding project for which they are famous, from New York to New Orleans," Pataki said. "Mr. President, you as much as anyone have made the dream of this hole a reality."
The ceremony concluded with a somber wreath-laying ceremony at the Grand Scaffold by former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerek.
"Let this circle of flowers—brief, beautiful, and too soon gone—symbolize the respect we have shown for the memories of those innocents who lost their lives on that sorrowful morning by creating this great hole," said the Reverend Charles Bourne of Lower Manhattan's Trinity Chapel as the flowers sank into the brown, debris-strewn runoff at the bottom of the cavity. "I firmly believe, as does every person here, that this deep, empty hole has come to stand not only for the New York City of today, but also for the transformation of the entire United States since Sept. 11, 2001."