NEW YORK -- It is not a tourist attraction. But then again, it is,
after a fashion. Because so many people want to see ground zero for
themselves, to come to terms with its outsized horror, the city has
built a viewing platform.
And as of this month, New York officials require tickets for
access. That notion may grate on our sensibilities. It begins to
sound like any other tourist attraction. It even sounds like a
In fact, there is nothing commercial about it: Tickets, meant to
reduce huge lines at the site, are free, and many services and the
cost of building this platform, and perhaps three others, are being
Perhaps it helps to remember the nature of other places we
travel to see. As tourists, we look at Civil War battlefields,
cemeteries in Normandy and sites where entire cities were burned
The difference is, those places speak to long-ago events. Ground
zero is of our own time.
• • •
I made my only other trip to lower Manhattan on Sept. 22, at a
time when everything was ad hoc. We visitors walked and gawked
where we could. We moved about in shock and were very quiet.
We could see debris that rose several stories high, and we could
see the much-photographed shells of buildings.
Today it looks more like a construction site, largely because
the remaining wreckage -- and there still is plenty -- is below
ground. The World Trade Center had several basement levels.
From the platform, visitors can take the measure of this site:
It covers 16 acres, and seeing that kind of wide-open space in
Manhattan is eye-popping -- and chilling.
Then there are the buildings that surround it. Now it is
possible to focus on the damage that was done to them, as well.
The viewing platform faces west across the site, and one of the
first skyscrapers one sees is the American Express building, dotted
with broken windows. Part of the exterior wall is gone, where a
pedestrian walkway once connected the building to the World Trade
At least these things are fixable, and American Express
employees will be able to return here; the first phase of
reoccupation is set for April.
To one side of the platform, one looks down on an entrance to
the Millenium Hilton, which, because of its location facing the
former World Trade Center, remains off-limits.
Damage is not so easy to see, but there were 500 broken windows
and lots of contamination. Repair work is under way, but Hilton
officials are not sure when the 561-room property will reopen.
The first piece of real estate one sees on walking up the ramp
to the platform is the graveyard behind St. Paul's Chapel, a
fitting reminder that we are viewing a mass grave.
Visitors do not look quite as stunned as they did nearly four
months ago, but they are relatively quiet just the same.
People come from far and wide. The couple nearest me was from
Honduras. A man I spoke to in the ticket line answered in
A woman from Tallahassee, Fla., in New York on business, said
she couldn't be in New York without taking time to pay her
Many leave a token behind. Among the handwritten messages on the
platform: "Moscow is with New York."
And this: "I'm a Muslim, and I swear if I find who did this,
I'll kill with my hands." It is signed "Mohamed from Egypt."
• • •
The viewing platform is at Fulton Street on Broadway, and it is
open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., but the tickets are distributed a
few blocks away at a ticket kiosk at the South Street Seaport, at
The kiosk opens at 11 a.m. and hands out tickets each day for
30-minute time slots from noon the same day through the 11:30 a.m.
slot the next day.
Only 250 tickets for each half-hour are issued, all on a
first-come, first-served basis; visitors cannot request a time
• • •
I arrived at the ticket line on Jan. 10, the first full day of
ticket distribution, at 2:30 p.m., and, by then, tickets were being
handed out for the 9:30 a.m. slot the following day.
That meant between 4,250 and 4,500 tickets had been distributed
in three-and-a-half hours.
Until additional platforms are built, it seems the visitor who
wants a same-day ticket would be wise to arrive before noon or 1
Strolling to the pier, I walked past shops and restaurants, and
it seemed likely that these places, among the hardest hit because
of their lower Manhattan locations, may benefit commercially from
this bit of extra pedestrian traffic.
Even with the ticketing procedure a few blocks away, the
sidewalk at the platform entrance seemed incredibly crowded. No
wonder city agencies took action.
Part of that clustering occurs because mourners have used the
iron fence that surrounds St. Paul's Chapel for a massive display
of tokens and written memorials, some well-weathered by now.
Visitors continue to add layers to what remains a living wall of
The chapel, built in the 1760s and modeled on St.
Martin-in-the-Fields in London, is closed to the public.
A sign advises that the chapel is focusing its ministry on
rescue and excavation workers, who have access to sanctuary