NEW YORK - The site of the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil stands shielded from view behind a chain-link fence covered in banners. Towering cranes and other construction equipment are all that can be seen where the World Trade Center once stood.
By late 2011, New York City hopes to unveil the first phase of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at this site. Until then, those wishing to pay their respects can do so at the nearby Tribute WTC Visitor Center on Liberty Street and the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site on Vesey Street.
The visitor center puts a personal face on the events and aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Covering the walls are panoramic images of the planes flying into the Twin Towers, the buildings crumbling, and the rescue and recovery efforts. The center is divided into five galleries, including a timeline showing the 2001 and 1993 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and a collage of photographs and mementos shared by family members of the victims.
The most harrowing feature is a bright blue wall that shifts into a gray cloud of posters of people who went missing Sept. 11, 2001.
The 9/11 Memorial Preview Site also presents a pictorial timeline of that day, as well as a video montage from eyewitnesses and family members of the victims. But here you will find more detailed exhibits devoted to the memorial itself.
The highlight is a scale model of what the reconstructed site will look like. Most prominent is the planned 1,776-foot-tall Freedom Tower. It accompanies an 8-acre Memorial Plaza, featuring 400 oak trees surrounding two Memorial Pools. These massive reflecting pools will be set in the footprint of the Twin Towers, with waterfalls cascading down the four sides of each. Inscribed around the pools' edges will be the names of the 2,998 people killed in New York City, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon, as well as the six who died in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
At the preview site, visitors also can see real-time updates on the construction. Artifacts from Sept. 11, 2001, include a Statue of Liberty rendition draped in cards and mementos left to memorialize the victims and the helmet worn by Lt. Mickey Koss, a firefighter who survived the north tower's collapse.
For those who want a more intimate reminder, guided and self-guided audio tours are available at the visitor center. Both take guests around the perimeter of the WTC site. The audio tour relates personal stories from family members, workers, police, firefighters, Lower Manhattan residents, and rescue workers. Guided tours are conducted by those who were affected personally by the terrorist attack.
Together, the visitor center, preview site, and tours offer visitors a glimpse into the past and future of the World Trade Center.
If you go:
•TRIBUTE WTC VISITOR CENTER: 120 Liberty St., New York; 866-737-1184; www.tributewtc.org. Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays-Saturdays, noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Admission $10.
•9/11 MEMORIAL PREVIEW SITE: 20 Vesey St. (at Church Street), New York; 212-267-2047; national911memorial.org. Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays and Fridays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays. Admission free.
•TOURS: Guided and self-guided audio tours are available around the perimeter of the World Trade Center site. Guided tours are about 1 hour and 15 minutes long. Cost $10. Details: www.tributewtc.org.