Cross Erected on Ground Zero Stands as Powerful Testament and Reminder at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum

Frank Silecchia discovered the crossbeam in the rubble of Ground Zero. (Photo: Davis Turner for USA TODAY)
Frank Silecchia discovered the crossbeam in the rubble of Ground Zero.
(Photo: Davis Turner for USA TODAY)

He had just helped pull three bodies from the rubble when he saw it there in dawn’s first light, standing in a sea of debris. A heavenly symbol in a hellish setting. A cross.

Exhausted and traumatized by his labors, the man dropped to his knees in tears. “It was a sign,” Frank Silecchia would recall, “a sign that God hadn’t deserted us.”

It was a remnant of the World Trade Center’s North Tower, a 17-foot-high cross-section of steel I-beams that had plummeted into the shell of an adjacent office building two days earlier.

It was Sept. 13, 2001. In the sad days and years to come, what became known as the Ground Zero Cross inspired people around the world as it was moved from site to site in Lower Manhattan. Its odyssey finally brought it to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which will be dedicated Thursday.

The museum spans seven stories, from its surface entrance pavilion down to bedrock. Its subterranean galleries were built around the cross and several other monumental artifacts.

They include a staircase that channeled the imperiled to safety; a column that refused to yield when others around it fell; a wall that held back the flood; and the cross that materialized in the midst of chaos.

These pieces of concrete and steel have assumed the classic qualities of heroism — courage, endurance, tenacity, faithfulness. On the worst day in American history, they in some sense succeeded where humans failed.

The new museum must help those unborn or unaware on 9/11/01 to understand an awful time. That means telling stories. And, as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg says, “The stories are carved in the objects.”

Some in the museum are as small as a flight attendant’s lapel wings. But it’s the largest ones, such as the cross, that promise to make a visit stirring:

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Source: USA Today | Rick Hampson

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