The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

The New York City Empty Sky Memorial

All photos from this post, and more, can be viewed fullscreen here.

View photos of my 2015 visit to The National September 11th Memorial & Museum here.

September, 2000

In September, 2000 my family had gone on a trip making its way North along the Eastern seaboard.  One of the stops was in Liberty, New Jersey to see The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island - we never went into Manhattan proper much to my disappointment.

This was WAY before I knew anything about photography - I just liked taking pictures on my little Kodak Advantix.

This is a picture I shot at age 12 in the year 2000 from the Northern side of Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey - now the current site of the Empty Sky Memorial.  I remember my parents bickering over whether "those two tall buildings are the Twin Towers or the World Trade Center."  I said I thought they were both; the same thing.  Fast forward a year, and everyone in the World knew the answer without a doubt.

It's incredible to me that I even have this picture, that I shot it myself.  I was 12.  The majority of my life has been post-9/11, working at IAD and DCA.  My entire aviation related career arc has directly resulted from that day in 2001.  This photo is a relic of a time before that; before the TSA and DHS existed, before all the post-9/11 security and societal changes that resulted.

Here is that photo I unwittingly took at age 12.

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September, 2018

This August I travelled to Rhode Island to visit my friend Alyssa on her birthday, however due to a need for flexible scheduling, I made the journey by car rather than flying this time. It occurred to me by doing this I could make a quick stop at Liberty State Park in Liberty, New Jersey and see the Empty Sky memorial, which I’d only learned of its existence about a year prior thanks to my friend Natalie (who happens to live just 5mi away in Weehawken - I got to visit her on my stop as well :-D). I knew it was the same spot I’d taken that photo as a 12 year old, but it wasn’t until the night before leaving I realized I could try and replicate that photo and compare the New York City skyline across 18 years of history. Before going to bed, I printed a scale copy of my 18 year old photo of the New York skyline (the original print would stay safely at home).

Remarkably, the weather was visually similar to that day in 2000. Textured overcast, but no fog obscuring skyscrapers’ upper floors. Inspecting the original picture, I counted 12 light poles visible, which would give me a good starting point to get me close to the same spot for that matching perspective. To my surprise, the park benches and even the trash cans hadn’t changed in all this time. In order to fit all 12 light posts in-frame, I walked back parallel to 13th light post from the end, and incredibly the perspective aligned almost perfectly - even the park benches lined up, though some trash cans moved, as you’d expect they would over the course of 18 years.

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I’d come here with a purpose, and to my surprise it took me longer to walk to this spot from my car than it did to fight the wind in correctly lining up my photograph in the shot. Next, I wanted to capture a modern view of the same angle. Taking these photos even required me a lower my camera a little bit to account for my shorter 12 year old stature.

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And here are the photos, 2000 and 2018, side-by-side. History in both pictures; the Twin Towers visible in 2000, and One World Trade Center erected adjacent to the empty sky where they once stood. Many other buildings have also sprung up across the skyline, and the freshly planted trees in my original picture are all grown up today.

Continue reading for more views of the New York City skyline later in this post.

Empty Sky

Next stop was the Empty Sky memorial, just steps away, visible in the righthand side of the photos above. Empty Sky was dedicated on September 10, 2011, the day before 9/11’s 10th anniversary. Designed by Jessica Jamroz and Frederic Schwartz, Empty Sky is comprised of twin 30ft tall walls spanning 208ft 10in engraved with the names of all 746 victims of the September 11th attacks; on one side, I beams from the Twin Towers stand solemnly - on the other, directly across the Hudson, lies Ground Zero, and the empty sky in the New York skyline where the Twin Towers had stood. The memorial is impressive at all times of day.

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New York City

New York’s sky today is still beautiful, just different. New buildings have sprung up, and One World Trade Center now watches over the city, with the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and 432 Park Avenue all overlooking the city uptown. The last five times I’ve been to this city, I’ve been in the city, so this was also happened to be my first opportunity to photograph New York’s cityscape since I was here at age 12.

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Alyssa in DC: 2015

This post is overdue.  Long overdue.  Like, almost a YEAR overdue.  I even got our New York pictures up way sooner!  It's all my fault; honestly the pictures from Day 2, hiking in Harper's Ferry, just left me reeling.  They were so uncooperative, and left me frustrated as a perfectionist.  This is a personal post; I put my paid work before it, perpetually backburnering this and other personal work.  But it's here finally, for Alyssa and all my friends who hear all about "that Rhode Island friend of mine."

Day 1: Arrival • Annapolis, MD

Alyssa was due to touch down at BWI in just a few hours; I was coming from Rachel and Andrew's wedding shoot from the day before and drove direct to BWI in time to get her.  Leaving Rachel and Andrew's, I photographed one of their horses grazing in the dawn fog.  On the way to BWI I passed a convoy of various military equipment.

This was the first time I'd met Alyssa in person after about two years of long-distance friendship thanks to iMessage and FaceTime.  We happened across one another on the Internet mid-2012, and found we had a lot in common, as we're both photographers.

I hadn't planned anything in particular, so I chose to take her to nearby Annapolis for lunch and a bit of exploring through Old Town.  Annapolis is one of the region's most charming cities; it's a place I've explored a little bit, but not to the extent I'd like to.  Every time I visit Annapolis I can only think of how wonderful it must be to live there, right on the Chesapeake Bay.  I'm desperate to continue my love affair with Maryland's capital city.

It was a hot day; I took Alyssa to a tavern on the shore for authentic Maryland crab cakes, and eventually we gave in and got ice cream, which we devoured because it was melting quickly!

After this, Alyssa got her first taste of a DC traffic jam; it took several hours and a thunderstorm to get us back to Fairfax.

Day 2: Hiking in Harper's Ferry, WV / MD

Harper's Ferry is a little Civil War town at the crossroads of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland.  It is where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers converge, and is the only point where all three states can be seen at the same time.  The town itself is in West Virginia, right along the Appalachian Trail, with the popular Maryland Heights Trail physically in Maryland, not West Virginia as popularly thought (it's in the name, people!).

Alyssa had seen the pictures of this hike from several other trips of mine, and wanted to go to "the bird hike," which I am just now noticing I never blogged - one time I went, I photographed from above a variety of birds circling the cliff face - it's a perspective not often seen with bird pictures.  The cliff face itself is ~650 feet above water, and less than 1/4 mile from the West Virginia Shore directly, but the height makes for crazy perspectives especially when paired with 400mm lenses even at f/8.

Harper's Ferry also is home to several active and defunct rail lines.  Because of the frequent rail activity, Harper's Ferry is a popular location for train spotters, both on the peak and at different points below.

We went on a damp day, and the greenery was in full bloom!

That face when she reached the peak...

As usual, I'd packed lunch for the trail, and we ate at the peak.  Much to her dismay, there weren't any birds flying.  She did, however, get to spot quite a few trains.  This was on a weekday, so we had the entire trail and peak to ourselves.  It was very calm; the quiet was only disrupted by the occasional train, and a few trucks in the distance.  I've never heard this trail so quiet before.

400mm lets you really zoom in on things, even at great distance.

It was finally time to turn back; down is always quicker, but we were racing to catch the last shuttle back to the visitor center.  We'd have to explore the town another day; the next time Alyssa visits.  At the bottom we found the only wildlife we saw all day - two geese and their goslings.

Day 3: Washington Dulles International Airport • Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air & Space Museum

Washington Dulles International Airport

The next day, I had a photoshoot scheduled, but that was only for a few hours, so I brought Alyssa along to see how I photograph commercial images of food and concessions for marketing.  In this case I photographed mostly menu items for an airport restaurant.

After the shoot, I showed Alyssa around the airport I've called home for 11 years.  Our first stop was a complete surprise to her, and a place very few people can visit.  The historic, now out-of-use, Air Traffic Control Tower in the center of Eero Saarinen's Dulles Main Terminal Building.  It was another rainy day, so not the prettiest or best visibility, but still awesome nonetheless.

Now it was time for a bit of a drive around the airfield.  Alyssa got to stand under the two largest commercial aircraft in existence; Lufthansa's 747-8i, and British Airways' A380.  Most people only get this close to aircraft of this size when boarding through a jetbridge - standing on the ground next to them will leave you awestruck at the engineering and physics that even allows these birds to fly.

Next, I brought Alyssa over to Airport Operations; to her surprise there was ANOTHER tower: the midfield OPs / Ramp Tower that actively controls all the taxiway and gate area ground traffic.  Operations is a great group at Dulles, and they know how to give a great tour.  They explained how aircraft interface between them and the FAA ATCT (which controls all taxilanes and runways), how mobile lounge traffic is directed, and shared stories from some of the interesting and historic events the controllers have been a part of throughout their stay at Dulles.  Sometimes the controllers will hand over the headset and dictate the radio commands, letting guests give actual live commands to ground traffic; I'm a little disappointed they didn't let Alyssa do that, just because... how many other people (who aren't controllers) can say they've done that?  Even I can't say I've done that.

The Ramp Tower is a little closer to the heart of activity at Dulles, so it offers a the best view for planespotting of all the towers at Dulles.  And yes, planespotters who follow me, I even think it's a bit better than the FAA ATCT, just because the Ramp Tower is a little more diversified in its views.  Yes, the FAA Tower is twice as tall, but you can't see any ramp operations, and you only get a clear view of arrivals on R/W 1R, 1C, and departures on R/W 30 (which quickly grow into ants as they close the two mile length of runway in a few seconds time).  That said, on a clear day you can spot the Washington Monument and air traffic at DCA from Dulles FAA Tower... so there's that.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air & Space Museum

Since it was kinda a dreary day, with patches of blue sky and sunshine, but mostly rain, I thought it would be a good opportunity to use the rest of the day at the Udvar-Hazy Center and complete the aviation theme of the day.

I still have never been up the Udvar's Observation Tower.  We just came from two of Dulles' actual towers, so of course we skipped that and checked out the exhibits.  Unfortunately we only had a few hours before the museum was to close, so our visit felt a bit rushed.

It still doesn't feel like that long ago, but it'd been three years.  Three years (four years now) since all the Space Shuttle events that so dramatically changed my career.  Looking back, even though it doesn't feel that long ago, it's still be long enough for my photographic style to refine a bit.  Still though, the photo of Enterprise departing on the SCA... I feel it's probably the best photo I've ever taken.  And here she is, Discovery, safe at home.

This was one of those times I only brought one lens with me.  Like usual, I selected the 85mm f/1.2L.  Anytime I do something for fun like this, I travel with only one lens, usually a prime, and challenge myself to get great photos with a set focal range (the hike was a different circumstance; I always bring a telephoto on that hike because I know I can get great bird pictures from that peak).

Day 4: Washington, DC - The White House • WWII Memorial • Lincoln Memorial • Vietnam Memorial • Washington Nationals Baseball Game

Washington, DC's Mall and Monuments

So on Day 4, we spent the afternoon touring around DC's Mall area; pretty basic stuff if you live here, but must-see stuff if you've never been.  Alyssa will surely return for another trip, so let's introduce her to DC's basics.  Because we were carrying our cameras, I opted to drive in and park at the Ronald Reagan Building rather than take the Metro; even though our cameras would be allowed in the baseball park, I never bring mine because I'm happier downing half-smokes, beer, and peanuts than looking through a lens for 9 innings.

I didn't realize that the Ronald Reagan Building was home to a few exhibits, and the Global Entry offices; I'll have to pay another visit later on.

Outside, I spotted a wrapped Jaguar XJ L RS with New Jersey HQ plates - pretty cool to see a production tester out on the streets just a block from the White House.  The car had all kinds of equipment inside and stuck to the windshield (cameras, telemetry, GPS?).

The White House

I didn't tell Alyssa where we were going.  I simply led her through the streets, following the ever-growing crowd until we reached the clearing showing the unmistakable home with the unforgettable address.  For what it's worth, this was the first time I've visited the South Lawn side of the property.

For good measure, I also took her up to the North Lawn, but we weren't there 1 minute and the Secret Service closed off Pennsylvania Avenue, Lafayette Square, H Street, and 15th street for a VIP movement.  Thanks, Obama (Obama wasn't home though).  This was the first time I'd seen the additional fence added after the fence jumping incident earlier in the year.  I snapped this photo as everyone was being pushed back.

World War II Memorial

The way we were pushed several blocks away by the Secret Service kinda put a kink in our plans, especially since Alyssa's one request was to go see "the sitting guy."  Uh, you mean Lincoln?  "The sitting guy!"  You don't mean FDR do you...  "The sitting guy!"  Uh, ok...

So we had to book it back to the Mall and start heading West in a hurry if we were to go see Lincoln and still make it to Nats Park before opening pitch.

Along the way we passed through the WWII Memorial, and got Alyssa her picture with Rhode Island.  We also spotted some DC duckies, for which the Reflecting Pool is famous for.

Lincoln Memorial

Finally we got to the Lincoln Memorial; it was a lot more packed than I was expecting, even on a weekday.

Vietnam Memorial

On our way back to the Ronald Reagan Building I decided to surprise Alyssa once again, and take her to the Vietnam War Memorial ("The Wall") and The Three Soldiers statue since it's so close and so impacting.  Several months later in New York we'd visit the 9/11 Memorial together, which very similarly displays the names of the fallen.  The 9/11 Memorial would have a much larger emotional impact on me than I ever could have expected.

Washington Nationals vs Chicago Cubs

Baseball is my favorite sport.  I watch almost every Nats game - I'm usually editing photos with the game on.  This was a last minute decision - I purchased the tickets just that morning; I wasn't sure what the weather was going to do that week, but everything worked out!  We were seated in nosebleed, but I really don't mind it as long as you're somewhere along the infield, because it gives you a great overview of every play.  That said, PNC Diamond seats are amazing because you get a view of every pitch (and can tell when the umpires make a bad call - I took my Dad to a game behind home plate, which happened to be the one where Papelbon hit Machado with a pitch; only the beginning of Papelbon's troubled stay with the Nationals.  Please, go back to Philly.).

Tanner Roark went on to win this one for the Nats 7-5 against Tsuyoshi Wada of the Cubs.  As we left, we watched part of Nats Xtra being filmed live, which is always pretty cool.

On the way back to the car, we had some fun in a fountain, and I tried the iPhone's slo-mo (high-speed) function out.  It's pretty cool if you have the right thing to film!

Day 5: Katie's Cars and Coffee • AOPA Fly-In & Airshow • Wine Tasting

Katie's Cars and Coffee

If you've even briefly followed my pictures, you know I shoot a lot of cars - cars are a love of mine, so I shoot car events for fun when I go... which is quite often.  Seeing these pictures from me for years, she wanted to go to the car show and meet some of my friends.  It wasn't long before Patrick arrived (barefoot as usual).  Our cars look good together ;-)

You should also know that I have a serious lust for Porsche.

At one point, Alyssa wanted to try my camera, so I let her at it, to compare my 85mm f/1.2 to the 50mm f/1.4 she had just gotten (on her crop body the FOV is roughly the same, but with less DOF).  Here are a few she shot that I pulled out and edited.

And here she is ruining a picture.

This was that one day everyone got their food except Jake.

AOPA Fly-In & Airshow

That afternoon we had all planned on meeting up with Ellen at the AOPA show in Frederick, MD, which is basically like Katie's car show, but for aircraft (so it's not every weekend ;-)).  Unfortunately, she couldn't make it this year, and we missed meeting up with her Dad, who owns a glider and aircraft tour business in New Jersey (still haven't gone to check it out yet).

This year Europe's Breitling Jet Team was in town performing in their Czech L-39 Albatros trainers.

They're quite a sight.  Their precision flying is definitely not to be missed.

I was very shocked at how close they let the public get to the aircraft.  Working at Dulles I am used to it, but every other airshow I've been to has had a lot of separation; at the AOPA show the jets just taxied right up to the crowd standing on the taxilane.  After that you were free to just walk up and stick your head in the aircraft - crazy!

Next performance was the Goodyear / Whelen stuntplane.  I actually took a bit of video of him too - it's shaky; 400mm handheld will do that.

After that, we browsed the parked aircraft for a bit, picking up free swag along the way.

Wine Tasting

If you know me then you know my other love, beyond cars and baseball, is wine.  All wine, as long as it's dry.  After the air show, we went back to Virginia wine country to vineyard hop.  The first vineyard we planned to visit was closed for the day for a wedding, so we went a mile up the road to The Barns at Hamilton Station; ironically the local vineyard I've visited the most, but not one of my favorites.  Although their wines aren't my favorite, they do have a cozy atmosphere, and they have a cat!!!  The last time I was there, it just hopped in my lap and cuddled until closing time!  I've actually been back there several times since Alyssa, Patrick, Jake and I went.

If you want more photos, you'll have to bug Alyssa for them, because I was more focused on tastings than taking pictures - left my camera in the car so I could enjoy the vino.

After Hamilton Station at the Barns, we headed over to Fabbioli Cellars; a place none of us had been, but I'd like to go back and try again.  They were interesting to me because they really focused on pairings - they actually give you a paired bite of food with every wine you taste.  If you're new to wine, you'll be in awe the first time you try a great pairing - compare a bitter red to how it tastes after a bite of certain food, and just see how it will open up into a robust, rich flavor with no negative traits - pairings are an exciting part of your wine journey, and are one of the most fun things to experiment with.

Day 6: Departure

I don't have any more photos to share.  Her last day in town, Alyssa and I spent with some family she has living here, and her grandparents who drove up from Mississippi.  We spent the day lounging by the pool and enjoying a nice dinner before I had to drive Alyssa back to BWI to fly home.  The flight to Rhode Island isn't that long; we raced home, me in my car, and her in the plane.  Even though I grabbed a donut at Dunkin before getting lost in the parking garage searching for my car, I still beat her home by a few minutes, all the way from BWI to Chantilly.

One of these days soon we'll plan another trip together.  We already met up again in New York since the trip in this post took place.  Til we meet again...

The National September 11th Memorial & Museum

On my recent trip to New York, I visited The National September 11th Memorial & Museum.  Each previous time I've been to New York I've passed through the World Trade Center, seeing the progress on One World Trade Center; this was my first time there in several years.  This was also the first time I've visited since the 9/11 Memorial and Museum has been open to the public; on my last visit, they were open only to family and friends of victims.

Alyssa and I spent most of our short time in NY here.  The rest of our trip can be viewed here; the September 11th Memorial and Museum comprised the majority of our trip, but it also is so important that it deserves its own blog post separate from anything else on our trip.

The September 11th Memorial

I will start out by saying that no memorial, no monument, no museum, no place has ever elicited any emotion from me... until the 9/11 Memorial, and later Museum, in NYC.  I've been to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial many times - it contains almost 58,000 names, and I didn't think visiting the 9/11 Memorial would be any different than my going into DC and visiting "The Wall."

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Just walking into the plaza, it started to hit me.  Then seeing the names, and the scale of the Twin Towers' site, knowing what took place here 14 years prior, was overwhelming.  It was dizzying.

After only a minute of the rapid onset of disorientation, I turned, and this is what I saw.  This is what made me lose it.  Seeing this is what broke me down into tears.  Everything hit me like a brick wall, all at once.  After several minutes staring at it, and the whole scene in awe, a bit shocked at my own reaction, I finally took this picture and could barely see through the viewfinder through damp eyes.

This picture is every emotion.

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I don't think I've ever photographed something that has impacted me this much.

Jacquelyn P. Sanchez wasn't the only person with flowers, but hers is the one I saw first, and made such an impression upon me.

Quickly I also realized how grateful I was that my first visit to the 9/11 Memorial was also in a hurricane - the rain was exactly how I felt, and it was making the already somber atmosphere within the memorial beautifully dignified.

I didn't personally know any of the 2,977 victims who died on September 11th.  I do know people who had close calls, and I also know people who did lose loved ones on that day.

One of those people is a close friend of mine at Washington Dulles International Airport.  In 2001, he was American Airlines' Station Manager at Dulles; Flight 77, the flight that departed Dulles and ultimately struck the Pentagon, had several people on board that he knew very well, including the pilot, Captain Charles F. Burlingame III, and my friend's secretary and close friend, Mary Jane Booth.

MJ's story is remarkable, impacting, and will always be with me, even though I never knew her. I am keeping her full story private, respectfully for her and her family.  On an especially emotional anniversary of September 11th several years ago my close friend at Dulles confided in me MJ's haunting story - it will always stick with me.  Now, several years later, upon my first visit to the 9/11 Memorial, I felt compelled to find MJ and Captain Charles F. Burlingame III's (he knew both of them) names and pay my respects, and bring something back for our friend at Dulles.  These pictures are for everyone who knew MJ, Captain Burlingame, and anyone else on Flight 77.

I would later in the day find Mary Jane's entry in the 9/11 Museum, which falls just short of naming our friend at Dulles.  Upon returning from New York, I showed my Dulles friend these pictures along with MJ's entry in the Museum - he told me that the picture of MJ in the Museum database and wall is a picture of him and her standing together in the doorway of an MD-11 at Dulles - he has a copy of the full picture hanging in his home to this day.

Go visit MJ.  Give her a flower.  Know that she was remarkable.

The September 11th Memorial Museum

Alyssa and I explored the city a bit after visiting and paying our respects at the 9/11 Memorial, and at this point I had dropped her off at the Port Authority Bus Terminal - she just didn't have the time to see the Museum without being pressed for time and running the risk of missing her bus.

After a quick regroup coffee break at The Port Authority, I decided to finish what we'd started; I hopped back on the train downtown and returned to the World Trade Center.  It had gotten dark when I got there.

When I visit museums, I usually snap pictures the accompanying placards of artifacts and displays I photograph - I did so with the 9/11 Museum as well, but those captions go beyond the scope of this posting, so I am not including them here - if you'd like to see my full gallery of pictures, please visit my gallery here which contains all the pictures from the Memorial and Museum, along with all the informational placards I captured.  If you've visited the Museum before, you'll notice that most of the Museum is not represented in pictures - this is because the majority of the Museum (inexplicably in some cases) does not allow photography (areas like the Victims' Photo Wall make sense; others, like the main exhibit, do not).  Please visit the gallery here to see more information on the photos below.  And I of course encourage you to actually visit the Museum, devoting at least a half day to it, because no photo will ever do it justice - it really is something.

The September 11th Museum is underground, encompassing the site of both Twin Towers, with the main exhibit spaces on their foundations.  A ramp spirals downward, giving view to the cavernous size of the museum space from above.

To enter, guests first traverse a passageway housing a map of the four flights' flightpaths, then columns with projected text, also spoken aloud, of witnesses remembering what they saw and experienced that day.  Hearing the stories, along with the frailty and emotions assorted from sadness and fear in their voices, again hit me like a wall, which would stay with me for all the hours I spent inside.

The 9/11 Museum was a roller coaster of emotions.  I felt sadness, fear, anger, hope, pride.  Every combination and intensity.  I fought the tears my entire time there; I mostly lost the battle, and I was far from alone.  I've been to no other museum so moving.  I'm glad I went alone too - experiencing my thoughts and emotions in solitude without distraction was refreshing and provided clarity I'm not sure you could get another way.

The stop I found most fascinating on the ramp descending to the main exhibits was the precise epicenter of the 1993 Word Trade Center bombing.  I'm not sure why I didn't photograph that placcard - it was one of the most interesting ones outside of the main exhibit hall.

I'd actually never heard of the Survivors' Stairs, but it was the last artifact you passed before reaching the Main Floor on the Twin Towers' original foundation.

Also on display was part of the 2001 Times Square New Years' Eve Ball, constructed of Waterford Crystals engraved with memorials to the 9/11 victims and first-responders - numbers listed on the ball were still only estimates of the losses.  The National 9/11 Flag hung on the wall above.

One of the most remarkable items on exhibit was a collection of items: 2,983 watercolor drawings hung on the wall, painted by American artist Spencer Finch.  Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning is a bright blue art installation of blue watercolored paper canvases, of which no two are the same shade.  Combined, they create a bright blue ocean of a sky visible from most parts of the Museum.

The importance becomes even more apparent as you approach closely, to find a plaque:

Reposed behind this wall are the remains of many who perished at the World Trade Center site on September 11, 2001.

 It is an incredibly sobering reminder that hundreds of victims, who passed away in the very place you are standing, still have yet to be identified, in addition to hundreds of others whose remains will never be found.  The Repository is a private section of the Museum which is operated by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York (OCME).

No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory of Time.

Approaching the main exhibit, you are greeted with some items you may not be able to readily identify without the placards, they are so damaged.  Part of the TV antenna.  An elevator spindle.  The firetruck outright confused me for a few seconds - I thought it was more building wreckage until I came around the side to be surprised in finding that it was a mangled firetruck.

From the floor you could read some of the prayers left on The Last Column.

Mychal's Prayer
Take me where you want me to go
Let me meet who you want me to meet
Tell me what you want me to say
Keep me out of your way.

-Written by Father Mychal Judge
FDNY Chaplain who was fatally injured while giving the last rites to a fallen firefighter on September 11, 2001.

The main exhibit encompassed most of the Museum's offerings (not pictured).  An incredibly emotional journey spanning from that fateful September day to events today.  News reports, clips of Matt Lauer breaking the news on the Today show, greeted you upon entry.  The main exhibit follows a timeline.  Photographs and video of the second plane hitting.  Voicemails of confused victims trapped above the impacts play - those really got to me, reminding me of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a fantastic film I've only had the fortitude to watch twice.

CCTV footage of the highjackers passing through airport security before boarding the four flights; symbolically the last passengers before the TSA was created.  I wasn't alone in watching this footage play and wanting to punch the highjackers through the little TV monitor.  Anger.  The rollercoaster continues on.

After this, I'd seen the entire museum except for one small display on the main floor, which I found housed a shirt and brick from the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden, a challenge coin commemorating the successful kill of bin Laden, and Pete Souza's now iconic photograph from The White House.

Outside the Museum, I walked along the Memorial Pools again, now deserted in the rain.  With World Trade Center One towering above as a beacon of hope and Freedom, I paid Jacquelyn P. Sanchez and her rose one last visit, and departed.

The National September 11th Memorial and Museum is the most moving place I have ever visited, and I can't encourage you enough to go there yourself.  Words cannot describe.

My Own 9/11 Story

Everyone alive for 9/11 has a story.  It is this generation's watershed moment, joining the ranks of WWII and JFK.

I was young.  I was in middle school; 8th grade Spanish class.  The teacher had given my class a large amount of workbook assignments to do in class, and left the room - I took the opportunity to put in an earbud for a small radio I'd been sneaking to listen to on the bus.  I remember being annoyed that I couldn't find music - every single radio station was playing news, frantically talking in voices fueled by panicked adrenaline.  I didn't listen to the words though.  Not yet.  The teacher came back just in time to see us out the door at the bell, not bothering to take the pages from our workbooks.

My next class, English, had a similar vibe to it.  The teacher left the room after class began, leaving the TA, who didn't move from the TV - I now realize she was protecting it from being turned on.  Protecting the children from seeing images of the Pentagon in flames - in the DC area lots of kids' parents work at the Pentagon.  My Dad still had regular meetings there.  I'd later learn that he'd had a meeting scheduled at the Pentagon which was relocated to another building early that morning before the attacks even began - I didn't know it at the time, but my Dad dodged a bullet, and at this exact time was outside his evacuated building watching the smoke plume and sheets of paper fly from the Pentagon.  Although I was in the dark at that point, I knew at that point that something was going on.  Something wasn't right.

It wasn't until lunch time that I learned what was going on - the cafeteria workers had a radio on in the back kitchen louder than they probably should have.  I'd already heard the words "fire" and "crash" around my 9AM Spanish class, but hearing them again, and now paying attention to more of the accompanying story as I slid my pink tray and cardboard pizza down the line is when I learned the basics.  As I sat down in the squeaky cafeteria seat, I pulled out my little radio and started listening to all the voices.  "New York."  "Pentagon."  "Explosion."  "Attack."  "Who did this?"  There were no lunch monitors around to stop me.  The cafeteria was spotted with empty seats - a lot of kids must be out sick today.

My next class was half empty, and we were allowed to do anything we wanted.  Play paper football.  Do homework for other classes.  Anything but watch TV.  I listened to my radio - the teacher was probably so distracted about the attacks that he thought I was only listening to music and didn't process that I could get news... or couldn't get anything except news anyway.  I don't remember if we were released early that day or not.

On the bus ride home I found a few other kids who were talking loudly about how buildings in New York were being blown up with planes, and the Pentagon too - apparently their teacher had just outright spilled the beans, and turned on the TV.  Most of the kids, hearing this for the first time, didn't believe it.  One boy in the front was bawling uncontrollably - his Dad worked at the Pentagon he was mumbling.

When I stepped off the bus my Mom was waiting on the porch, clearly worried.  "What's going on?!?!" is all I said as I ran inside - she told me that the Twin Towers, the buildings we'd seen in person just one year earlier, and the Pentagon, had been struck by planes.  As she turned on the TV she told me that both buildings in New York, and that entire side of the Pentagon, had all collapsed.  Then I finally saw what I'd been hearing about all day; I joined the rest of America, gasping speechless with my jaw wide open as I saw the replays from every angle of the towers collapsing.

Until seeing the footage on TV, I didn't know which building in New York was hit - I thought it was just one, and I didn't know any of them had collapsed.  Certainly not to the extent the Twin Towers had.

My Dad arrived home late that afternoon.  He didn't say much; you could see the fear and anger on his face - he knew we were now at war.  He talked about everything he'd seen, heard; how his building evacuated, then un-evacuated, then evacuated again.  He made phone calls to find out who he knew at the Pentagon was safe, and who might not be.

September, 2000

My family had gone on a trip along the Eastern seaboard just one year earlier.  One of the stops was New Jersey to see The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island - we never went into Manhattan proper much to my disappointment.

This was WAY before I knew anything about photography - I just liked taking pictures on my little Kodak Advantix.

This is a picture I shot at age 12 in the year 2000 from the Northern side of Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey - now the current site of the Empty Sky Memorial.  I remember my parents bickering over whether "those two tall buildings are the Twin Towers or the World Trade Center."  I said I thought they were both; the same thing.  Fast forward a year, and everyone in the World knew the answer without a doubt.

It's incredible to me that I even have this picture, that I shot it myself.  I was 12.  The majority of my life has been post-9/11, working at IAD and DCA.  My entire aviation related career arc has directly resulted from that day in 2001.  This photo is a relic of a time before that.  

Take a look.

I have a piece of history, that I photographed as a kid, and I didn't even know it.  Plus, I didn't do too bad for a 12 year old kid with zero knowledge about photography - it's compositionally perfect - 14 years later and I'm shocked by that fact alone too.