The 9/11 Memorial: How Beverly Eckert and other family members left their imprint

Ground Zero after 9/11

Ground Zero.

It is the place where nearly three thousand people perished one September morning, and many others were injured, sickened and emotionally scarred. For the loved ones left behind, the place where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood so very tall became the most hallowed of grounds. To properly preserve that space, and to erect a memorial that would honor the dead and inspire the living, became a cause very close to the heart of Beverly Eckert and other 9/11 family members and friends. It was the last place on this earth where so, so many took their final breath. It was where Beverly’s husband, Sean Rooney, said his goodbyes.

There was news about Ground Zero this week, and it wasn’t just about the president’s visit. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum announced that the memorial was complete and ready for visits — at least digitally. The 9/11 Memorial web site allows visitors to search for the name of a person to see where it will appear on the real memorial. There are digital renderings of the entire memorial/museum complex, as well as illustrations showing all sections of the memorial inscribed with the names of victims. Even from this relatively cold and distant artificial perspective, the memorial is a moving place to visit. And its design was strongly influence by the concerns of Beverly and other loved ones of the departed. But at one time, there were conflicting visions about Ground Zero’s future.

After 9/11, everyone agreed that the place where the towers fell was special, and that there should be a memorial built there. But in the months that followed, views diverged on how the site should look after the debris had been cleared, the remains sorted, and construction completed. The bigwigs in government and business had in their sights one of the most potentially lucrative pieces of real estate in Manhattan. Sure, they recognized the need to be sensitive to the site’s new significance, but often their vision was dominated by dollar signs. Ground Zero, after all, was hard by Wall Street, which is not noted for its sentimentality, the softness of its heart.

So when re-development of the hallowed ground began to move forward, clashes broke out between the various interests. Beverly was among those who opposed plans by the site’s developers to have a relatively small memorial, and to build on top of the bedrock upon which the towers stood, and upon which they fell. Beverly and other family members wanted to whole site to be preserved “down to the bedrock.” She felt that covering it with train stations, roads and buildings would erase the very heart of 9/11, would diminish the quiet solemnity of this final resting place for so many.

Beverly and the other opponents of the developers were small in number, but they were committed to their cause. As the second anniversary of 9/11 approached,  Beverly and others felt the situation had come to an impasse, that the developers were moving forward with their own plan to bury most of Ground Zero in buildings and transportation infrastructure.

It was time to act.

Beverly planned to lock arms with others at the main gate of the Ground Zero construction site, blocking any workers and their equipment from entering. She was dead serious, so prepared to be arrested for this act of civil disobedience that she consulted with a lawyer about how to go about the protest, and how to behave once arrested.

Beverly and other protesters arrived at the appointed place on September 3, 2003, but the gate was locked. After hearing about the planned action, the developers decided to have workers and vehicles use another entrance to the site. Still, Beverly was able to get her message out, and the story got wide coverage.

Eventually, a new plan for the redevelopment of the site was drawn up, which took into consideration the wishes of the families and friends of those lost. The footprints of the Twin Towers were preserved, becoming, in fact, the dramatic centerpiece of the memorial plaza at Ground Zero. Beverly and her allies had won another victory, and their vision of how to honor and remember those who died on 9/11 will stand for many, many years to come.

Model of the 9/11 Memorial