On this, the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it occurred to me what an effect that day has had on travel in ways both big and small, not just that day, but every day since. There are so many stories…..
I was in Washington DC in March 2003 to announce practice ice sessions at the World Figure Skating Championships. The recent start of the war in Afghanistan resulted in heightened security at the competition, including the presence of government security and bomb-sniffing dogs to ensure the safety of the skaters, officials and other dignitaries attending.
My plan was to combine a little pleasure with business and visit some of the great sights Washington has to offer, especially the museums that make up the Smithsonian. I had been to the zoo on a rainy Friday that resulted in sparse crowds and a chance to spend some rare alone time in the panda house.
Saturday I headed over to the American History Museum. After a somewhat lengthy wait to go through security, I entered the main lobby and I was stunned at the sight before me. The flag that had been draped over the Pentagon in the days following 9/11 was hanging almost the full height of the lobby wall. I was awed by the flag’s massive size, but also by the condition of the flag – it was dirty, covered in soot, had possible burn marks and was torn or frayed in several places. Yet, there it hung for all to see as a symbol of the strength of our country and its people who came together in the face of national tragedy.
After touring the America’s First Ladies exhibition, I had only a little time left to see something else before closing time. Somehow I ended up in the 9/11 exhibition. So many items from that day in New York – a dusty shoe, twisted metal and so much more.
A guard came to tell us it was a few minutes before closing time. I do not remember whether I pushed the button before or after he made that announcement, but the effect it created I will never forget. The button was attached to a display with a telephone and played countless phone messages left by loved ones – wives, mothers, fathers, boyfriends/girlfriends, etc – looking for; no pleading for call backs to let them know their loved ones were safe and had not perished when the towers collapsed. The sound of each anguished voice was the only sound in the room, anguish that tore at the heart. With its power, it gripped each person in that room; people abandoned what they were doing, stood still and listened. Even the museum guard was silent. He let all the messages on the recording play to its entirety. When it ended, we all silently left the room.