In view of the New York City skyline, two 208-foot long walls designed to resemble the Twin Towers lying on their sides create a space for reflection at Empty Sky, New Jersey's monument to those lost in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
On Saturday, families will gather to dedicate the New Jersey 9/11 Memorial in Jersey City’s Liberty State Park. After the 11 a.m. ceremony, which will be open strictly to family members of victims, the memorial will officially open to the public.
James “Rick” Cahill, of West Caldwell, Chairman of the New Jersey 9/11 Memorial Commission, who lost his son, Scott, will address those gathered at Empty Sky.
“I am going to ask people for this day, for this Saturday, to remember their loved ones as they were on Sept. 10. Just for today, let’s shed some joy as we enter the memorial,” Cahill told Patch.
Cahill is an unlikely leader of the New Jersey 9/11 Memorial Commission—along with his fellow commissioners he has no design or fundraising experience. Yet the commission made up of victims’ family members easily reached consensus on the design, unanimously choosing “Empty Sky” by architects Jessica Jamroz and Frederic Schwartz of Frederic Schwartz Architects in New York. It was one of six designs presented to the 12-member commission out of the more than 300 that were submitted and narrowed down by a professional jury.
“It is a simple, powerful design,” Cahill said.
The memorial is carved into a mound of earth that slopes toward the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline. Two 208-foot, 10 inch walls resemble the towers as if they were lying on their sides. If they could be picked up and walked across the river, they would arrive at the footprints of the World Trade Center towers.
Visitors can pass through the walls, enveloping themselves in the 746 names etched in the marine-grade stainless steel walls. Depending on the time of day, the memorial changes with the light; reflections of the living intermingle with the names of the dead.
An hour after dawn and before dusk, a halo forms from the reflections, a result which the designers say was not intended. On Wednesday, architect Jessica Jamroz called the halo a “miracle.”
Jamroz said, “It means everything to me to see this complete. It’s been 10 years and our hearts have been filled with sorrow and it’s good to see that we have a place to come now.”
Between 3,500 and 6,000 family members are expected to attend Saturday’s ceremony, according to Department of Homeland Security Director Charles McKenna.
“It will be a place for everyone to come and mourn and reflect and celebrate the lives of those who were so tragically taken from us,” McKenna said in a press conference Wednesday.
Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to speak at the dedication, after which attendees will have a chance to enter the memorial. Paper will be available for those who want to etch names; counselors will be on hand for those who may be overcome with emotion.
The commission decided to list the names without titles and randomly, with an exception made for family members, Cahill explained.
“It was really the nature of the attack. It was really random,” Cahill said. “We have dishwashers to millionaires on those walls.”
Cahill said that although 697 victims from New Jersey were initially reported, dozens of names were added over the years.
“We ruled in favor of inclusion, rather than exclusion,” said Cahill, sharing the story of a flight attendant from Colorado who spent most of his time in Newark. His name is included in the memorial.
The $12 million memorial was paid for by a $7 million grant from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a $1 million grant from the New Jersey Building Authority, and $4 million from the state which came from three separate general appropriations, according to McKenna.
Although supported by four governors, a lawsuit and a recession almost prevented the vision of a memorial at Liberty State Park in Jersey City from coming to fruition. But with a final push by Gov. Christie, and the plunging price of steel, the project forged ahead and was completed in time for a dedication by the decade anniversary.
After Saturday’s ceremony, which is expected to be over around noon, the New Jersey 9/11 Memorial will be open to the public. In addition to the walls, visitors will encounter a kiosk that will help them find names of victims, a relic of steel beams from the World Trade Center and an exhibit of Sept. 11 history and memorabilia inside the adjacent historic train station.
Going forward, Cahill and the commission will continue to raise funds to maintain the memorial and create educational programs to keep the story of New Jersey’s victims alive.
“We want to help with the perpetual upkeep,” Cahill said. “We don’t want the state to spend anymore money on it.”
Cahill said on Saturday he will remember positive things about his son, who enjoyed tinkering with computers and loved to play golf and skateboard with his younger brother.
“He was a guy’s guy by the time he was 30,” Cahill said.
Although the memorial has been the subject of some controversy, particularly for the choice of location, Cahill said he thinks Liberty State Park, with its proximity to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, is a perfect spot.
“The location is where people came for another way of life,” Cahill said. He said the area is symbolic of the very freedoms the terrorists tried—unsuccessfully—to destroy.