DOWNTOWN — The National September 11 Memorial opened to the public Monday, 10 years and one day after the terror attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
Family members of those who died got a first look at the memorial ceremony on Sunday, but many came back to revisit the site under more personal circumstances.
“It was more private today,” said Akbar Bolourchi, 82, whose wife perished on Flight 175. “We were with our loved one.”
Admission was limited to those who reserved free tickets in advance, and entry was staggered to ensure that the memorial didn’t become overcrowded.
City officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and many of those who helped create the memorial were on hand to welcome the first visitors.
“I think it was another affirmation that life has finally returned to the site, and has returned in full force," Bloomberg said. He said he felt that seeing the names inscribed in the memorial site had a much more powerful impact than any statue could have.
“When I see names, just like you see the names on the Vietnam War Memorial that Maya Lin built in Washington, it gets you to think. And it gets you to understand that we have an obligation to the people who died back on September 11th, 2001," he said. "It’s up to us, I think, to do our part so those they have left behind will have a better life.”
Paul Watkins, 46, whose brother-in-law was attending a conference on the 106th floor of the North Tower when the attack occurred, said he was pleased to be able to share his appreciation for the memorial with the architects who designed it.
“What struck me was the use of sound,” said Watkins, who flew in from London with his wife and two children. “You can actually feel at peace there because the water blocks out the sound.”
The tree-filled memorial, located in the footprints of the former World Trade Center, is centered around two arce-large reflecting pools. Waterfalls cascade down into the pools, and the names of those who died in the attacks are inscribed on the bronze panels that surround them.
The 2,983 names are arranged according to the circumstances of their deaths, with separate sections dedicated to those who were inside the Twin Towers, first responders, passengers from the hijacked flights, and those who were killed inside the Pentagon. A section is also dedicated to the victims of the first World Trade Center attack on Feb. 29, 1993.
Anthoula Katsimatides, 39, lost her brother John Katsimatides, a 31-year-old bonds broker for Cantor Fitzgerald, and has been working on the memorial ever since.
A member of the memorial’s board of directors, Katsimatides said it had already become a place of “renewal and rebirth” for her.
“It gives me a place to remember John and honor his life, but it also fills me with hope and inspiration,” the 39-year-old actress explained.
For Konstantinos Arhakis, 29, a paramedic first responder, who spent four days searching the wreckage of 9/11, the memorial’s opening marked an emotional return to the tragic site.
“My hairs on the back of my neck stood up,” Arhakis said.
The 29-year-old Queens resident noted that he is still haunted by the smells of Ground Zero.
Passes to the public opening sold out just hours after the memorial launched its online reservation system; however some lucky visitors, including Wisconsin resident Tim Entringer, were able to obtain day-of tickets through the 9/11 Visitor Center.
Entringer, 29, who flew to New York to observe the Sept. 11 anniversary and was first in line for day-of passes Monday morning, said he was extremely moved by the memorial despite having no personal connection to the attacks.
“Words can't express it,” Entringer said. “I broke down.”