Day 06: Subways and the horror of 9/11

We had a couple of things planned today with Robert and he met us at 9.00am for the start of as big day. Our first stop was City Hall, where we were meeting a tour guide for some insights into the NYC subways.   The tour started right in front of City Hall and we were taken back over 120 years with a mixture of stories, photographs and real old hints at how the subway started, where it started and what went in to making it the system it is today.  Standing in Front of City Hall we were shown remnants of the disused City Hall Station.  Disused today as its design could not accommodate a mass transit system.  The track had too much of a bend in it and the station was too short.

We then walked to the modern City Hall Station and learned about a Guerrilla subway network, that ran using pneumatics, proving to be unsuccessful and short lived. 

We then walked past City Hall to the David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building on Centre Street.  The building was originally designed to be host to the newly designed mass transit system, with its massive archway entry in the Beaux-Arts style. We then descended underground to the little used Brooklyn Bridget-City Hall Station.  A station designed to take the subway over the Brooklyn Bridget, but again design flaws of the day stopped this from happening. 

Justin our guide was both passionate and knowledgeable about he subway system, we learned during our tour that he had written many academic papers on the transit system in NTYC, with a major focus on the Penn Station area.  He pointed out interesting facts, such as artworks installed over 100 years ago, that stand in disuse today but are a marker to history and the plans from over 100 years ago.

We then catch the subway and get out at a number of stations, Spring St, Union Square, Church St. At reach station Justin shows of intricate and interesting detail, details that goes unnoticed and passed by 100,000 people every day,  For example, why Sporing St has a large letter “S” emblems along the length of the station.  People of the day were poorly educated, so single letters to identify stations helped the uneducated get around.  We saw where stations were extended and the subtle difference in architecture and design.  Disused staircases and doors, that today go nowhere, but some time ago were thoroughfares.  We then travelled 100 years forward and finished the tour at Fulton Street. This modern station, designed and built following the 9/11 attacks, is grand in its modern design.  Stainless steel everywhere, a massive and intricate light well is the centrepiece. The size of the station, brining 11 subway lines together was deliberate.  Following the 9/11 attacked, this part of Manhattan was devastated in every sense of the word.  So one way to reinvigorate and attract people and businesses back to the area was to provide a transport hub.  Fulton St certainly does that.

Speaking of 9/11, that was our next stop, the WTC Centre area and museum. We take the short walk from Fulton Street station into the world trade centre precinct. We walk down Fulton Street towards Trinity Church. I have experience this new and number of times and it never ceases to take my breath away. The diminutive and ancient Trinity Church is dwarfed as the world trade centre looms large behind it as Fulton Street ends.we enter the plaza, bounded by trees and the sound of the memorial fountains grows as draw Near. Robert is visibly moved, this was one of the places he was most interested In visiting. He stands at the south fountain and stares into the centre. The Dark centre seems to go on forever. We circumnavigate the fountain and talk about that day 18 years ago. After letting the enormity of the moment settle in, we wander the plaza for a few minutes. Robert is then keen to see the financial district, but first lunch.

We find a local café and have a quick lunch.

The three of us then wander up to broadway and walk the short distance to the Charging Bull. Robert takes some photos before we walk deeper into the financial district, up Exchange St, into Broad St and then Wall St. We stop at the Stock Exchange and Federal Hall. We meet Fearless Girl and George Washington before heading back to the 9/11 museum.

It’s been five years since we’ve visited the museum and it’s as moving, distressing and confronting as it was five years ago. It’s also much expanded now, almost overwhelming. We move through the exhibits slowly, from the memory hall, to the major exhibits of fire engines and other artefacts from the day. We then move into the main hall, which takes you on a minute by minute journey of the day. I listen to an audio described recording of the exhibits, spoken by Robert de Niro, as Mardi and Robert move around taking in the exhibits. The materiel is voluminous and overwhelming. Personal items, voice mail recordings and images from that day. A voicemail from a flight attendant on board flight 93 brings me to tears. After about three hours we conclude our visit. The three of us are both physically and emotionally exhausted. Despite 9/11 happening 18 years ago, the event is still a recent memory for us, as it must be for so many others. We emerge almost speechless and walk aimlessly for a few minutes. We then explore the local area, looking for a coffee/hot chocolate snd snack.

We sit for a while, before heading up to 51st street, where Robert is staying, and find a local diner for dinner. After dinner, we head home.

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