This August marks the one-year anniversary of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center Walking Tour program. Over the last year, the program has been successfully developed, beginning with a few tours each week to several tours a day. A large part of the success must be attributed to the outstanding group of over 100 volunteers who give up some of their “free time” to guide visitors through the events of 9/11 while intertwining their own personal experiences, which is what makes the tours so unique and special. Listed below are some of the tour guides and their stories.
Ann Van Hine
Ann joined the volunteer program in February and hopes visitors walk away from the tour with the realization that there are so many pieces to the story of 9/11. “I want visitors to think about the whole story–to think, to question and learn more–not just be spoon-fed by what the TV says,” she says.
Ann lost her FDNY firefighter husband, who was killed in the line of duty on 9/11. Being part of the volunteer program is her way of making sure people don’t forget the events of 9/11. “As a volunteer, I can tell people-one at a time-and maybe that would make a difference,” she says. “When people watched the events of 9/11 on TV, they saw the same images and heard the same things over and over. When they come to the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, they will hear some of the things they have already heard, but because of the personal stories, they experience it from a different angle.”
“On 9/11, I was at work at NYU and my wife was at her office six blocks south of the WTC,” he says. “I rode my bike down to her office, picked her up and walked with her home to Brooklyn.”
When John learned of the volunteer program, he felt an obligation to New York City and its people. “When I heard the report on NY1, I turned to my wife and said ‘I could do that,’” he said. “I emailed the Tribute WTC Visitor Center the next day.”
John says the tours are different from others because the guides share a common connection.
“The volunteers, from all walks of life, all share a connection to this horrible event and are still willing to relive and share their story with strangers,” he says. John hopes that people walk away from the tour with a greater understanding of the sacrifices that were made and with a renewed determination that this never be forgotten.
A quote John is fond of by Samuel Johnson reads: “People more often need to be reminded than informed.” “That’s what we do,” he says.
Gerry is not only a survivor of 9/11, evacuating the North Tower from the 82nd floor, but is also a survivor of the WTC bombing on February 26, 1993. Gerry, who is a founding member of the World Trade Center
Survivors’ Network, joined the volunteer program for a variety of reasons.
“It’s an attempt to pay tribute to the people and events surrounding 9/11- and somehow to the people I worked with who were killed,” he says. “I also think oral histories are important, and guiding tours seem to play a role in my personal recovery.”
Gerry feels speaking from personal experiences provides visitors with the benefit of hearing authentic voices.
“The fact that we are discussing this historic event at the place it happened is quite powerful,” he adds.
Having the visitors walk away with a connection to the people of 9/11 is Gerry’s goal for each tour.
“September 11, 2001 was about human beings–those who lived, those who died, those who helped, those who labored and those who comforted,” he says.
Trusting her instincts is what got Patricia out of Two World Trade Center alive. “What I emphasize on each tour is to trust your individual instincts,” she says.
Last year, Patricia felt the need to make a connection with others who had experienced this tragedy, so she joined the volunteer program. “The program is not politically affiliated and it comes from the heart,” she says. “I felt as if the rest of the world had already forgotten. I also felt it would be a part of living history.”
Each tour Patricia has led, she says, has been an amazing experience. “The visitors are emotionally supportive, emotionally engaged and eager to learn,” she says. “There are so many stories heartbreaking, tragic, uplifting-and we are telling them. It gives us strength and courage.”
After a friend suggested he tell his story, Joe was on board with the volunteer program.
“My friend at the firehouse said: ‘You are a witness to history. You have to tell people what happened at the site,’” he said.
Joe is a FDNY firefighter who was involved with the recovery operations at the site from January to May of 2002. Joe says describing the recovery effort can be difficult. “It’s hard to describe a 110-story structure to people who haven’t seen anything higher than five stories in their lives, but I explain the hard work of average people who did extraordinary things,” he says.
Joe says visitors are amazed at the intensity of the tour. “The people that have a tear in their eye–they get it!” he says.