Something that surprised me about Tupelo, Mississippi was the fact that there are so many military veteran’s living there. Some of them I could just look at and tell were in the military before. I don’t know why. That sort of thing sometimes sticks with a person. Maybe it was the level of physical fitness and the haircut, or the way they carried themselves. Others were wearing hats identifying themselves as veterans of previous conflicts. My suspicions were confirmed by the friends we were visiting.
But, what I couldn’t figure out was why those people all chose to live in Tupelo. What does it offer? Is it because they all came from Tupelo originally? Are there that many military veterans in the country now, that small towns are becoming saturated with them? I just can’t see myself getting out of the military and choosing, of all places, to go to Tupelo, Mississippi, especially if I had retired and still had privileges to shop on a military installation. But, that’s just my opinion. Maybe there are people who want both to get away from the military entirely and enjoy a small-town feel. Tupelo definitely offers the latter, but with the number of veterans, it doesn’t really offer an escape from everything military.
Whatever the reason, a large park in the town has been designated as a veterans memorial park. It was put together quite well, too. The photos I took don’t really do it justice, because I only had my phone with me and we went late in the evening on a weekday. I can see this place being a pretty popular spot for barbecues.
I didn’t take photos of them, but there are a lot of ducks living around the pond. They defecate everywhere, and on everything. Most of the monuments, including the World War II memorial monument pictured above, were covered with feces. Walking in the grass was hazardous as well. It would be nice if there were less duck crap everywhere, but what’s the alternative? Kill them all? That wouldn’t be fun either, and they add to the scenery.
The National September 11 Memorial in New York City is still under construction, but my wife and I decided to head down there and look around earlier this week. We’re going down to Georgia this coming week for the holidays and a relative asked us to take some photos of the site for her. We’d been meaning to go, so that was a great opportunity for us to stop being lazy and get off our butts and head downtown.
When we got there, I was a little concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get in. There were signs posted in the surrounding streets that said that tickets were available online and in limited quantities at the 9/11 Memorial Site Preview office on Vessey Street between Church Street and Broadway, across the street from St. Paul’s Chapel. Luckily, when we got to the office, we were informed that there were free tickets from the 2:30 PM entry to the WTC site. It was about 2:05 PM at the time, so I guess they were passing out the extras that didn’t sell. I have no idea why the tickets were free, really, except that it probably had something to do with lack of demand at that time of day on a Thursday the week before Christmas. It seems as though you get a ticket that’s good for entry to the site only at a certain time. I assume they expect people to leave after a certain amount of time and the tickets being separated by an hour keeps the site from becoming too crowded.
After we got our tickets we had to walk down Church Street, which turns into Trinity Place, until we got to Thames Street, where we made a right. The entry to the site is at the corner of Albany and Greenwich Streets. Getting into the site is a long process. First, we had to show our tickets of course. Then, since there wasn’t much of a crowd, we walked past the back-and-forth roped off area for long lines and went straight to the line for security screening. While we were waiting, I joked that we were going to get free sexual assaults along with our free tickets and if we were suspicious (like most people are), maybe a free cavity search, MRI and X-Ray. Luckily, the airport style security screening went fairly quickly. The only interesting thing that happened was when one of the guards was complaining to her coworker that another guard never took a turn at the door directing people to the metal detector lines. I imagine the guard in question was avoiding that particular job because it was cold out that day.
The entire area of the National September 11 Memorial is sealed off from the rest of the city by security fences. After getting tickets, walking to the entry area, and then following the lines, by the time we actually walked into the site itself, we had almost gone all the way around it in a circle. It would be nice if at some point the site could be truly free and open, so people could walk through the area and look at the monuments, like any other monument in the country, but people are still so afraid of terrorism that it’s likely the site will stay walled off. Then, of course, there’s also the fact that the city wants to use it as a way to make money, charging an admission. To me, that seems borderline disrespectful, that the city wants to use a tragedy that caused the deaths of almost 3000 people and the injury of about 6000 more as an opportunity to make a buck. It also seems to defeat the purpose of building the memorial, which I assumed was meant to be a testament to the strength and power of the country, as well as a memorial for those who died in the terrorist attack. Instead, our testament to the strength of our country will remain hidden behind fences and barriers. It’s tough to say whether or not those barriers are necessary. On the one hand, it would be a symbolic victory for terrorists to strike the site again. On the other, the monuments in Washington DC don’t have fences and guards around them and they’re just fine.
During Winter, the memorial site is a pretty chilly place, both figuratively and literally. With no tall buildings in the area, the wind rips through the plaza non-stop. The reflecting pools are sunk down into the ground and the wind was getting caught down in the north pool, turning the water falling down the sides into a fine mist that blew across the plaza, adding to the chill. The leaves on the trees were brown and falling. The sky was overcast. Everything looked a little grey.
My wife and I went in different directions around the south reflecting pool. I took my time, taking photos, looking down into the hole that used to be a foundation, looking at some of the names on the railing that surrounded the pool. The only word I can think of to describe the mood of the place is that it was not depressing, but sort of subdued. But, it should be a little subdued. I don’t know that the place will ever be one where people go to picnic and laugh during my lifetime. Maybe. Maybe in 60 years, when the memories have faded and most of the people who were alive at the time have passed on.
Because of the construction going on all around the site, it was hard to appreciate the place for its architectural beauty. One World Trade Center isn’t even finished yet. The museum on the site hasn’t opened yet either. I remember reading that there was some delay due to money problems. I’m looking forward to going back again in a year or so, hopefully during the summer or spring. My wife was impressed by the reflecting pools, but she was mostly too cold to enjoy the trip like she wanted to. She wants to go back again, too, when it’s warmer. Maybe we’ll get lucky and get some more free tickets!
Last Thursday my wife and I went downtown to the National September 11 Memorial site. To get to it, we had to walk past St. Paul’s Chapel and Cemetery and my wife was interested in having a look around, so we went in. I’ve been there a few times before, but it was her first time. She remembered hearing about the chapel in the news and wanted to see it first-hand.
We walked through the cemetery first. She was impressed by how old the headstones are. I am too. It’s weird to see gravestones still erect for people that died in the 1760s next to so many buildings of modern construction. It’s so out of place. It’s nice to see that the chapel and the cemetery survived and weren’t torn down to build something new, especially in considering the important role the chapel played during the September 11th tragedy, when rescue and aid workers used the sanctuary as a place to rest and recover for a few hours before going back out to look for survivors again.
When you walk through the chapel, it’s hard to not be touched by the memorials set up around the outer edge, artifacts left behind by people looking for loved ones mixed in with older stuff, like George Washington’s pew and what is touted as the oldest painting of the seal of the United States, which looks more like a turkey than an eagle, probably due to influence from Benjamin Franklin, who wanted the national bird to be the turkey. On a side note, it’s good that he didn’t get his way, or else what would we eat on Thanksgiving? It would be a federal crime to roast our turkeys!
Seriously, though, on my previous trip I never really stopped to considering and think about the people in the photos set up on the alters, or the stuff that was moved inside from where it used to be posted on the fences around the church. It’s hard to stand there and think about the people, on an individual level, that died there that day. It’s easy when you’ve only got this vague idea in your head of some 3000 people. It’s harder when you look at the photos and wonder what their life was like and who they left behind. Who cried for them? What were there final moments like? How has the event changed the lives and world views of those closest to them?
The informational plaques were nice. It helped tell the story of the place. It explained why there are no pews left in the center of the building, and where all the patches on the priest’s garment (I forget the actual name of it) came from.
I thought the “Pilgrimage Altar” was especially interesting. Is St. Paul’s a site of pilgrimage now? It’s hard to think of it that way, in the same category as Canterbury, Santiago de Compostela, or Jerusalem. But perhaps it is a place of pilgrimage in a broader sense of the word. People were encouraged to leave behind thoughts and prayers for those who perished at the nearby Trade Center site, which they did, covering the altar in notes.
St. Paul’s is an important site of remembrance that has surpassed its role as a Christian church. It is now a site of tourism and pilgrimage for people of all faiths or no faith, to remember the loss suffered by so many on that day, to contemplate how the world changed, and maybe to hope for something better in the future.