Originally Published: September 11, 2011 9:56 p.m.
NEW YORK - In the days after the 9/11 attacks, all of New York seemed to become a shrine to the dead. People left heaps of flowers in front of fire stations. They lit candles. They hung photographs of the missing.
Now, at last, there is a permanent memorial to the victims.
Dennis Baxter saw it for the first time Sunday, along with hundreds of other people who lost a relative on 9/11. His brother, Joseph, died in the World Trade Center's south tower. Baxter found his name inscribed in bronze on the low wall surrounding the enormous fountain and reflecting pool where the tower once stood.
"It was real inspirational to come here after all these years and finally see his name," said Baxter, 65, of King of Prussia, Pa. "I touched it. ... I didn't know what to do. It was really moving."
The tree-covered memorial plaza at ground zero opened to the families of the victims for the first time Sunday, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Shortly after 9 a.m., a steady stream of people began walking along the black parapets that ring the two pools, searching for the names of their lost loved ones.
Many left flowers. Some stuck small flags in the recesses created by each letter. Others made paper rubbings of the names, or simply stood and wept, as the sound of the roaring waterfalls in each fountain washed over them. The memorial includes the names of all 2,977 people killed on 9/11 in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, as well as the six slain during the bombing of the trade center in 1993.
Mary Dwyer, 36, of Brooklyn, said it was moving to finally be able to stand in the place where her sister, Lucy Fishman, died.
"It's the closest I'll ever get to her again," she said.
Paul Schlehr, of Cincinnati, whose sister-in-law, Margaret Seeliger, also died in the south tower, said he was amazed by the memorial, which occupies an 8-acre plaza and is ringed by new skyscrapers under construction. Each of the memorial pools is an acre in size, and the waterfalls that plunge into the pits drop 30 feet.
"The size of it all is kind of breathtaking," he said.
The memorial plaza opens to the public Monday, but on Sunday it was set aside for the victims' families alone. As they walked the grounds, they expressed sorrow, but some joy and life, too. Some smiled for family photos. Children ran on the grass. A parent changed a diaper.
Work on the memorial is ongoing. An underground section and museum won't open until next year. A little less than half of the 420 oak trees that will ultimately shade the plaza have yet to be been planted.
But seeing the names was enough for many of the families.
"It breaks me up," said David Martinez, who watched the attacks happen from his office in Manhattan, and later learned that he had lost a cousin and a brother - one in each tower.
Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, cried when she found his name, grouped with other crew and passengers aboard the flight.
"These are all his crew," she said. "I know all their families. These passengers, I knew their families. These people are real people to me. It's very touching to see all these people here together."
The city remembered Sept. 11 all over again Sunday, with ceremonies that started at dawn at Manhattan's southern tip, and were to end long after nightfall, with twin beams of light streaming heavenward at the spot where the World Trade Center once stood.
While two presidents and relatives of the victims gathered at ground zero, New York City firefighters mustered six miles uptown in Riverside Park to mark the moments when the towers collapsed, and read the names of the 343 members of the department who perished.
Later, firefighters from across the U.S., as well as 42 who traveled from France, attended a dedication at the New York City Fire Museum of a memorial exhibit of the helmet and bunker coat worn by FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge when he was fatally injured in the lobby of the North Tower.
Houses of worship throughout the city held prayer services for the dead.
At St. Peter's Church, a Roman Catholic chapel a block from the trade center where some wounded were treated, the Rev. Kevin Madigan told those gathered for Mass that "we have every right to feel angry. It is the opposite of indifference." But the priest urged forgiveness, saying the anger must be relinquished and "somehow be linked to love."
Later, Cardinal Edward Egan said at a memorial service that while "evil had its moment of triumph" in the attacks, the city responded with "deeds of heroism and total selflessness."
"Men and women just like ourselves exhibited a love of neighbor beyond anything any of us might have expected," he said.
Trinity Church in lower Manhattan sounded its 12 change-ringing bells for more than two hours to mark the day. The bells, which rotate 360 degrees as they ring, produce a cascading sound and require extensive training to operate.
Alexandra Borrie of Portsmouth, N.H., stood outside the church and held up a cell phone so a caller on the line could hear the bells.
"It's spectacular," she said.
Jeff Graumbs of Manhattan paused to listen as the sounds echoed down Wall Street.
"It's a joyful kind of sound. It's not a mournful sound," he said.
"The fact that it's a number of bells ringing at the same time signals unity."
Some of the spontaneous displays of patriotism and solidarity that were so common in the city after the attacks were seen again.
A Chevy convertible, painted red white and blue, rolled down Broadway with a sign affixed to the front bumper proclaiming, "Always proud" to be a New Yorker.
A man with a long white beard sat on the steps of St. Paul's Chapel playing "Amazing Grace" on a flute. The iron fence around the church, which sheltered and fed recovery workers for months during the cleanup of ground zero, was decorated with white ribbons, upon which visitors from around the world had left messages.
"On this visit to New York, one breathes great humanity," read one ribbon scribbled in Italian, fluttering in the breeze above a mound of red roses with a sheet that said, in English, "We are all New Yorkers."
Relatives of slain workers at Cantor Fitzgerald, the financial services firm that lost 658 workers in the attacks, were holding their annual private memorial service Sunday afternoon. Another service was held for victims who worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
At other locations, there was music, and dance, and poetry readings. At Battery Park, thousands of 9/11 commemorative flags flew in honor of the victims. Nearly 3,000 empty chairs sat on a lawn in Bryant Park, while volunteers for an art project used typewriters to record what visitors wished the world to remember about 9/11.
There were also protests. Anti-war groups set up a podium near City Hall Park. Later in the afternoon, groups opposing an Islamic cultural center near the trade center site held a rally nearby.
And Sunday night, an array of powerful spotlights was to recreate the towers themselves in the Manhattan skyline in an annual spectacle known as the Tribute in Light.
That display will be fleeting, disappearing with the dawn. The names at ground zero will remain.
Sumika Tanaka came from Tokyo to find the name of her father, who was working for a Japanese bank in the south tower when he was killed.
"It's not going to disappear," said Tanaka, 30, who was joined by her mother. "It will be here 10 years from now. And that's what is important to me."
Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik, Julie Walker,Jim Fitzgerald and Karen Zraick contributed to this report.