9/11 Memorial Glade Opens, Honoring Victims in Tragedy's Wake

Following the dedication ceremony, guests filed into the Memorial Glade and touched the granite monoliths that are meant to symbolize resilience in the face of adversity. The rocks, inlaid with World Trade Center steel, weigh from 13 to 18 tons. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

May. 31, 2019

For the tens of thousands of visitors to the 9/11 Memorial Plaza this summer and beyond, the 9/11 Memorial Glade will seem to have always been there. But to the crowd that gathered at its dedication on Thursday, this one-acre feature on the plaza’s southwest corner, near West Street, is not only a hallowed new addition to the park, but one that is much overdue.

With its six slanted stone monoliths, inlaid with World Trade Center steel and rising beside a path that leads from the Survivor Tree, the Glade acknowledges and honors the thousands of rescue and recovery workers, volunteers and others whose ongoing illnesses and deaths have been attributed to toxins from the burning site.

“Like the heroes that we lost on 9/11, their selfless acts provided light that helped guide us through our darkest hours,” former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, chairman of the September 11 Memorial & Museum, said at the dedication. “And they allowed our city to rise again. For some the end of the recovery was the beginning of an even more difficult journey of sickness and disease.”

One victim, whose sickness ended in death two years ago, was former firefighter Raymond Pfeifer, a leading lobbyist for health care and benefits for rescue and recovery workers while waging his own seven-year battle with cancer. “It’s just a beautiful place where we can come and honor our heroes who fought at the pile for over nine months,” said Caryn Pfeifer, his widow. “It’s so peaceful here,” she added. “This is so well deserved for them.”

Rob Serra, 39, had graduated from the FDNY academy on Sept. 10, 2001.The next day he responded to the World Trade Center, where he joined other first responders, digging for survivors through the pulverized toxic debris. Serra attended the ceremony in a wheelchair, suffering from neuropathy, a numbing of his feet, and other illnesses that include traumatic stress disorder.

“I have mixed emotions about being here,” Serra said while touring the Glade. “I think it’s great that the memorial is recognizing the first responders who have died since 9/11 and continue to battle all these illnesses. But it makes me sad that it’s necessary. It makes me sad that the friends I’ve lost along the way aren’t here to see it.”

Following the ceremony, the crowd of attendees, many with personal connections to World Trade Center-related health issues, filed into the Glade for the first time, running their hands over the already sacredly treated monoliths. Some placed flowers on them, much as visitors do at the railings of the memorial fountains that are etched with the names of 9/11 victims.

“It was important to create a place on the memorial plaza where this group of people felt there was something that belonged to them,” said Michael Arad, who with Peter Walker led the design of the original plaza and the 9/11 Memorial Glade. During a planning process that included stakehoders in the project, Arad recalled, a former 9/11 volunteer said she had felt that the current memorial plaza did not seem like a place for her, that she felt left out.

“It was obviously not our intention to do that and we had the opportunity to rectify it,” Arad said, adding, “It’s been a year plus of very anxiously waiting for this moment, and hoping that what we have created here today will answer that important need.”