The Disrespect, Novelty and Grief of WTC Tourism

Five years ago, New York City became a ghost town. A mass of bodies walked around going through the motions, trying to forget but constantly being reminded of the grief and horror of Sept. 11, 2001.

Over the past few years, New York City has slowly recovered but it is still haunted. Ground Zero is a shadow of its former self, an imprint left by the World Trade Center buildings. Once occupied by the tall twin buildings, the empty lot, which lay to rest thousands of innocent souls, has succumb to the dark side of a commercial tourist feeding ground.

The relationship between New Yorkers and tourists is an unspoken agreement; the city thrives on tourists so they need to be welcomed no matter how annoying they can be. It is disappointing that now making a stop at Ground Zero falls on the same list as seeing a hit Broadway show, eating a real slice of New York pizza, or buying a knock-off Gucci bag in Chinatown.

As a tourist attraction, Ground Zero does not have much to offer except its dark history. A chain-link fence hugs the bare lot, which is active as an ongoing construction site. Along that fence are plaques with pictures and facts about the World Trade Center. Views into the core of the lot can be seen all along the streets bordering the site, from the entrance to the subway and New Jersey Path stations, to the top of the overpass of the West Side Highway.

All along these viewing points people from all areas of the country can be seen fumbling with cameras. Some pose for pictures by either making a crude gesture while others try to evoke the most somber face they can imagine so they can post it on a MySpace “Trip to New York” photo album, and many pose for family group shots in front of Ground Zero.

Most New Yorkers remember exactly what they were doing the time the planes crashed into the buildings. People sat glued to their television screens, frantically calling everyone they knew, stuck in traffic, and shocked at the horrible reality unfolding before them.

Five years later, the pain still lingers. All one has to do is think back to that day and the anxious feeling of helplessness and despair erupts in their chest. New Yorkers pass by Ground Zero stone faced and determined not to look over at the site even though it is always calling out to them.

The fact that Sept. 11 has sparked a market is sickening. Vendors surround Ground Zero with various Sept. 11 memorabilia. Tourists can now commemorate the day with “United We Stand” lighters, “We Will Never Forget” t-shirts and posters, magnets, coffee mugs, glass figurines of the Twin Towers, laminated photographs of the towers burning and even collective plush teddy bears for children.

E-Bay has people selling newspapers and magazines of the coverage of the attacks. Vendors are using the tragedy to make a profit while customers feel they are somehow showing support and respect. The whole exchange is insensitive.

It is disgusting to know that the only thing that attracts tourists to the site is the fact that one of the most gruesome terrorist attacks, which left nearly 3,000 people dead, happened there.

The site is a burial ground, cradling the souls of cherished family members, dedicated workers, and honorable firefighters and police officers. It deserves respect and peace.