“None of these objects are in and of themselves the reason why they’re here,” says Joe Daniels, the memorial foundation’s president. “They all represent a platform for the stories behind them. The cross is a perfect example. That was an artifact that was literally born from the site, and it played an actual role during that hellish recovery period.”
Everything at the site is hallowed, to a certain extent, to those who personally experienced Ground Zero. Like Daniels. On Sept. 11, he was another financial analyst on his way to work. He stepped off the train at 2 World Trade to what seemed like “rush hour in reverse,” crowds fleeing from a scene surreal and searing. The gaping hole in the North Tower with plumes of fire. Paper falling, intermingled with bodies. A strange dead silence for half a second when the second plane hit. Then a horrible rumble, followed by a wail.
The plane Daniels watched strike the South Tower likely destroyed the life of David S. Berry, 43, research director for the brokerage firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, who was on the 89th floor. Paula Berry was widowed with three young sons. She quit her publishing job to focus on raising them, and for the past 10 years the only work she has done outside her home has been devoted to the memorial. She served on the jury that chose Arad’s design and also on the Families Advisory Council. She has become a self-described “emotional gauge” for what belongs at the site, and her support for the cross was therefore crucial.
“We were all very interested in a design that treated the acres as sacred,” she says. But she emphasizes that the cross is not displayed as a religious icon. “It became obvious that it would be remiss of us not to put it in there. If you played it the other way, that would feel peculiar. Where would it go?”
The steel that fell from the sky, memorial caretakers say, has multiple meanings. At its most basic, it is evidence of a crime. Yet it is also a manifestation of the victims. “This was steel holding up the lives of people,” says Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority.
The Latin term for relic — reliquiae — means “remains” or “something left behind.” Somehow among 1.8 million tons of debris, salvagers retrieved some of David Berry’s things. Paula declines to say what they were. “They are things that were returned to me, and this is where I stop,” she said.
Their return, of course, can’t restore the person, any more than the memorial’s completion can unmake the event. “Do you feel less cheated?” she asks. “No. David wasn’t supposed to die.”