A 20-ton slab of granite, inscribed to honor "the enduring spirit of freedom," was laid Sunday at the World Trade Center site as the cornerstone of the skyscraper that will replace the destroyed towers.
The ceremony marked the start of construction on the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, designed as a twisting glass and steel tower that evokes the Statue of Liberty, including a 276-foot spire resembling her torch.
Gov. George E. Pataki (R) said he chose July 4 to begin rebuilding to show that the terrorists who attacked New York on Sept. 11, 2001, didn't destroy America's faith in freedom.
"How badly our enemies underestimated the resiliency of this city and the resolve of these United States," Pataki said. "In less than three years, we have more than just plans on paper -- we place here today the cornerstone, the foundation of a new tower."
The cornerstone put in place Sunday is garnet-flecked granite from the Adirondack Mountains. Garnet is the New York state gemstone.
It is inscribed: "To honor and remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and as a tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom. -- July Fourth, 2004."
Among the several hundred people at the ceremony were relatives of some of those killed in the terrorist attack.
"It's a new beginning," said John Foy, whose mother-in-law was killed. "We all need to move on and rise above this."
Completion of the Freedom Tower is scheduled for 2009, and trade center leaseholder Larry Silverstein has plans to build four more towers from 2009 to 2015.
Also planned for the site are a rail hub, a memorial that transforms the twin towers' footprints into reflecting pools and a cultural space, including several small theaters.
The Freedom Tower is set to rise in a corner of the site that still holds the ruins of a parking garage. At 1,776 feet, a height meant to evoke the year of America's independence, it will be the tallest skyscraper in the world, organizers say.