Ground zero: A selfie stop for some, a cemetery for others

James Maroon, left, cleans the bottom of the south pool of the 9/11 Memorial with a vacuum, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in New York. On Sept. 11, 2001 he was going to work at the New York Mercantile Exchange, just west of the twin towers. "I was getting ready to cross the Westside Highway when the first plane hit and people were running up behind me," he said. "I thought a truck or something hit the walkway. I got out, looked up and the first plane was in the building. I thought it was just a small commuter plane because you didn't see a plane, just a hole. I ended going into work and then the second plane hit. I couldn't figure out where to go. Pretty much everything was closed off. I hooked up with a guy I worked with and we started walking up the Westside Highway and I looked back and the tower collapsed. Unbelievable." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Caption
James Maroon, left, cleans the bottom of the south pool of the 9/11 Memorial with a vacuum, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in New York. On Sept. 11, 2001 he was going to work at the New York Mercantile Exchange, just west of the twin towers. "I was getting ready to cross the Westside Highway when the first plane hit and people were running up behind me," he said. "I thought a truck or something hit the walkway. I got out, looked up and the first plane was in the building. I thought it was just a small commuter plane because you didn't see a plane, just a hole. I ended going into work and then the second plane hit. I couldn't figure out where to go. Pretty much everything was closed off. I hooked up with a guy I worked with and we started walking up the Westside Highway and I looked back and the tower collapsed. Unbelievable." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Twenty years after terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center, the memorial at ground zero is like a lot of city tourist sites

NEW YORK (AP) — Twenty years after terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center, the memorial at ground zero has its own routine, not much different from many city tourist sites.

Visitors from around the world come and go. They snap selfies as they browse the nearly 3,000 names engraved into the parapets that frame two reflecting pools. Docents give tours. Tourists glance at their watches, decipher subway maps and check off a box. Then they leave.

But for those who live and work close to the memorial, the site is both a part of their daily routine and hallowed ground. The names on the parapets are more than mere engravings on bronze, and the 55,000 gallons of water recycling through the reflecting pools is more than a social media post. It is a constant reminder of that infamous day. It is a cemetery.

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After the plaza empties around the reflecting pools each evening, Kevin Hansen pulls on blue work gloves, grabs his torch and begins his nightly work of repairing and maintaining the long, bronze parapets with the names of the dead.

Hansen was 8 and in elementary school on Long Island in 2001.

“You just remember everyone getting phone calls and teachers not knowing what was going on. And then parents were coming to school to pick kids up,” he said.

Of his work, Hansen says, “It’s important to me."

"This is a sign that we all came together back in 2001. This is my giveback of patriotism and this (event) cannot be forgotten,” he said. “I believe this place brings people to see that there is evil in the world, but it can be overcome."

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While patrolling his beat around the World Trade Center, NYPD officer Mike Dougherty keeps an attentive eye on the memorial, often cleaning grime from the parapets and answering questions for tourists.

“If we see something on the panel we’ll make sure to wipe it off, and I see their names and I’ll touch them. I’m here looking over them, basically. Try to relay that to people that don’t understand what this is all about," he said.

“I get that, a lot of questions sometimes, you know: ‘What is this area?’ And I don’t take offense to it. I like explaining to them where the buildings stood. What this is all about. Just to keep the memory of everyone in your life when you tell somebody who doesn’t have that connection.”

The 25-year NYPD veteran started as an apprentice electrician working inside the World Trade Center before becoming a police officer. He was on patrol in Brooklyn when the planes hit the towers.

When he patrols the memorial plaza now, he sometimes stops in his tracks.

“I’ll just be walking around the side or in one of the particular security pools, and sometimes something will just hit me. I just start staring out at the plaza. So, I’ll take a couple of minutes to compose myself."

“It’s a privilege to be here. I’m at the end of my career, towards the end of it anyway. And I couldn’t think of a better place for me to finish up," he said.

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After moving to Battery Park City in 1998, the World Trade Center was a part of Joan Mastropaolo’s daily life. She not only lived across the street, but also worked two blocks east of the twin towers and shopped in the mall below.

“It was my front lawn. Every time I walked out of my apartment building and I crossed over, I came through the World Trade Center,” she said.

But on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, “This vibrant community became nothing in a matter of 102 minutes.”

“After everything happened here, I was completely shut out from this situation for a couple of years. I wasn’t a rescue recovery worker or a volunteer. So, I couldn’t get on the site, and I felt like a big part of my life was robbed from me,” she said. “When they started bringing the trees back to this site, for me, that was a symbol of returning life back to the site.”

Mastropaolo now volunteers as a docent at the 9/11 Tribute Museum, where she given more than 800 walking tours.

"I try to explain to them the magnitude of the loss.”

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Michael Keene has been an owner of O’Hara’s Restaurant and Pub for 35 years. A popular watering hole for firefighters at a station a block away and for area office workers, O’Hara’s shut down for seven months after the attacks.

Its clientele changed when it reopened, becoming popular with crews working at ground zero. Keene now still offers Guinness on tap to the firefighters. Visitors to the memorial also frequent his pub.

“It’s special now, because the people that come over to the site after they’ve gone through the museum, and it’s tough to go through the museum. People that come over here are very respectful. And just to be in a place that was destroyed then and rebuilt, you know, there is something special about that.”

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When the plaza around the reflecting pools closes, James Maroon dons waders and a headlamp and begins the deliberate task of vacuuming the floors of the giant fountains.

“We try and make it a place where people believe their families are being watched and taken care of,” said Maroon, an engineer for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

In 2001, Maroon was working at the New York Mercantile Exchange just west of the World Trade Center. He was crossing West Street when the first plane hit. Maroon knew many of the brokers who died in the attacks.

"Sometimes when we’re outside I look at the panel that their names are on. And one of them, Elkin Yuen, his daughter was due to be born. Now she’s going to be 20 years old. And never met her father.”

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For more AP coverage of the 9/11 anniversary from New York and around the globe, visit our hub at https://apnews.com/hub/9-11-a-world-changed.

NYPD officer Michael Dougherty, a 25-year veteran, patrols with his colleagues at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum where names of his deceased colleagues and friends are displayed, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. "Sometimes something will just hit me, just staring out at the plaza," said Dougherty. "I'll take a couple of minutes to compose myself. But it's still an emotional attachment. You know, I lost many friends that day. Hopefully people never forget that motto, 'Never forget.'" (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
NYPD officer Michael Dougherty, a 25-year veteran, patrols with his colleagues at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum where names of his deceased colleagues and friends are displayed, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. "Sometimes something will just hit me, just staring out at the plaza," said Dougherty. "I'll take a couple of minutes to compose myself. But it's still an emotional attachment. You know, I lost many friends that day. Hopefully people never forget that motto, 'Never forget.'" (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

Kevin Hansen, an engineer at the September 11 Memorial, uses a torch to clean and burnish the names cut into the metal plates that border the south pool, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021 in New York. "I believe this place brings people to see that there is evil in the world but it can be overcome," Hansen says. "You're looking down and you are trying to realize that this place is a sacred place and has to be remembered." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Caption
Kevin Hansen, an engineer at the September 11 Memorial, uses a torch to clean and burnish the names cut into the metal plates that border the south pool, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021 in New York. "I believe this place brings people to see that there is evil in the world but it can be overcome," Hansen says. "You're looking down and you are trying to realize that this place is a sacred place and has to be remembered." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Kevin Hansen, an engineer at the September 11 Memorial, poses with a torch he uses to clean and burnish the names cut into the metal plates that border the south pool, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in New York. Hansen says of the work he does, "It's important to me. It's a sign that it's something I can do. I can give back and say this is something that cannot be forgotten. This is a sign that we all came together back in 2001. This is my giveback of patriotism and this (event) cannot be forgotten." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Caption
Kevin Hansen, an engineer at the September 11 Memorial, poses with a torch he uses to clean and burnish the names cut into the metal plates that border the south pool, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in New York. Hansen says of the work he does, "It's important to me. It's a sign that it's something I can do. I can give back and say this is something that cannot be forgotten. This is a sign that we all came together back in 2001. This is my giveback of patriotism and this (event) cannot be forgotten." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Kevin Hansen, an engineer at the September 11 Memorial, uses a torch to clean and burnish the names cut into the metal plates that border the south pool, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in New York. During a pause from his work, Hansen says, "We do it for their memorial. They have to be remembered. We do it for the family members, the people that are suffering still from that day, and of course all the people that we lost that day." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Caption
Kevin Hansen, an engineer at the September 11 Memorial, uses a torch to clean and burnish the names cut into the metal plates that border the south pool, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in New York. During a pause from his work, Hansen says, "We do it for their memorial. They have to be remembered. We do it for the family members, the people that are suffering still from that day, and of course all the people that we lost that day." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Red roses rest against the names of the fallen on the south pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
Red roses rest against the names of the fallen on the south pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

NYPD officer Michael Dougherty, a 25-year veteran, stands beside the south reflecting pool of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum where names of his deceased colleagues and friends are displayed, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. A close friend of Dougherty's family, Richard Dunston, worked in the towers on the day of the attacks. His body was never found. "So every morning we'll do walk arounds on the piece of the plaza where the towers stood," Dougherty said. "If we see something on the panel we'll make sure to wipe it off, and I see their names and I'll touch them. You know, I'm here looking over them." (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
NYPD officer Michael Dougherty, a 25-year veteran, stands beside the south reflecting pool of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum where names of his deceased colleagues and friends are displayed, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. A close friend of Dougherty's family, Richard Dunston, worked in the towers on the day of the attacks. His body was never found. "So every morning we'll do walk arounds on the piece of the plaza where the towers stood," Dougherty said. "If we see something on the panel we'll make sure to wipe it off, and I see their names and I'll touch them. You know, I'm here looking over them." (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

NYPD officer Michael Dougherty, a 25-year veteran, stands beside the south reflecting pool of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum where names of his deceased colleagues and friends are displayed, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. Dougherty's first professional experience with the World Trade Center was as an electrician. "It's a privilege to be here," said Dougherty. "I'm at the end of my career and I couldn't think of a better place for me to finish up, connect where I started my career as an electrician over twenty five years ago before I became a police officer, and end up here. To be the guardian of this area and look over all my friends and family that passed away here 20 years ago." (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
NYPD officer Michael Dougherty, a 25-year veteran, stands beside the south reflecting pool of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum where names of his deceased colleagues and friends are displayed, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. Dougherty's first professional experience with the World Trade Center was as an electrician. "It's a privilege to be here," said Dougherty. "I'm at the end of my career and I couldn't think of a better place for me to finish up, connect where I started my career as an electrician over twenty five years ago before I became a police officer, and end up here. To be the guardian of this area and look over all my friends and family that passed away here 20 years ago." (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

NYPD officer Michael Dougherty, a 25-year veteran, displays a bracelet bearing the name of John G. Chipura, an FDNY firefighter and former Marine who died responding to the attacks, as he stands beside the south reflecting pool of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum where names of his deceased colleagues and friends are displayed, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. "He was a good guy," said Dougherty. "That means a lot. If you're in the service, you know that means he was special." A foundation in Chipura's name hosts an annual golf outing that was derailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
NYPD officer Michael Dougherty, a 25-year veteran, displays a bracelet bearing the name of John G. Chipura, an FDNY firefighter and former Marine who died responding to the attacks, as he stands beside the south reflecting pool of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum where names of his deceased colleagues and friends are displayed, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. "He was a good guy," said Dougherty. "That means a lot. If you're in the service, you know that means he was special." A foundation in Chipura's name hosts an annual golf outing that was derailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

A child peers over the edge of the north pool as visitors browse the walking paths at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
A child peers over the edge of the north pool as visitors browse the walking paths at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

Joan Mastropaolo, a 9/11 Tribute Museum board member, volunteer, and local Battery Park city denizen since 1998, stands amongst the trees at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as One World Trade Center looms overhead, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. Mastropaolo considered the area her front lawn after moving into the area for work in the late nineties, a natural transition from the previous decade when she worked in and around the World Trade Center. She shopped, attended concerts, and commuted through the site routinely. "This vibrant community became nothing in a matter of a hundred and two minutes on the morning of Sept. 11," said Mastropaolo. "When they started bringing the trees to this site, for me, that was a symbol of returning life." (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
Joan Mastropaolo, a 9/11 Tribute Museum board member, volunteer, and local Battery Park city denizen since 1998, stands amongst the trees at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as One World Trade Center looms overhead, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. Mastropaolo considered the area her front lawn after moving into the area for work in the late nineties, a natural transition from the previous decade when she worked in and around the World Trade Center. She shopped, attended concerts, and commuted through the site routinely. "This vibrant community became nothing in a matter of a hundred and two minutes on the morning of Sept. 11," said Mastropaolo. "When they started bringing the trees to this site, for me, that was a symbol of returning life." (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

Joan Mastropaolo, a 9/11 Tribute Museum board member, volunteer and local Battery Park city denizen since 1998, runs water over the name of Ssu-Hui Wen "Vanessa", a victim of the Sept. 11 attacks, at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. Memorial personnel place flowers on the names of the deceased on their birthdays. Although Mastropaolo did not know Wen personally, she makes a point to honor memories of the fallen whenever she spots a flower. "In many cultures, water is a symbol of life," said Mastropaolo. "I like to run water over their names on their birthdays to keep their spirit and memory alive." (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
Joan Mastropaolo, a 9/11 Tribute Museum board member, volunteer and local Battery Park city denizen since 1998, runs water over the name of Ssu-Hui Wen "Vanessa", a victim of the Sept. 11 attacks, at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. Memorial personnel place flowers on the names of the deceased on their birthdays. Although Mastropaolo did not know Wen personally, she makes a point to honor memories of the fallen whenever she spots a flower. "In many cultures, water is a symbol of life," said Mastropaolo. "I like to run water over their names on their birthdays to keep their spirit and memory alive." (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

Joan Mastropaolo, a 9/11 Tribute Museum board member, volunteer and local Battery Park city denizen since 1998, places her hand on the Survivor Tree at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. The Survivor Tree, living at the site before the attacks, was rehabilitated by the parks department after suffering burn damage and broken limbs in the collapse. For Mastropaolo, the Callery pear tree, unique to the memorial and surrounded by guard rails, is a symbol of resiliency. "When they started bringing the trees to this site, for me, that was a symbol of returning life," Mastropaolo said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
Joan Mastropaolo, a 9/11 Tribute Museum board member, volunteer and local Battery Park city denizen since 1998, places her hand on the Survivor Tree at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in New York. The Survivor Tree, living at the site before the attacks, was rehabilitated by the parks department after suffering burn damage and broken limbs in the collapse. For Mastropaolo, the Callery pear tree, unique to the memorial and surrounded by guard rails, is a symbol of resiliency. "When they started bringing the trees to this site, for me, that was a symbol of returning life," Mastropaolo said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

A visitor takes a selfie beside the north pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
A visitor takes a selfie beside the north pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

Visitors browse the south pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
Visitors browse the south pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

Michael Keane, the 35-year owner of O'Hara's Restaurant & Pub, works the busy dining room of his establishment near at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in the Manhattan borough of New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
Michael Keane, the 35-year owner of O'Hara's Restaurant & Pub, works the busy dining room of his establishment near at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in the Manhattan borough of New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

Visitors browse the north pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Caption
Visitors browse the north pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

James Maroon, an engineer at the 9/11 Memorial, poses near the waterfalls in the south pool, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021 in New York. On Sept. 11, 2001 he was going to work at the New York Mercantile Exchange, just west of the World Trade Center. He knew about 20 brokers at Cantor Fitzgerald that worked at the exchange. "They had a meeting that morning in one of the towers," he recalled. All their brokers, except for one, perished that day. Sometimes when we're outside I look at the panel that their names are on. And one of them Elkin Yuen, his daughter was due to be born. Now she's going to be 20 years old. And never met her father." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Caption
James Maroon, an engineer at the 9/11 Memorial, poses near the waterfalls in the south pool, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021 in New York. On Sept. 11, 2001 he was going to work at the New York Mercantile Exchange, just west of the World Trade Center. He knew about 20 brokers at Cantor Fitzgerald that worked at the exchange. "They had a meeting that morning in one of the towers," he recalled. All their brokers, except for one, perished that day. Sometimes when we're outside I look at the panel that their names are on. And one of them Elkin Yuen, his daughter was due to be born. Now she's going to be 20 years old. And never met her father." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Credit: Mark Lennihan

James Maroon, left, cleans the bottom of the south pool of the 9/11 Memorial with a vacuum, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021 in New York. On Sept. 11, 2001 he was going to work at the New York Mercantile Exchange, just west of the twin towers. "I was getting ready to cross the Westside Highway when the first plane hit and people were running up behind me," he said. "I thought a truck or something hit the walkway. I got out, looked up and the first plane was in the building. I thought it was just a small commuter plane because you didn't see a plane, just a hole. I ended going into work and then the second plane hit. I couldn't figure out where to go. Pretty much everything was closed off. I hooked up with a guy I worked with and we started walking up the Westside Highway and I looked back and the tower collapsed. Unbelievable." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Caption
James Maroon, left, cleans the bottom of the south pool of the 9/11 Memorial with a vacuum, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021 in New York. On Sept. 11, 2001 he was going to work at the New York Mercantile Exchange, just west of the twin towers. "I was getting ready to cross the Westside Highway when the first plane hit and people were running up behind me," he said. "I thought a truck or something hit the walkway. I got out, looked up and the first plane was in the building. I thought it was just a small commuter plane because you didn't see a plane, just a hole. I ended going into work and then the second plane hit. I couldn't figure out where to go. Pretty much everything was closed off. I hooked up with a guy I worked with and we started walking up the Westside Highway and I looked back and the tower collapsed. Unbelievable." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Credit: Mark Lennihan