Wednesday marks the 12th anniversary of September 11, 2001 when two planes slammed into the towers of New York's World Trade Center, killing more than 2,000 people. The National September 11 Memorial Museum is to open next year and will revisit the story of that horrific morning. Images and stories of the recovery effort at Ground Zero, as emergency personnel and volunteers worked to find human remains and artifacts, are less well known.
At less than 93 square meters, the Ground Zero Museum Workshop is smaller than many of Manhattan’s one-bedroom apartments, but its contents hold meaning far larger than its small space.
Gary Marlon Suson created the museum as a way to share photographs and artifacts he collected as Official Ground Zero photographer during the recovery efforts in the months following the attacks. They tell a story of heroism and persistence that contrasts with the violence of 9/11 itself.
"I decided why not open up my own tiny museum so people could use it as a tool of healing through learning the history of the special stories that happened inside Ground Zero," he explained.
Suson said while September 11th looms large in modern American history, the recovery's intimate moments move him the most.
“Everyone that worked there was honored to be there," he said. "We all knew that below our feet were thousands of victims and victims remains and there was just an incredible sense of respect, hallowed ground, camaraderie, amongst all the men and women that worked at Gound Zero."
About 35,000 visitors have toured the museum every year since it opened eight years ago.
Museum Guide Phoenix Toliver encourages them to touch the artifacts, including religious symbols made from pieces of the World Trade Center towers.
For many, the self-guided audio makes both the terror and the heroism more powerful.
Alicia Avlon from Alabama came last year to the museum and returned for a second look. She finds enduring inspiration here.
"We have hope that people aren’t just hard and indifferent, through this, through seeing, through caring about people we don’t even know," she said.
The number of visitors to The Ground Zero Museum Workshop surges around the anniversary of the attacks, but the exhibit is permanent and it's open all year long.