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Ground zero: The first few days

The most crowded spot at Ground Zero was St. Paul’s Chapel, which stood next to the intersection of Fulton Street and Broadway, and its striking sightline of the destruction. St. Paul’s was one of the few buildings close to the WTC to remain undamaged after the towers’ collapse, and volunteers quickly transformed it into a resting place for firefighters and rescue workers taking breaks from their shifts. Soon, everyone else transformed its fence into the area’s largest grassroots memorial.

One sliver of fence displayed more than seventy pieces. There were six worn T-shirts filled with messages from California, Texas, and Florida, and eight baseball caps, including a red one with the French message “avec toute notre amité” (“with our affection”). It looked as if, in some instances, visitors and passersby, unexpectedly moved to contribute, had taken off the hats they were wearing or the T-shirts on their backs. Some even refashioned trash: one person left behind an empty Nesquik bottle sporting a miniature American flag in place of a straw. There were dozens of handmade posters, quilts, and cloth banners. A handwritten poem from Samantha, age ten, was titled “we will overcome.” There were three bouquets of flowers, four teddy bears (one of which featured a black question mark drawn on its belly), and ten laminated newspaper clippings and obituaries of victims. There were twelve American flags, three British flags, and one flag of Ireland. A pair of worn, white ballet toe shoes lay on the ground with the words “Now you are really dancing” handwritten on one slipper. And someone, a Sesame Street–loving child, perhaps, contributed a small Ernie figurine (without Bert).

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