9/11 Memorial Tribute Preview Site, New York.
I was working in the guest services division of security for the Mall of America on Sept. 11, 2001. I had been employed at the largest mall in America since July, 1992. I assisted guests visiting the mall with questions, stroller and wheelchair rental, store information, and general “good will ambassador” for the Mall of America.
The Mall of America is a fun place to visit. Most visitors are families on vacation, or people from the area. The Mall of America is only seven minutes, or 5.3 miles, from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport so the mall gets lots of attention from guests on layovers. If there are a couple of hours between your change of plane, hop on a bus or take a taxi and shop while you wait for your departure. I live 1.7 miles away.
There are dozens of hotels surrounding the great mall. The Mall of America is an attraction for conventions and business meetings. Theme hotels have sprung up around the mall for family destination vacations. 500 stores are inside waiting for shoppers and spectators. It is a consumer’s ecstasy.
That shopper paradise came to a screeching standstill on Sept. 11, 2001. I was scheduled to work that day. After the fall of the World Trade Center, the Mall of America became alarmed it would be in the line of attack. The mall closed its doors around 3 p.m. and evacuated. I was told I did not have to report for duty and to stay home. The Minneapolis/St. Paul airport closed and no flights could leave or depart. Thousands of people went to all those adjacent hotels.
The next day, Sept. 12, I arrived at my station early in the morning at the South entrance of the mall. As was standard, we held a “roll-call” in the security offices beforehand. This was very somber. The FBI had put the Mall of America on high alert for possible attack and listed the mall as #6 on the terrorist hit list.Because all aircraft was grounded, masses of people were now stranded, confused, and in fear. Stuck in hotel rooms, or airport terminals, people started to turn up in droves at the Mall of America.
But something had changed when they arrived at the mall. There was a hush, a quiet. Usually I helped people who were all excited to be there. They were on vacation or anticipating great times, food, or experiences. Now they had forced time on their hands and couldn’t get home to loved ones. This was especially apparent to people living on the east coast. They had a real desire to get back there.
People lined the wall in the interior of the South entrance, sitting on the floors. Most were on cell phones and several were crying. I heard a lot of angry shouting on cell phones as well. I became a counselor of sorts, as many came up to my desk just to converse about “the event.” I listened for hours, instead of my usual role of talking and giving out information.
I furnished free strollers to stuck-in-limbo parents and free electric carts to marooned handicapped people. Many restaurants in the mall provided deeply discounted food. Luggage was tied up at the airport, and a lot of people needed to shop for replacement clothes. And I was struck by how many came to this building because of its name.
Even the name evokes western consumerism: The Mall of America. Not only that, but its name provided some comfort that America was still standing. All over the place, the mall was a reminder of patriotism. Even my uniform had a flag pin on it. Red, White, and Blue was everywhere in the mall. I heard occasional jokes: “Maybe you should drop the name ‘America’ so it won’t get attacked.”
That night a vigil was held at the Mall of America. I think its name really hit people. Everywhere outside the mall people gathered, saying prayers and lighting candles. It was a powerful moment for me.
In the morning, the Mall of America erected American flags at the four main entrances. They appeared overnight.
Living In New York City
In 2008, I received a scholarship to finish my Bachelor’s Degree at New School University in New York City’s Greenwich Village. At the end of August I arrived with my backpack, college syllabi, a bed found on Craig’s List, and moved into an 1800’s apartment with two college roommates.
Tiles For America
I walked to campus through the Village passing “Tiles for America,” on Greenwich and 7th Avenues just down the block from my apartment. Tiles for America began on Sept. 12, 2001. Crowds had gathered at St. Vincent’s Hospital prepared for the influx of survivors from the towers. There weren’t many, however.
A pottery studio, “Our Name is Mudd,” started asking studios across the country to make memory tiles. Studios across the United States held individual fundraisers in which tiles were created for the NYC Memorial. Soon, case upon case of tiles began to arrive.
What was once a small section of fence has grown to encompass more than a full city block. Approximately 6000 tiles now hang on the Memorial.
On the two anniversaries of 9/11 that I was in New York, crowds of people gathered at the Tiles for America, often leaving flowers. Tour buses stopped and people got out to touch and read the tiles. “Tiles for America” is now on the Greenwich Village Historic District National Register.