The final two major 9/11 memorials will be dedicated this weekend amid fresh waves of the controversy that has been the hallmark of the nearly 10-year effort to build them.
The National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site in New York will open Sunday to family members of those who died on 9/11, although first responders and survivors who escaped the twin towers have argued that they should be included in the ceremony. The memorial opens to the public Monday.
Like previous anniversary observances, the memorial ceremony, which largely consists of reading the names of those killed, will not include prayers by religious leaders, which again is drawing criticism from conservative religious groups.
Along with the Pentagon Memorial, dedicated in 2008, and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., which is to be opened Saturday and dedicated Sunday, the New York memorial is intended to pay tribute to nearly 3,000 people at the site of their deaths. Yet the story of building the Trade Center and Shanksville memorials has been a complex and frustrating saga.
Efforts to build them were slowed by fundraising trouble. In New York, where the memorial's cost is estimated at $350 million in private donations, the city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, took over fundraising in 2006. Fundraising for Shanksville, which needs $30 million, has been painfully slow. It lies far from the investment banks near Ground Zero and the defense contractors that helped fund the Pentagon memorial.
Both memorials were brought forth by partnerships, sometimes uneasy, of federal, state and local government agencies, 9/11 family groups, real estate interests and advocacy groups. The symbolic skyscraper that is to overlook the Ground Zero memorial has been redesigned four times and its cornerstone laid twice, in different locations. The secretary of the Interior twice trekked to Shanksville to try to make deals with property owners when, after seven years, the National Park Service had not been able to acquire land for the Flight 93 memorial. The memorial is intended to honor passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 who foiled the attempt of hijackers to fly the plane to Washington and instead crashed it in a Pennsylvania field.
The designs have been controversial as well.
An arc of red maples intended to frame the Flight 93 crash site was redone as a circle to satisfy people who saw the arc as an Islamic crescent.
Some families of those killed at the Trade Center objected when the design put the names of the dead in underground galleries; the names were moved above ground for budget reasons.
Other families objected to a planned Freedom Museum at the Ground Zero site, arguing that any exhibit that questioned the United States would be disrespectful to the dead.
When they are dedicated, neither memorial will be complete. Construction continues around the Trade Center site; the most striking elements of the Flight 93 memorial's design have yet to be built. How the nation finally will commemorate the terrorist attacks remains as elusive as the final nature of the changes 9/11 wrought.