From dynamic, geometric walls that commemorate the people who proudly constructed the new One World Trade Center, to a room lined with Manhattan bedrock reminiscent of the entrance to an amusement park ride, my fellow 9/11 Tribute Museum interns and I were amazed by how immersive One World Observatory was, and moved by just how much the One World Observatory & 9/11 Tribute Museum Combo allowed us to better empathize with the people whose lives were forever changed on 9/11.
The friendly and efficient Observatory staff directed us to the Skypod, an elevator that lifted us up 100 stories in only 47 seconds. Screens covered the interior of the elevator and took us through what was like a timeline as we ascended, featuring realistic animations that recreated the development of Manhattan from its initial colonization to the present day.
Visitors were then ushered into a theater with large displays covering the entirety of one wall and projections coming from all around the room. It was a show of artistry—an audiovisual experience that highlighted some of New York City’s most recognizable sights and sounds. Then, unexpectedly, the screen lifted to reveal windows that gave us our first glimpse of the 100-story-high view. The buildup was brilliant and made the view even more spectacular.
The innovation and modernity of the whole experience was particularly impressive. The Observatory offers rentable “One World Explorer” iPad devices, which act as virtual reality maps of NYC. The devices are interactive compasses that can be held up to any window in the Observatory to describe to the user what they are looking at. This technology also allows visitors to explore different parts of Manhattan and learn the history of those sites.
The Observatory space was expansive, with floor-to-ceiling windows that allowed for 360 degree views of New York City and beyond. The vantage point is so high and so panoramic that you can even make out the curvature of the Earth. One of the Observatory’s major taglines is “See Forever,” and they did not disappoint. It really did feel like I could see forever.
The view itself was unreal. It was such a transcendent experience to see the city that I have lived in and loved for the past 10 months from so high up. You get to experience all of New York City at once, and being at the top of the tallest building is the only way to do it. More than a thousand feet in the air, I saw buildings that I pass on my daily commute, parks that I have wandered into while lost, and coffee shops that I have studied in until 2 a.m. among what was like a sea of skyscrapers. But this time I got to see all of my favorite places and reminisce on the memories I have made through a completely different perspective—both literally and figuratively.
In these moments of reflection and contemplation, I began to think about how interning at the 9/11 Tribute Museum so far has been one of the most emotionally fulfilling opportunities that I have had the privilege of experiencing. I have learned so much about the history of the city and specifically Lower Manhattan through the Museum’s galleries, talked to people who experienced 9/11 firsthand, and have listened to and read numerous first-hand accounts of that day.
Thinking about how far New York City has come since 2001—in the very place that is the embodiment of the city’s resilience and vitality—is truly inspiring and really puts into perspective the events of 9/11 for those who were never able to visit or see the pre-9/11 World Trade Center buildings.
I definitely do not think that visiting the Observatory would have been quite the same had I not learned so much from the 9/11 Tribute Museum beforehand. Being at the top of One World Trade Center was especially moving because I felt as though I had a newfound emotional connection to the history that took place in the area.
I found my visit to One World Observatory to be a very hopeful and uplifting experience despite the site’s tragic history. The view is incomparable. What it represents is powerful. It is experiences like these that make me fall more and more in love with this great city and its innovation, drive, and undaunted spirit.