Grief Tourism

Travel to areas affected by natural disasters, places where people were murdered, etc.

Ground Zero – Tragedy, Terror, and Grief Tourism

3rd July 2006

We watched in disbelief and horror the tragedy unfold on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Never before had the peace and security of the United States been threatened with such evil and disaster. This was to be no ordinary day for any of us and tragically, for some, it would be the last day of their lives. It all began at 8:45 A.M. (EDT) when hijacked American Airline Flight 11 out of Boston, Massachusetts hit the first tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. As the tower burned and crumbled to the ground, it left a 70-foot deep pit at Ground Zero, amid the broken walls and foundation. Less than an hour later, a second plane, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the second tower. People trapped within the buildings panicked in a rush to safety down crowded stairwells, making frantic calls to families and loved ones, while others jumped to their death from the burning buildings. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center as we once knew them were gone. Across the street, more buildings caught fire as the nation and the world saw yet a third attack on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A final, fourth attack, the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, failed and crashed in Pennsylvania.

New York City came to a standstill, as airports, tunnels, and bridges were immediately closed and air traffic was shut down. Emergency vehicles and rescue workers were hurriedly dispatched to help search for people who lay dead or dying in the streets or buried under piles of debris. The Center for Disease Control stepped in, along with hundreds of fire fighters and police attempting to contain the fire and rescue as many as possible. Five warships and two aircraft carriers were deployed to protect the East Coast from further attack; the entire nation was on high alert. Mass evacuations from the City and Ground Zero were put in place, but for many it was too late. Over 3,000 people died on September 11 and countless others lived to mourn their loss.

In the months following, demolition, excavation, and recovery never ceased, as we watched and listened to the heroic efforts and the tragic reports of death, survival, and grief. A year later, visitors, primarily relatives and friends of those who perished in the tragedy, slowly returned to Ground Zero. The few tourists who were there to view the disaster found there were no words to describe the emotions or the sadness they felt. Gradually, tourism was once again revived with the determination of a city and its people. Broadway Theater contributed their efforts in an all-out campaign to bring tourism back to New York. Within three years, sidewalk vendors were once again viewing for space to hawk their wares and complaining about the restrictions around the now sacred Ground Zero. Today, double-decker buses filled with tourists arrive to view the tragedy, where sidewalk stands of souvenirs, ice cream, and hot dogs have replaced the dust and ashes of September 11. Grief tourism has turned into commercialism, as it invariably will.

People’s memories tend to fade in time, but for those of us who were there on that fateful day, the images will remain forever. For others who only viewed the widespread devastation, there are now collections and exhibits in museums and memorials around the world. The Museum of the City of New York at 1220 Fifth Avenue houses a remarkable, permanent collection of Ground Zero by noted photographer, Joel Merkowitz. The Museum is open Tuesday – Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Monday holidays. Admission is $9.00 for adults, seniors and students $5.00, and for neighboring East Harlem, admission is free. If you are from out of town and plan a visit to the Museum during your stay, visit this link to look at the various options for New York hotels that are available to you.

The World Trade Center Memorial, Reflecting Absence, is scheduled to be completed and opened in September 2009. The tree-filled plaza, 30 feet below street level, will have two recessed pools designed to simulate the pits of the Twin Towers at Ground Zero. Ramps for visitors will lead to the pools where the victims’ names will be inscribed and the shields of the heroic firefighters and police will be displayed. Each of the pits is linked by an underground passageway where tourists can enter the sacred area, light candles, hold memorial services, or simply spend time in quiet reflection upon the enormity of such a tragedy. In the pit below what was once the North Tower, a stone vessel will be placed in commemoration of the remains of those as yet still unaccounted for. When we visit this grandiose Memorial, we may find that enjoyment and pleasure, normally found in a major tourist attraction, have given way to insurmountable grief. Perhaps, we’ll pause to ponder the proposal of a single journalist for a more fitting tribute to Ground Zero…”A cemetery where the dead speak more eloquently to the living…where a memorial of ashes, stone, and memories will withstand the tests of wind and rain and time.”

Despite the remarkable progress that has been made, the familiar skyline of New York City will never be quite the same nor will our country, the world, or its people ever completely recover from this tragedy. The harsh reality of our vulnerability beneath the dark and ominous cloud of terror will be with us forever.

Sharon L. Slayton

11 Responses to “Ground Zero – Tragedy, Terror, and Grief Tourism”

  1. Bob Casey Says:

    I have read several of Ms. Slayton’s works and am very impressed with her succinct but descriptive language. This particular piece is outstanding. Having recently visited the area, she has captured in words this tragic but heroic place. — Bob

  2. Amy Wojdygowski Says:

    i am a university student and have decided to base my dissatation on ground zero and need a deeper insight of why people visit and their feelings, i would be greatful if you would like to talk and discuss you visit.

  3. James Trotta Says:

    I don’t know about Bob, but my wife and I visited Ground Zero for a number of reasons really. Did you want to ask any specific questions? Just post them here.

  4. amy wojdygowski Says:

    hi yes there are a few percific questions that i have, is there any way of contacting you? do you have a website if not i will just post my questions on here and hopefully you will be able to answer them. thanks very much

  5. James Trotta Says:

    Let’s make the questions public – I’m sure other people are also curious. Plus I might not have the answers but other readers may.

  6. amy wojdygowski Says:

    hi my questions are about ground zero

    1:what country do you live in?
    2:what brought/ attracted you to ground zero and new york.
    3:what were your feelings and emotions at the site if you had any?
    4:Any experience about ground zero that you would like to share?
    5: did you come to new york to see ground zero or were you already in New York?
    6:what are your views on ground zero?
    7:what do you think should be done to the site?
    8:when visiting ground zero did you come across people commercializing in on it e.g. souvenirs and charging admission charges and if so whatv are your views?
    9:did you take any photos when visiting ground zero?
    10:if you did what did you take photos of and why?
    11: if you didnt why not?
    12:do you think it is right for an area of death and tragedy to be a tourist attraction, and why do you think this?
    13 are you related to or have any connections to any one affected by 9/11
    14: do you think tis right to go to ground zero. and why?

    thank you for your help

  7. BwayCR Says:

    Mr. Trotta,

    I knew of no other way to contact you so I hope you receive this reply.

    I am a freelance journalist writing an article about grief tourism and I would love to speak with you about the subject and your website.

    If you are interested, please e-mail me at

    Thank You so much for your help.


  8. hemixsha raval Says:

    Mr. Trotta,

    There are a list of questions posted up in regards to visiting Ground Zero, I am very much interested in the answers as I’m writing an essay ‘Who is the thana tourist: an analysis of Auschwitz and Ground Zero’.

    Any information will be appreciated, here’s my email address:

    Thank you

  9. hemixsha raval Says:

    Mr. Trotta,

    I am a student studying BA Tourism Management, currently writing essay on ‘who is the thana tourist: an analysis of Auschwitz and Ground Zero’. The focal point is visitor motivations. I am very much interested in the answers to the questions posted above.
    If it possible for your help, my email address:

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Thank you

  10. James Trotta Says:

    I’m not sure I can answer these questions about visiting Ground Zero in detail. I went (for the same reason I went to the Empire State Building afterwards) because it’s there and it’s something to see. My friends had been there and I wanted to be able to say that I had also been there.

    Obviously the feeling was quite different – the top of the Empire State Building during sunset is quite romantic while Ground Zero is sad. But in the end they were both attractions and seeing them was better than staying home.

  11. tory Says:

    I am currently writing my final dissertation for my Msc Cultural and Heritage Tourism Development and am writing a paper on dark tourism – do you happen to know who first coined the phrase ‘Grief-Tourism’?
    Many thanks,