Graffiti left by Michael Chertoff, the former director of Homeland Security, on a steel column on the 104th floor of One World Trade Center in New York.(Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP via USA TODAY)
NEW YORK (AP via USA TODAY) - On most construction projects, workers are discouraged from
signing or otherwise scrawling on the iron and concrete. At the skyscraper
rising at ground zero, though, they're being invited to leave messages for the
"Freedom Forever. WTC 9/11" is scrawled on a beam near the top of the
gleaming, 104-story One World Trade Center. "Change is from within" is on a beam
on the roof. Another reads: "God Bless the workers & inhabitants of this
One of the last pieces of steel hoisted up last year sits near a precarious
edge. The message on it reads: "We remember. We rebuild. We come back stronger!"
It is signed by a visitor to the site last year - President Obama.
The words on beams, walls and stairwells of the skyscraper that replaces the
twin towers lost on Sept. 11, 2001, form the graffiti of defiance and rebirth,
what ironworker supervisor Kevin Murphy calls "things from the heart." They're
remembrances of the 2,700 people who died, and testaments to the hope that rose
from a shattered morning.
"This is not just any construction site, this is a special place for these
guys," says Murphy of the 1,000 men and some women who work in the building at
any given time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Everyone here wants to be here, they want to put this building up," Murphy
says. "They're part of the redemption."
On a frigid, windy winter day, with the 9/11 memorial fountain straight below
and the Statue of Liberty in the distance, Murphy supervised a crew of men
guiding the first piece of the steel spire that will top out the building at a
dizzying 1,776 feet - the tallest in the Western Hemisphere.
In the rooftop iron scaffolding for the spire, 105 floors up, a beam pays
homage to Lillian Frederick, a 46-year-old administrative assistant who died on
the 105th floor of the south tower, pierced by a terrorist-hijacked
A popular Spanish phrase is penned next to two names on one concrete pillar:
"Te Amo Tres Metros Sobre el Cielo," meaning, "I love you three steps above
Some beams are almost completely covered in a spaghetti-like jumble of
doodled hearts and flowers, loopy cursives and blaring capitals. Many want to
simply mark their presence: "Henry Wynn/Plumbers Local (hash)1/Sheepshead
Families of victims invited to go up left names and comments too, as did
firefighters and police officers who were first responders. "R.I.P. Fanny
Espinoza, 9-11-01" reads a typical remembrance signed by several family members
of a Cantor-Fitzgerald employee.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wrote: "With you in
spirit - those who perished, those who fought, those who build."
Time and daily routines have softened the communal grief as the workers carry
on, trading jokes and gruff male banter. Some ends up in whimsical graffiti
marking World Cup soccer matches, New York Giants Super Bowl victories and other
less-weighty matters that have gone on since construction began six years ago.
One crudely drawn map of the neighborhood down below shows the location of a
popular strip club.
People on the ground below will never see the spontaneous private thoughts
high in the Manhattan sky. The graffiti will disappear as the raw basic
structure is covered with drywall, ceiling panels and paint for tenants moving
into the 3 million square feet of office space by 2014.
Knowing this, workers and visitors often take photographs of special bits of
graffiti, so the words will live on.
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