St. Paul’s Chapel is one building near the site of the twin towers which was unharmed by the attack but, somehow, utterly transformed. When, as a kid, I made my annual trip to Manhattan, we would always stop at St. Paul’s. It is an 18th century Georgian chapel and is the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City. When my grandfather took me there it was all about George Washington, who worshiped there right after he was inaugurated President. My immigrant grandfather held this place sacred and it was one of the tools, along with the Statue of Liberty (which we could see from the kitchen window of his Jersey City flat) that he used to instill civic responsibility to his native born American grandson. I received many lessons in patriotism and duty standing at George Washington’s pew box.
Now President Washington’s pew has been shoved off to the side and the main focus of St. Paul’s is 9/11 and the fact that this building, right next to one of the towers, survived while other buildings fell; how it became the volunteer coordination point, the place where they received refreshments and could rest. The chapel is a much more real monument to 911 than the formal memorial across the street. It is about the living, the workers, the volunteers, and the attitude that is New York. It has tributes to the firefighters, police and volunteers sent from all over America, including a prominent display from Alaska. We did find Washington’s pew and the painting of the then new Great Seal of the United States, but it is no longer the focus of the chapel even though it is the focus of my memory.