the writing and photography of Neil Kramer


The best views of the remains of the World Trade Center are not from the streets of lower Manhattan.  They are from the window of the PATH train as it snakes its way from the terminal en route to New Jersey.

The train winds right past the still empty hole, construction constantly delayed by conflict and confusion.  The area is filled with cranes and construction equipment, but it feels as somber as a memorial.  For about ten seconds, the train slides slowly by, as if the tracks were purposely built to give the passengers the best possible view.  The brief portion of the ride reminds me of the Universal Studios tram driving past the old Earthquake attraction, although the destruction here was not manufactured in a warehouse in Burbank.

From Wikipedia:

Soon after Flight 11 (first plane) hit the North Tower on 9/11, the PATH station was shut down by order from PATH’s deputy director, Victoria Cross Kelly, and Richie Moran who commanded the PATH system at the Journal Square Transportation Center.

With the station destroyed, service to Lower Manhattan was suspended for over two years.  Cleanup of the Exchange Place station was needed after the attacks. As well, the downtown Hudson tubes had been flooded, which destroyed the track infrastructure.  The Exchange Place station re-opened in June 2003. PATH service to Lower Manhattan was restored when a temporary station opened on November 23, 2003. The inaugural train was the same one that had been used for the evacuation.

The temporary PATH station was designed by Port Authority chief architect Robert I. Davidson and constructed at a cost of $323 million.  The station features a canopy entrance along Church Street and a 118-by-12 foot mosaic mural, “Iridescent Lightning,” by Giulio Candussio of the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli in Spilimbergo, Italy. The station is also adorned with opaque panel walls inscribed with inspirational quotes attesting to the greatness and resilience of New York City. These panels partially shield the World Trade Center site from view.

Jersey City, New Jersey is a growing community directly across the river.  Many of the big financial corporations have offices here, some moving after 9/11, others because the rents are cheaper. 

I am in Jersey City to meet some friends at a riverside restaurant with great views of Manhattan.  The five guys at the table next to us talk loudly about stock options.  The view of the skyline is stunning.  It always amused me that the way to see the grand skyscrapers of Manhattan is to go to Brooklyn or Queens or… New Jersey.

As the sun set, the metal and windows of these towering office structures reflect the light, as if haughty and dismissive of God himself.  “Your Sun is bright, but our steel and glass buildings will make it shine even MORE beautifully.”

The stubborn edifices put on a show, as if to outdo the Sun.  They change colors, like a proud peacock.  Depending on the angle of the sun, the skyline turns purple, then orange, then red, then yellow, then green.  The hubris of these metalic structures has no bounds.  Even when the Sun goes dark, the skyline remains lit by the human invention of electrical light. 

Man is powerful.

On the way back to New York, the PATH train present us with a repeat view of the remains of the Twin Towers, now at night, now lit by the same man-made lighting that made the city seem so majestic from New Jersey, only here the brightness illuminates only destruction. 

Man is powerful, but not always good.

(via tribecatom)


  1. peachy

    the first time i took the PATH i was a little disturbed and suprised at the view it provided. also, when i lived in Red Hook, I found that it (and the Promenade) provided the best view of the city thus far. great place to watch fireworks. so…you staying in the city now?

  2. shiny

    I’m certainly in agreement with you regarding New Jersey as the best NYC skyline vantage point. My brother and his family live one mile north of Jersey City in Hoboken. Pier A Park, just a block away from the Hoboken PATH station, has one of my favorite views. (Interestingly I haven’t made it in to Manhattan since September 2001…)

  3. V-Grrrl

    Ah, our modern day Towers of Babel. Beauty and destruction. Light that illuminates and chases darkness; light that destroys and blackens. The PATH taking you through in slow motion like a tourist’s look at Dante’s inferno.

    Very evocative piece…thought provoking.

  4. churlita

    Man is powerful, but sometimes uses that power for evil, rather than for good. Stupid man.

  5. Diane Mandy

    Bravo, Neil!

  6. sassy

    Beautiful piece, Neil, glad to see you’re writing as well as blogging… (;

  7. ballerinatoes

    I am in Oklahoma City and live about 1 mile from the Murrah Building that was bombed by one of “those” non-good men. I drive by what is now the “Memorial” every day and still get the same sad strange eerie feeling that I had on that dark day. Until they built the Memorial, the area was simply surrounded by a chain link fence that was full of stuffed animals, letters, flowers and ribbons left by those paying their respects. Althought the Memorial is a beautiful tribute to those lost and those left behind, there was a part of me that wanted the site left alone with the chain link. It was ugly and raw and when you were there, at that site, it wasn’t what you saw, but what you felt. There is an aura there that no words can describe. I imagine that the WTC site is the same. Never forget.

  8. ali

    i don’t know…my sister lives, um, half a block from the WTC site…it’s a pretty powerful view from there too.

    great post, Neil.

  9. People in the Sun

    I didn’t like them. I lived in Brooklyn for a few years, and for me, the towers represented everything that was bad about New York, or even America. These giants were charging people to get to the top and see how small they really were. These were buildings filled with the illusion of wealth, towering over New Yorkers who accepted their place in life and bowed to these idols.

    Which means the stock options conversation makes perfect sense.

    But of course I miss them now, and you can’t look at that area without thinking you’re looking at a void. An empty hole, like you say.

  10. Neil

    People in the Sun — You’re a little brave for saying you didn’t like the Twin Towers, but I will agree with you. Of course, this has nothing to do with the tragedy or the symbolism they now have. But they were built during the architectural era was “the box” was in fashion, and I always found the World Trade Center as gloomy looking, especially up close. They never had the “class” and whimsy of something like the Chrysler Building, constructed in an earlier time.

    But you are right about missing them. Because they were so tall, they became symbolic of the skyline – and even years later, it looks like something is missing.

  11. mp

    Beautiful post Neil.
    I can’t believe that it cost $323 million dollars for a train station. Guess I’m not picturing it correctly in my mind.

  12. kenju

    We took that same train about 20 months ago. I was surprised at how small the footprint of the towers looks now, considering how large the complex looked before.

    The very best photos I got of Manhattan were taken from a parking deck in Jersey City.

  13. melanie

    Yes. I agree about the “void”. Lovely imagery Neil. I have never been to NY in my life. Thanks for “taking me there” this summer.


  14. Pumpkin

    Beautifully written post. I had no idea that there was a train that went right by where the World Trade Center stood. I was there once after it fell. I could not hold back the tears even though I tried. I looked down and my oldest daughter age seven had tears in her eyes too.

  15. Annie

    Lovely writing Neil.XOXO

  16. Neil

    Pumpkin — neither did I! I had never been on a PATH train to NJ before yesterday.

  17. Chris

    Thinking of “The Little Engine That Could” for some reason. “…as if haughty and dismissive of God himself.” “…as if to outdo the Sun.”

    That was beautiful and uncomfortable all at the same time.

  18. Kelly

    I like the site as it is now, a big pit filled with cranes. The cranes seem to be working, but yet nothing ever appears to change. I like the futility of that. It seems an appropriate response to the violence of 9/11.

    To this day, I cannot look at a digital clock that reads 9:11 without thinking about all that was lost that day. I use it as a reminder to pray.

    I highly recommend Man on a Wire. The film does many things, one of which is to function as sort of an elegy for the WTC.

  19. Kelly

    A beautiful post, by the way. I loved the description of the colors of the buildings, of their hubris.

  20. DaveX

    It’s funny how people look at things in different ways. I don’t think of hubris at all in reference to these sort of buildings– rather, I’m reminded of the amazing things we are capable of doing, but so rarely join together for. They’re not as much an accomplishment as they are a glaring testimony of how little we have achieved.

    Build me an elevator to the moon, and we’ll talk again.

  21. anymommy

    I haven’t been back to NYC since 9/11, but I saw it through your eyes. Vivid imagery. Thanks.

  22. vodkamom

    wow. that was something. really took my breath away. whew.

  23. kapgar

    That’s a great video you found. And I love your final comment on the post. Too true. And all too scary.

  24. teahouseblossom

    The Husband used to live in Jersey City, and I loved that PATH ride to the World Trade Center stop. The tunnel is dark, and suddenly there’s a huge light. I’m glad you posted about it.

  25. stepping over the junk

    this is an amazing post, neil

  26. steph

    beautiful post. i also have always found it amusing that the best view of nyc is from somewhere other than in the city itself.

  27. Manictastic

    Wow, you would think they’d hang curtains or something. It’s stunning to see the work in progress.

  28. Bryna

    Sometimes to see the beauty in something you have to step away from it. To see the beauty of earth, the best shots are taken from space…

  29. maggie, dammit

    I think I would like it inside your brain. Very much.

  30. Bec

    I think my heart just skipped. Beautiful writing.

  31. Kymberli

    Beautiful. I am always so moved by the words from people who were there, from people for who the Twin Towers were just another part of an ordinary day long before the eleventh of September became 9/11. Thank you for taking me there.

  32. Mrs. G.

    Having just returned home from two weeks in the Big Apple, this post is particularly meaningful to me.

    Beautiful writing.

  33. skcitygirl

    amazing post neil …

  34. Iron Fist

    This is really good, Neil.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial