The Sonic Memorial Project is a collection of over nine hundred items that describe the history of the World Trade Centers (WTC) and surrounding neighborhood through archival audio, radio broadcasts, interviews, ambient sounds, voicemails, and music. Led by National Public Radio’s Lost and Found Sound, the Sonic Memorial Project was a collaboration of radio and new media producers, artists, historians, and people from around the world.
The items in this collection vividly illustrate the history of the physical space the WTC inhabited. The area that later housed the WTC was first known as Radio Row when City Radio opened in 1921, and grew to encompass six blocks of downtown Manhattan. Irving Simon, a Radio Row store owner, describes the variety of objects available for sale in the area, which became the largest place in the world known for selling radios and electronic equipment. In 1966, the stores were bulldozed to make way for the WTC. Mohawk ironworkers were hired to construct the towers and Peter Stacey and Kyle Beauvais describe the dangers of the job. In order to help the public understand the plans for the WTC, construction guides were posted at the site to answer questions and give tours. The guides discuss what an average workday was like as well as the meaning of their work in multiple interviews.
In 1971 construction on both towers was complete. Voicemails and interviews within the Sonic Memorial Project describe how the WTC became a site of engagements and marriages. Dr. Elizabeth Grill describes her proposal at the Windows on the World, a restaurant located on the top two floors of the North Tower. In 1996, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council allowed empty offices to be used as artist studios, and the artist-in-residence program attracted many artists to the WTC. Don Bracken was one of those artists, and describes his time working in his studio.
In addition to telling stories of love and art at the WTC, the Sonic Memorial Project documents the events of September 11, 2001. The Project includes radio transmissions from New York’s Fire and Police Departments, as well as accounts of the day. Robert Snyder recalls his morning commute and the “confetti” that confronted him when he got off the PATH train at Broadway. Ken Van Auken, an employee at the WTC, left a voicemail for his wife after the plane crashed into one of the towers. The Project also includes recollections of the aftermath of 9/11 and the various ways people dealt with the tragedy. Marc Wilson wrote a prose poem based on slips of paper he found at Ground Zero. Items in the collection also discuss the Fresh Kills landfill, which was a sorting place for one-third of the rubble from Ground Zero. Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke at the 2008 closing ceremony.
Located within the Audio Collection, the Sonic Memorial Project would be useful for anyone interested in the history of the physical space and the WTC itself, and those interested in the sounds of the WTC and surrounding neighborhood. The original Sonic Memorial Project website has more information about the project and the World Trade Center website provides a comprehensive history of the WTC.