Like millions of others on Tuesday, September 11th, we were headed to the office. Like millions of others, we tried to work with racing minds and heavy hearts as the day progressed. Unlike millions of others, our work brought us in touch with not only families who lost loved ones, but tens of thousands of others who just needed some place to say what they felt.
Not long after, we were contacted by The New York Times with a solemn task: building a remembrance site. The Times would tell the story of every person killed in the attacks, and in concert, we would provide a place where family, friends and even strangers could share their stories and thoughts.
We approached the project with resolve. We couldn’t physically move rubble or hand out meals to tired rescue workers, but we were in a unique position to give a voice to a grieving world. It was a role we took very seriously. It was to be a solemn site of honor, and we treated it as such.
We quickly prioritized and delegated resources; I began working on the design that would become the gateway to the remembrance site. Every flag in town was of course at half-mast, and a local bank’s large flag in the Wednesday morning sun became the header.
We saw the faces of the victims, learned their names, and heard from their families. We set up Guest Books and profiles, and the entries began flowing from everywhere: thousands per day from all 50 states, and nearly every country on Earth. There were expressions of sympathy, rage, grief, strength and compassion; we read each one and placed them online in a shared outpouring of emotion.
Legacy.com was relatively small then, and we all worked day and night for weeks to get the site right. Our goal was to honor individual victims with dignity, and to serve as careful stewards of the collective outpouring. The eventual archiving of the Guest Books by the Smithsonian made us proud of our efforts, but not as proud as the many notes of kindness and thanks we received directly from families whose loved ones we were remembering.
For the 5th anniversary, we redesigned the site, and we focused on enriching the individual profiles. I reached out to 9/11 families and had the privilege to speak with many of them personally and at length. With sweetness and heartache, they shared with me photos, memories, tears and laughter. I will be forever honored for the opportunity to help these families share their loved one’s lives.
To me, the September 11th site is a powerful testament to our beliefs that even in terrible times, words still matter, shared sympathy can yield comfort and strength, and every life touches another, always leaving a legacy.
The “Remembering 9/11” site includes obituaries, profiles, Guest Books, Moving Tributes and a National Book of Remembrance. To date, more than 5 million people have visited the site, leaving more than 180,000 Guest Book entries.