This article is written by Lester Levine, author of 9/11 Memorial Visions: Innovative Concepts from the 2003 World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition who previously shared with us 10 Never-Built Memorials for the Ground Zero site.
For the 100,000 or so commuters who pass through Union Square subway station on a daily basis, one art installation is surely the most overlooked of them all. On the white subway tiles on the long corridor between 14th Street and 16th Street are over 3,000 individual stickers that form a memorial to 9/11. On the night of September 10, 2002, John Lin and sixteen friends went to the Union Square subway station and pasted the transparent mailing labels on one tiled wall. Each sticker had a 9/11 victim’s name and where they had lived.
Why there, we asked John, who told us, that first, Union Square Park was the furthest south the public was allowed to go, so it was the site of many vigils and gatherings. Second, the New York City subway is at the heart of the city, and it would be protected indoors, and finally, there was a police station at the station nearby in the subway station, a reminder of 9/11’s first responders.
The idea came from the Carnegie Hall subway station that has tiles with famous people’s names printed on a the white tiled wall, the Vietnam War Memorial, and the public displays all over the city in 2001. He sketched the layout and made all labels in alphabetical order. It took about two hours to put up. It was “powerful” that the friends that came to help were very diverse, like the city itself.
Before they started, John thought: “I might have to go to jail.” A police officer came over, asked what they were doing and then left. Since then, people have left messages on the labels and flowers and objects nearby, like at the Vietnam Memorial. Now, more than 15 years later, many labels have faded. Take a look while it still lives…
Next, you can also discover the art installation also in Union Square that showcases parts of the original 1904 subway station hidden in plain sight. Also check out the many secrets of the NYC subway.