NYC will honor 20th anniversary of September 11 with memorial events – and some laughter

New York, New York – New York City will return to in-person memorials this weekend for the milestone 20th anniversary of September 11, and celebrate in a way most might not expect – with a sprinkling of comedy.

The Towers of Light illuminated memorial on the anniversary of 9/11 stands next to the newly erected Freedom Tower, in the destroyed World Trade Center's place, and across from the Statue of Liberty.
The Towers of Light illuminated memorial on the anniversary of 9/11 stands next to the newly erected Freedom Tower, in the destroyed World Trade Center's place, and across from the Statue of Liberty.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the tragic hijacking of four commercial airplanes by members of al-Qaida, which destroyed the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans.

In Lower Manhattan, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum will hold its typical annual ceremony with a reading of the victims' names, beginning with a moment of silence at 8:46 AM to mark the moment of the first plane's strike of the World Trade Center's north tower. Last year, prerecorded audio played at a streamlined ceremony to promote social distancing and less attendance amid the pandemic.

But this year, a high citywide Covid vaccination rate has given New Yorkers the ability to safely gather in public once again. And A-list comedians have decided to bring some levity to the occasion.

On Sunday night, Madison Square Garden will host the star-studded NYC Still Rising After 20 Years: A Comedy Celebration, with all proceeds benefitting 9/11 charities.

The show is helmed and will be hosted by Jon Stewart. It will feature a large roster of celebrity comedians including Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle, Jimmy Fallon, and be co-hosted Pete Davidson, whose father died in the line of duty as a responding firefighter on 9/11.

Lots of SNL favorites are also joining the lineup, including Bill Burr, Wanda Sykes, Colin Jost, and John Mulaney.

"We wanted to put on a fun celebration to honor this great city’s resilience," Stewart said in a statement.

The event will surely draw a parallel between the rebuilding of New York both after the 2001 attacks and from being one of the hardest hit cities during the Covid-19 pandemic, which evoked the Big Apple's motto "New York Strong."

New York City visits and tributes bring the day to a new generation

The 9/11 Memorial is a square installation of light and cascading water that now stands at the former site of Ground Zero, where the twin towers were destroyed.
The 9/11 Memorial is a square installation of light and cascading water that now stands at the former site of Ground Zero, where the twin towers were destroyed.  © IMAGO / Levine-Roberts

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill plan to visit all three plane crash sites in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania on Saturday.

The visits come just after the president's recent execution of a chaotic and criticized withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of military presence, sparked by the 9/11 attacks.

New York governor Kathy Hochul and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg kicked off the memorial visits on Wednesday with a joint visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Beginning on Saturday at sunset, the annual shining Tribute in Light will project two beams into the night sky in Lower Manhattan, marking the site of the fallen twin towers.

Virtually, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is sharing the Saturday morning ceremony live on their social media channels. A campaign is also inviting users worldwide to share photos of the day's acts of remembrance using the hashtag #NeverForget911.

In 2001, the concept of a hashtag – and nearly all of social media – didn't even exist.

"The 20th anniversary, in my view ... is the first of the next generation of remembrances," said Dan Murphy, a design team member for the visitor center at the Pentagon's 9/11 tribute site. "On the 20th anniversary, I think this is the first time we talk about 9/11 into the future."

As its internet in memoriam proves, much has changed in the last 20 years. Yet, the poignancy of September 11 will live on in new ways – with hashtags and laughter to go around.

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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