They are the emotional cornerstones of every 9/11 anniversary at the World Trade Center site. The reading of every victim’s name in the morning and the Tribute in Light, shining two beams into the sky above lower Manhattan that night.
But next month, when the city again mourns those lost that day, there may well be two sets of ceremonies – the official commemorations, staged by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and a separate reading of the names and Tribute in Light, staged by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
"We didn’t look for this. We didn’t ask for this role; we wouldn’t have read the names had they read the names. We wouldn’t have put this effort together to put the lights on if they just did what they were supposed to do and do the lights," said Frank Siller, CEO of Tunnel to Towers.
Tunnel to Towers is a nonprofit organization named after firefighter Stephen Siller, who was killed after running through the Battery Tunnel on 9/11 in his gear to help.
The foundation last week announced it would arrange its own light tribute after the 9/11 Memorial and Museum said it was canceling its Tribute in Light because of concerns about the coronavirus.
After a public outcry - and the intervention of Governor Cuomo and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg - the 9/11 Memorial and Museum backed down, vowing the Tribute in Light would shine as planned.
But the Tunnels to Towers foundation now says it is still going ahead with its alternate tribute, having already obtained the massive lights needed for it.
"I don’t trust them now. I just don’t trust them," Siller said. "I have a feeling they want to stop doing certain things."
And that's why Frank Siller said Tunnel to Towers also will conduct its own live reading of each victim’s name on the morning of 9/11.
That’s been the heart of the official 9/11 commemoration each year. But because of coronavirus concerns, the official ceremony next month is supposed to feature only a recording of the names being read.
Siller said that’s unacceptable too.
"I know our foundation will never forget. I know, that I know we will carry the traditions. If somebody else drops the ball that’s supposed to be doing, we will try to pick it up and do the right thing. It was an easy decision for us."
Siller said his organization is only honoring the families wishes -- finding a way to do so, even in the midst of a pandemic.
So barring a change, there will be dueling light displays and readings of the names, as the city remembers a singular tragedy.