Six months after the World Trade Center attacks, as shell-shocked New Yorkers struggled to redefine the city and accept the new skyline, something beautiful appeared in the night sky.
Two identical ghostly blue lights shot straight up from Ground Zero, right where the mammoth illuminated towers had once stood. It was chilling, it was touching, and, for some, it might have been difficult to look at night after night. But it was tasteful, and meaningful to so many.
On Sept. 11 of every year since, the Municipal Arts Society has brought that giant public artwork, called the "Tribute in Light," back to the night sky.
Luminous and visible from any point around the city, the twin lights fill the footprints of the towers. On a clear night, their brilliance extends far higher than even the real towers reached. On a cloudy night, they stretch straight into the heavens.
This year, according to the New York Observer, may be their last. The installation costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to stage each year, and the Municipal Arts Society, a nonprofit arts group, may retire it after the 10th-anniversary display.
"It takes more than a week to produce 'Tribute in Light,'" the Municipal Arts Society told the paper. "The process starts Friday, Sept. 2, and continues through dusk on Sept. 11, when a switch is flipped and the powerful beams shoot four miles across the sky, visible for 60 miles around. Everything is done by hand by the crew of 30 electricians, lighting technicians, stagehands and production assistants."
The lights project from the top of the Battery Parking Garage on Greenwich Street in Lower Manhattan, and the technicians spend the week arranging and testing "88 refrigerator-sized, 7,000-watt xenon searchlight bulbs so powerful that everyone handling them must wear eye protectors and special gloves."
The Municipal Arts Society has only enough grant money to show the tribute one last time, according to news site DNAinfo.com.
This week, the organization launched a fundraising drive to make the tribute, which started as a temporary memorial, truly permanent. They hope to raise an endowment of $15 million over the next couple of years.
"It's become a symbol of that day," Municipal Arts Society vice president Christine Krische told DNAinfo.com of the blue beams. "It's the one thing everyone in New York and miles away can participate in. It's a communal thing."