Like it or not ---- and many native New Yorkers don't ---- ground zero pilgrimages have become a regular part of New York City tourism. Even though there's very little to actually see at the site, at any given time dozens of people from around the world can be found peering from a viewing wall into the gaping hole at the heart of the nation's tragedy. Just as the twin towers were a New York landmark, so are their ghosts.
Some visitors take pictures or shoot videos. Others read panels depicting the history of the site and the events of Sept. 11. Some just stare in awe.
"We wanted to see everything there is to see in New York ---- Yankee Stadium, the Statue of Liberty. Ground zero is now part of that," said Dan Leonard, 56, of Turkey Run, Ind., on vacation with his wife and children.
"If you've seen it before and know how incredibly large it was, you can't possibly imagine it not being there," said Cindy T. Francis, 51, of Apex, N.C., who visited ground zero while attending a teachers conference.
For those who saw the attacks on television, a visit puts things in perspective. Many people think only the twin towers were destroyed; in reality, seven buildings were.
"Once you see it in person you get a much better idea of how big this attack was," said Cristyne Nicholas, president of NYC & Company, the city's tourism bureau.
None of the companies that offer tours of downtown Manhattan, either by bus or on foot, specifically mention ground zero. That would be distasteful, Nicholas said.
But, she added, "it's part of the healing process for people to see where the tragedy took place and absorb it. ... It would be an even greater tragedy if the firefighters and the New Yorkers who were lost that day were forgotten."
Artist Andy Jurinko, who has lived near the Trade Center site for 27 years, is used to the tourists. But their presence irks him.
Before Sept. 11, he said, they wanted to eat out and shop. Now, "they want to see the train wreck, they want to touch the horror.
"Standing right outside my office here, they come stand by the wall and have their picture taken. It's like Disneyland," he said.
He looks forward to the day when people have a proper memorial to visit. "They say they want to pay respect, but sometimes paying respect is staying the hell away," he said.
Demand from visitors to see the site was so strong during the six-month cleanup after the attacks that the city built special viewing platforms and issued over a million passes to them. The platforms are closed now that visitors can walk around most of the perimeter.
City life continues to bustle around the 16-acre zone. Financial sector employees whiz by en route to the subway; vendors hawk framed photos of the twin towers. Some days, an elderly man sits on the sidewalk playing patriotic songs on a flute.
Inside the 13-foot high wall, which consists of a series of galvanized mesh panels that people can look through, crews work to remove ruins of a parking garage and to shore up the 70-foot-deep foundation for a new skyscraper.