The two ghostly columns of light rise each Sept. 11 from the area near ground zero, reaching upward and replicating the shape of the Twin Towers that were destroyed by the Qaeda attacks of 2001.
Called the Tribute in Light, the installation has become one of the signature elements of the annual commemorations at the former World Trade Center site, visible for a radius of up to 60 miles and extending four miles into the sky.
Over the years, the tribute has offered an opportunity for silent contemplation, with people seeing its paired beams as reminders of physical structures, emblems of lost lives or even as a candescent bridge linking the heavens with a site of temporal tragedy.
But next month the shafts of light will not be beamed into the sky. The installation has been canceled because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, one of two significant changes instituted this year by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which oversees the yearly ceremonies.
Instead of the beams, the memorial and museum is planning to honor the anniversary with an alternative that will involve buildings across the city illuminating their spires and facades with blue lights.
“The world’s beloved twin beams of light regrettably will not shine over Lower Manhattan as part of this year’s tributes,” Michael Frazier, a memorial and museum spokesman, said in a statement, adding that the decision was made “after concluding the health risks during the pandemic were far too great for the large crew.”
Almost 40 stagehands and electricians work in proximity for more than a week as part of producing the tribute, which consists of 88 specially made Space Cannon lights, each with a 7,000-watt xenon compressed gas bulb, said Scott Campbell of Michael Ahern Production Services, which produces the event. The lights, powered by temporary generators, are set out on the roof of a garage on Greenwich Street, in two squares of about 50-by-50 feet. Traditionally the lights have been turned on around dusk and shined through the night until the dawn of Sept. 12.
Another major change came in July, when the memorial and museum said that this year’s commemoration would not include relatives onstage reading the names of the 2,983 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and the 1993 bombing on the World Trade Center, attributing that decision to a desire to follow social-distancing guidance. Instead, the memorial said, recorded readings of names made by family members would be broadcast.
Family members will still gather at the outdoor memorial this year, keeping their distance from one another as they take part in an hourslong ceremony that includes the recitation of the names and six moments of silence, acknowledging when each of the World Trade Center towers was struck and fell, and the times corresponding to the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93.
The beams were first projected on March 11, 2002, six months after the attack, and only three months after fires at the trade center were officially declared extinguished. Five artists and architects — John Bennett, Gustavo Bonevardi, Richard Nash Gould, Julian LaVerdiere and Paul Myoda — came up with the same rough idea at about the same time.
The Municipal Art Society and Creative Time helped combine their visions and bring the project to fruition, working with the lighting designer Paul Marantz. The memorial and museum began managing the tribute in 2012. Officials with the organization said they planned for the tribute to return in 2021 for the 20th anniversary commemoration.
This year’s socially distanced version of a tribute, the memorial and museum said, will include One World Trade Center and other buildings. That illumination will also start at dusk on Sept. 11 and last until the following dawn.