The Ground Zero Man

ESQUIRE
Issue date: SEPT 1, 2006

By Harry Roland, as told to Kelly McEvers

Welcome to New York. My name is Harry John Roland, the Ground Zero Man. I come here every day.

I give an education on the devastation of 9/11. I wake people up. I look for the tourists who think it was only two towers that fell--when in reality seven buildings fell just that day. Just that day.

Don't say two, 'cause that's not true. Huge, gigantic, enormous, a city within a city--this place had its own ZIP code! Thousands of people like you and me lost their lives that day. Hundreds more names are not on the list of those who died. Not on the list!

I don't argue with people. I just give 'em the facts. It's history. Don't let it be a mystery.

I used to work here, too, back in the late '80s and early '90s. I was a tour guide in the South Tower. We would take groups to the basement, show 'em how the Hudson River helped air-condition the building, or take 'em up to the observation deck. I made good tips in the summer.

I don't ask for money for what I'm doing now. I just take donations. One guy gave me a hundred-dollar bill one day. I framed it and gave it to my son. My wife doesn't say anything directly, I think because I still help pay the bills.

I started coming down here when they first opened the site up to tourists, a few months after 9/11. I come rain or shine.

I thought I would stop coming after they found part of my nephew's body in the wreckage. It was 2003. The medical examiner's office called my sister and said they'd identified his DNA. She said she couldn't go down there. To me it looked like a burnt hand. I think it put me into shock. For about ten days I stopped coming here. I realized, Wow, they're gonna put his name on the list. But after his memorial service, everything clicked back into place. I started coming down here again.

Then I thought I would stop when World Trade Center 7 was completed in May. But I didn't stop. It's like when you love a person and no matter how bad they treat you, you keep coming back. One tourist said to me, "You are obsessed with this place." I said, "I think if you were to see your life crumble down in front of you, and there was nothing you could do to save it, you'd be obsessed, too."

I just find myself coming here again and again, every morning. After I pass out all my photocopied maps, I go home. I don't ask myself why anymore. It's like therapy for me. I just want to see their eyes light up, the expressions on their faces. That's fulfillment.



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