Remembering Hero Highway and Point Thank You

Several people stand in the median of the West Side Highway holding signs in support of rescue and recovery workers in the weeks after September 11. The signs they’re holding include messages like “Stay Strony NYC” and “We Love Our Heroes.”
Photo courtesy of Martha Cooper

In the weeks following September 11, 2001, the West Side Highway—which hugs the Hudson River along Manhattan’s west side—was closed to all but those traveling to the ruins at Ground Zero. Crowds lined the road day and night to cheer, applaud, and wave homemade signs to the thousands of rescue and recovery workers traveling to the site, transforming the busy thoroughfare into what became known as “Hero Highway.”

“Every night we would drive up West Street. . . there were people in the streets with American flags and signs, thanking us, waving to us, screaming at us,” New York Police Department Emergency Services Unit detective Anthony Conti recalled in an oral history recorded by the 9/11 Memorial Museum. “They had no idea what they meant to me.”

Large crowds of supporters convened at an intersection in Greenwich Village on Christopher Street, which came to be known as Point Thank You. The spontaneous gathering offered an outlet for those who wanted to express gratitude and feel connected to the recovery effort. The signs that New Yorkers waved exuberantly at Point Thank You said, “New York Loves You,” “Ironworkers ‘Rock,’” or simply “Thanks!” written in big block letters accompanied by drawings of police caps, firefighter helmets, and construction worker’s hardhats. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum rotates selections of these signs, as well as archival photos of cheering crowds, to chronicle the story of Point Thank You in its historical exhibition.

As Carol Martzinek wrote in a 2002 letter to the editor of The New York Times, “Point Thank You at the corner of Christopher and West Streets in Greenwich Village is living proof that there is goodness and hope in this world, even in our darkest hours. I am proud to be a part of it.”

“We stood there with our thank you signs . . . to greet and wave and provide support,” said one supporter, Robin Tauck, in an oral history recorded by the 9/11 Memorial Museum. “It gave me so much strength to see those workers wave to us and know that their work was being appreciated.”

The supporters maintained their presence straight through until the last beam was rolled out of the World Trade Center site in May 2002, according to CBS New York.

Now, as New Yorkers stand nightly at their front doors, stoops, windows, balconies, and roofs, to applaud the healthcare workers, grocery store staff, restaurant employees, delivery people, and sanitation workers who make the sacrifice to keep us safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we see each home become a miniature Point Thank You.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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