- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 12, 2011

NEW YORK More than 24,000 visitor passes to the new Sept. 11 memorial are gone - distributed Monday in just the first hours after the ticket website went live.

The online reservation system for the tickets was up at 9 a.m., and 5,000 were secured for various dates in just the first hour of operation.

The quick response is “what we were hoping for - that people would be interested in the site the public has not set foot in for 10 years,” Joe Daniels, president and CEO of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, told the Associated Press.

The memorial plaza opens to the public on Sept. 12, a day after the 10th anniversary.

Families of those who died in the terror attacks will have special reservations to the memorial that bears the names of 2,983 victims, including those who died at the Pentagon in Washington and aboard United Flight 93, which went down in Shanksville, Pa., plus six who perished in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

The names are inscribed on massive, waterfall-graced reflecting pools ringed by hundreds of white oak trees.

Officials have a dedicated telephone line for those who lost loved ones and want to visit.

Some have never been to ground zero. Others “never got any human remains back,” Mr. Daniels said. “This is their final resting place.”

The World Trade Center site is so loaded with emotion that families of victims will be welcomed into a private reception area. Next year, when the museum opens, they will be ushered into a room surrounded by images, texts and other expressions of the outpouring of support from around the world after 9/11.

“Families are the reason why this memorial was built,” Mr. Daniels said. “Facilitating their visit is absolutely our top priority; this is something that’ll be difficult for them.”

Planning for the 8-acre tribute started more than eight years ago. Approximately 600 people have worked to complete the memorial in time for this year’s 10th anniversary.

The harmonious result does not reflect the painful tussles and disagreements that accompanied the memorial - among families, officials, politicians, architects and the public.

The current design emerged from a 2003 international competition launched by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., a nonprofit formed to plan the reconstruction of the area.

By 2006, so many changes had been proposed that fundraising was suspended until the design and costs of the project were made more clear.

“We were building in the middle of grief and pain,” Mr. Daniels told the AP on Monday. “Emotions running so high made every single decision that much more difficult.”

Story Continues →