The term goes back to Manhattan Project tests, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it meant the point on the Earth’s surface directly beneath the aerial detonation site of a nuclear bomb. On the night of the attacks, CBS News’ Jim Axelrod and NBC News’ Rehema Ellis employed it almost simultaneously to describe the still smoldering World Trade Center site and its six-story-tall mound of pulverized concrete, incinerated flesh, and twisted steel. The name stuck (except among rescue and relief workers, to whom it will always be known as “The Pile”). Later, ground zero’s reach would expand beyond its physical boundaries to refer to anywhere in downtown Manhattan that the dust concentrated and subsequently made thousands of people ill, or where a congregation of Muslims might want to build a community center featuring a mosque.
From the archives
• Construction Plans for Ground Zero (New York Magazine, May 17, 2009)
• Fallout (New York Magazine, May 21, 2005)
• Who Wants to Move to Ground Zero? (New York Magazine, May 21, 2005)
• Zero for Heroes (New York Magazine, October 27, 2003)
• The Crash After the Crash (New York Magazine, October 15, 2001)