I should begin by saying that I always feel slightly awkward when it comes to the events of September 11, 2001 for multiple reasons. First, while I have my own story from that morning, as we all do, it is insignificant in comparison to the stories of those who experienced the attacks first hand. Second, possibly due to vivid depictions in media, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night from realistic nightmares that I can’t seem to shake even though I was safe in my second period Health class on that Tuesday morning almost thirteen years ago. I never want others to feel as though I’m taking away from the seriousness of what they went through by sharing my own story or feelings, so I usually avoid the topic all together. Having said that, I know the new memorial museum has received a lot of negative feedback, so I wanted to give my own opinion after visiting.
Thanks to Condé Nast I was able to attend the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum last Wednesday. I’ve visited the memorial fountains a few times, but the 9/11 Memorial Museum has always been this underground mystery until last week. It felt weird finally being able to walk through the doors after months of anticipation. The lobby was open and full of sunlight due to the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows and light-colored stone floors. This differed significantly from the museum’s main exhibit one floor down. This level is dimly lit with dark, wooden floors. It is equal parts beautiful and solemn.
The first thing guests see when they enter the exhibit are flashing photos showing people’s reactions looking up at the towers – sadness, fear, confusion. It definitely brought me back to that day and set the tone for the exhibit. As I walked down the ramp toward the foundation level of the Twin Towers, I stopped to read the information on the construction of the buildings in the 1970’s. I’m glad they added this section because, in my opinion, the story really does begin here.
As I continued to make my way further down, I passed the Survivors’ Staircase which was one of the last visible structures above ground at Ground Zero. These stairs led many people to safety as they evacuated the building. This is where I began to get really emotional. While the museum presents numerous facts from that day, the exhibit also hits on personal stories through voicemail messages, damaged personal items, and quotes from both survivors and those that sadly lost their lives. I cried multiple times during my visit. I don’t know how anyone could exit the building without having been through an emotional roller coaster.
Anytime there are deep emotions, there is controversy. I’ve read numerous articles over the course of this week slamming multiple parts of the museum – everything from saying it was built on a graveyard to debating the tackiness of the café and gift shop. In my opinion, it has it’s pros and cons. First, one museum employee informed us that while the site does contain the remains of 1,115 unidentified victims, their family members are given special passes to come and go as they please free of charge. In addition, this special area, including its entrance, is unknown to everyone (including museum volunteers) except for family members. As for the gift shop, a museum has to make money somehow to operate. Having said that, I think the Pavilion Café with food from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group is a little excessive.
Overall though, I think the museum is a good addition to the memorial. A few years ago I taught 8th graders about the World Trade Center attacks of 1993 and 2001. They weren’t alive during the first attack and they were just babies during the second, so their knowledge was limited. If people, like these young 8th graders or tourists, leave the museum with a little more knowledge and a greater emotional connection, then I believe the museum to be good thing.
That’s my opinion, but I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Stay fit and fabulous,