Most people visit museums to learn new information. However, memorial museums often add an emotional element to the visit. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is no exception. After visiting, the experience will probably stay in your mind for at least the rest of the day.
When a country experiences a disaster, most people remember the day vividly. For example, most people living in the United States in 1963 can remember what they were doing on the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. A more recent example is September 11, 2001, when the United States experienced the largest terrorist attack on its soil. On that day, four planes were hijacked by terrorists, with one (United Airlines Flight 93) crashing into a field in Pennsylvania, one crashing into the Pentagon building in Washington D.C., and two crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.
The highest casualties of the 9/11 attacks occurred in New York City, since both of the skyscrapers tumbled to the ground. When the World Trade Center was completed in 1973, the towers ranked as the second and third tallest skyscrapers in the world, after the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) in Chicago. Prior to the attacks in 2001, they were the second and third tallest buildings in the Western Hemisphere.
Because the damage was so extensive, cleaning the debris from the New York attacks almost took a year. Afterwards, people debated what to do with the eerie space, eventually deciding to make most of it a memorial/museum, which was completed in 2014. Additionally, a new skyscraper, known as the One World Trade Center, was built in the damaged vicinity. It is currently the tallest building in the United States and Western Hemisphere.
The bases of the World Trade Center towers now act as memorial fountains. Walking around the fountains helps bring perspective on how wide the towers were. The memorial fountains include the names of those killed in all of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as those killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. You can search for the location of the victims’ names on the memorial at the museum’s website: https://names.911memorial.org/#lang=en_US
The actual museum is located underground, in the foundations of the twin towers. As soon as I entered the building, I felt uneasy. The entire museum has a creepy vibe. It does not help that you can see a remaining staircase going up to nothing, or pieces of distorted metal frames on display.
The museum provides a chronological experience of what happened on 9/11, using signs, video footage, and objects to help tell the story. This not only includes the stories of the victims, but also of the first responders who came to help. One disconcerting room is dedicated to the Flight 93 hijacking that landed in Pennsylvania. In it, you can listen to the phone calls people made before the plane crashed.
Because 9/11 is still a recent memory, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum struggled with what should and should not be on display. An especially contentious issue was whether the 19 hijackers’ photos should be displayed in the museum or not. Ultimately, their photographs are on display at the end of the exhibit, as is security camera video footage of some of them successfully going through airport security checkpoints.
Although it might dampen your mood, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is undoubtedly worth the visit. The exhibits are top notch and the content extremely important. Due to COVID-19, the number of visitors cannot exceed 25% capacity (When I visited in 2016, the museum was packed.). Because of this, the museum is currently offering live virtual tours on Sundays for $25: https://www.911memorial.org/visit/virtual-tours.
Sources and Further Reading
Cohen, Patricia. “At Museum on 9/11, Talking through an Identity Crisis. The New York Times. June 2, 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/arts/design/sept-11-memorial-museums-fraught-task-to-tell-the-truth.html (accessed September 10, 2020).
“Memorial Guide.” 9/11 Memorial & Museum. https://names.911memorial.org/#lang=en_US (accessed September 10, 2020).
“Virtual Memorial Tour.” 9/11 Memorial & Museum. https://www.911memorial.org/visit/virtual-tours (accessed September 10, 2020).