9/11 Memorial and Museum

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. 

On 9/11, I remember the Chicago news saying that the Aon Center (originally, the Standard Oil Building) in Chicago was built using the same construction style as the World Center.

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 One World Trade Center is the building on the left.

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).

Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

One of the most iconic symbols of the United States is the Statue of Liberty in New York City.  Completed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and Gustave Eiffel (who, soon afterwards, built Paris’ Eiffel Tower) in 1886, France gave this statue to the United States as a gift.  Her fame grew after Ellis Island opened in 1892, as a federal immigration station that processed new immigrants to the United States.  Since Ellis Island is next to the Statue of Liberty, her beacon welcomed approximately 12 million immigrants who came to the U.S. through Ellis Island, upon reaching their new home.

Ellis Island functioned as an immigration station from 1892 until its closure in 1954.  Upon arrival, officials processed who would be entering the United States.  Although other ports accepted new immigrants to the United States, Ellis Island accepted the most.  According to the History Channel’s article about Ellis Island, approximately 40% of today’s U.S. population can trace an ancestor to Ellis Island.  Throughout its time in operation, the United States passed a variety of immigration laws preventing different groups from entering the country, including polygamists, criminals, and the mentally ill.  That meant that officials had to check each person, to see if they qualified to enter the country.  This inspection included a medical checkup.  Immigration officials usually inspected the would-be immigrants while they were still on the boat, before their arrival to New York.  However, those with the lowest-class tickets had to wait on Ellis Island itself to learn about their fate.

Today, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are owned by the National Park Service.  Both sites are free, however, visitors must purchase tickets through Statue Cruises to get to the two islands.  Ferries run every twenty minutes from Battery Park on Manhattan Island.  The ferry from Battery Park first goes to Liberty Island, where visitors can get off and see the Statue of Liberty.  Once they are ready, they can then take a ferry to the next stop, which is Ellis Island.  Audio tours are included with your ferry ticket, so if you are like me and want to listen to all of it, you could be touring the islands for hours!

In addition to the basic tour options, you can also purchase tickets through Statue Cruises to go up to the Statue of Liberty’s crown.  However, because only a few people can go up at a time, you must purchase these tickets far in advance. In the past, people used to also be able to go up onto the Statue’s torch, but not anymore.  I did not get to climb up to the crown, but I did get a ticket that allowed me to go inside the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, which has a museum describing the history of the Statue.  As of 2019, visitors can now also visit the new Statue of Liberty Museum, located near the Statue of Liberty.  Since I visited the Statue of Liberty before 2019, I sadly did not get to visit it

The Statue of Liberty’s original torch was in poor condition, so it was replaced in 1984. Above, is the torch in the Statue of Liberty’s Pedestal, but it has since been moved to the new Statue of Liberty Museum.

Prior to Ellis Island, many immigrants entered New York through Castle Garden.  Originally a fort called Castle Clinton that was built during the War of 1812, it eventually became an entertainment center.  Then, from 1855-1890, it transformed into an immigration center that processed approximately 8 million immigrants.  After Ellis Island opened, Castle Garden became an aquarium.  Today, you can visit Castle Clinton (it is known by its original name now) while waiting for your Statue of Liberty ferry, however, there is not a lot to see there.

When the government decided to make Ellis Island an immigration center, they enlarged the island using landfill soil (including soil taken out while building New York’s new subway system).  If you choose to use the audio tour on Ellis Island, you will find yourself walking throughout the entire main building there.  This includes the impressive main hall, with the high, tiled ceiling.  Along the way, you will also hear some stories of different immigrants’ experiences.  If you decide to skip the audio tour, you can still read a variety of signs about the facility placed throughout the building.  If you are interested in taking a virtual tour of Ellis Island in the meantime, a link to it is available here. The virtual tour allows you to view the Island in either summer or winter. https://www.nps.gov/hdp/exhibits/ellis/Ellis_Index.html?html5=prefer

One common myth about Ellis Island is that immigration officials often changed the names of new immigrants to make them more Americanized.  However, Ellis Island attempts to dispel this myth.  According to signage there, the reality was that the immigrants themselves changed their own names prior to arriving at Ellis Island.  The immigration officials only checked to make sure that the immigrants were qualified to enter the country.  Changing names was not their job.  This myth has even persisted in my own family lore.  I apparently had a relative whose last name was Asch (supposedly a distant relative of the Yiddish writer, Sholem Asch).  Since the name “Asch” sounded too much like “Ass,” he (probably not immigration officials) changed his name to Flax.

I should also mention that there are many other buildings surrounding the main building on Ellis Island, such as a kitchen, measles ward, laundry room, etc.  However, since these buildings are expensive to maintain, most are in poor condition.  For those who are interested, Statue Cruises does sell tickets for hard hat tours of some of these buildings.  As the name implies, you must wear a hard hat during the tour, because of the decrepit condition of the buildings.

Since so many Americans came to the United States through Ellis Island, Ellis Island hosts an awesome database, where you can search all of their passenger records for free.  All you have to do is create an account: https://heritage.statueofliberty.org/passenger.  Additionally, on the third floor of the main Ellis Island building, there is the Bob Hope Memorial Research Library (Actor and comedian, Bob Hope, came to the U.S. from England at the age of four, in 1908.), where people can perform extensive research if they like.  Included at the library are the oral histories of approximately 2,000 immigrants.

Sources and Further Reading

Andrews, Evan. ”9 Things You May Not Know about Ellis Island.” History Channel. February 7, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-ellis-island (accessed July 19, 2020).

Ault, Alicia. “Did Ellis Island Officials Change the Names of Immigrants?” Smithsonian Magazine. December 28, 2016. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/ask-smithsonian-did-ellis-island-officials-really-change-names-immigrants-180961544/ (accessed July 19, 2020).

“Castle Clinton: History & Culture.” National Park Service. May 16, 2015. https://www.nps.gov/cacl/learn/historyculture/index.htm (accessed July 19, 2020).

“Ellis Island.” History Channel. April 8, 2020. https://www.history.com/topics/immigration/ellis-island#:~:text=Located%20at%20the%20mouth%20of,their%20ancestors%20to%20Ellis%20Island. (accessed July 19, 2020).

“Ellis Island.” Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. https://www.statueofliberty.org/ellis-island/overview-history/ (accessed July 19, 2020).

“Ellis Island: Virtual Tour.” National Park Service. April 22, 2020. https://www.nps.gov/elis/learn/photosmultimedia/virtual-tour.htm (accessed July 19, 2020).

“Passenger Search.” The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. https://heritage.statueofliberty.org/passenger (accessed July 19, 2020).

“Statue Cruises Ticket Options.” Statue Cruises. https://www.statuecruises.com/statue-liberty-and-ellis-island-tickets/ (accessed July 19, 2020).

“Statue of Liberty.” History Channel. July 1, 2019. https://www.history.com/topics/landmarks/statue-of-liberty (accessed July 19, 2020).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as “The Met,” in New York City is arguably the best art museum in the United States.  Founded in 1870, the Museum continues to expand as it collects more and more artwork.  This past April, 2020, The Met turned 150 years old.

Published in 1967, the children’s novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler won the prestigious American children’s literature award, the Newbery Medal, in 1968.  E. L. Konigsburg’s beloved book is about two siblings who decide to run away and live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  During my visit to The Met, it did not take me long to want to live there too.

Ancient Babylonian lion panels at The Met

Reminiscent of The British Museum in London, The Met’s collection ranges from ancient archaeology to modern art.  Unfortunately, because the Museum is so large, I was only able to see a small portion of it.  I was especially sad that I was unable to see The Met Cloisters, which is a separate building that opened in 1938 and displays Medieval European architecture and replicated Medieval gardens.  In 2016, the Met opened a third building called The Met Breuer, which solely displays modern and contemporary art.

One of the highlights that I saw during my visit to The Met were its Period Rooms in the American Wing.  These recreated rooms provide you a peak into what certain rooms, such as a bedroom or dining room, would have looked like during different periods of American history.  Items in these rooms include furniture and lamps from varying periods.  Another section of The Met, similarly, recreates historic European rooms.

The Met contains a Musical Instruments section, which includes some Stradivari violins.

Unfortunately, I did not have time to go through these, but The Met has a Greek and Roman Art section, an Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas section, an Egyptian Art section, an Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia section, an Asian Art section, a Photographs section, and many other sections.  However, I did get to briefly go through the European Paintings, 1250-1800 section and The American Wing.  As I went through them, I surprised myself by recognizing many of the paintings, which are obviously famous if I immediately recognized them.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, an 1851 painting by Emanuel Leutze

I spent most of my time in the Ancient Near Eastern Art section.  As its name implies, it has archaeological objects from the Ancient Near East (the Middle East today).  The Met purchased some of these objects, received some as gifts, and acquired other by participating in archaeological digs.  Some of the objects that were acquired from England were dug by Sir Max Mallowan, a British archaeologist from the 20th century, and husband of the famous mystery writer, Agatha Christie.

The Met’s Ancient Near East section contains reliefs and lamassu (winged-bulls/lions) from Ancient Assyrian palaces, which are located in modern-day Iraq.

Because The Met is so large, visitors have the option of taking guided or audio tours.  I am not 100% sure, but I think the guided tours are part of admission, but the audio tours are an additional fee.  The audio tour is available in up to ten languages.  The Met also offers tours, for a fee, to a select number of visitors prior to opening to the public each day.

I want to mention that The Met has a research library, which primarily serves staff members and students.

The Met is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, as of right now, it plans to reopen in August, 2020.  Until then, The Met’s website provides detailed information about the items that it houses.  It also provides a virtual tour through Google Arts & Culture.

An Ancient Assyrian relief of a king and eunuch at The Met

Sources and Further Reading

“American Wing Period Rooms.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/the-american-wing/period-rooms (accessed June 20, 2020).

Gannon, Devin. “The Metropolitan Museum of Art Plans to Reopen in August.” 6SQFT. May 21, 2020. https://www.6sqft.com/the-metropolitan-museum-of-art-plans-to-reopen-in-august/ (accessed June 20, 2020).

“History of the Museum.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/history (accessed June 20, 2020).

Konigsburg, E. L. From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1967.

“Maps.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://maps.metmuseum.org/ (accessed June 20, 2020).

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Google Arts & Culture. https://artsandculture.google.com/streetview/metropolitan-museum-of-art/KAFHmsOTE-4Xyw?hl=en&sv_lng=-73.9624786&sv_lat=40.7803959&sv_h=100.63371660655334&sv_p=0&sv_pid=KeFx8oXHzeuY8L5rfepHaA&sv_z=0.9990314232325763 (accessed June 20, 2020).

“Thomas J. Watson Library.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/libraries-and-research-centers/thomas-j-watson-library (accessed June 20, 2020).