Today Manhattan shows few signs of the devestation and trauma that prevailed here on September 11, 2001. Impeccably dressed businesspeople stroll the sidewalks, outdoor resturaunts burst with laughter and conversation, and sightseers gaze wide-eyed at the towering cityscape.
New York has been almost totally rebuild since the attacks of 9/11, but a section of Lower Manhattan stands out from the surrounding metropolis. The former site of the twin towers is now a park crisscrossed by trees, footpaths and two reflecting pools located in the footprints of the fallen towers. It is a tribute to both the victims of 9/11 and all those who came to help.
Last week Sarah and I decided to visit the 9/11 memorial and museum. We caught a ferry across the Hudson River and made the quick walk into the memorial park. The memorial is located at street level and open to the public. Even though we visited on a weekday the crowds were large and a line for the attached museum had already formed.
The museum is located directly below the memorial and is dedicated to telling the story of 9/11. Entry is ordinarily $24 but thanks to our student IDs, Sarah and I got in for $18. Even with out discount it seemed a little expensive. A generation of Americans with no direct memory of 9/11 is emerging, and institutions like the 9/11 museum are essential for sharing the story. It shouldn’t be for only those who can afford it.
In the Museum
The museum is actually in the former basement of the twin towers. Natural light does not penetrate to the museum and this contributes to a heavy mood inside. It isn’t depressing, but I felt a natural urge towards quiet reflection. It seemed like everyone else had the same feeling. Some visitors cried or spoke in hushed whispers, but most moved through the museum in respectful silence.
The collection of artifacts, photographs, video and audio clips, and personal stories was colossal. There was no way I could stop for each one. Some I gave a momentary glance while others were profoundly moving. Here are just a few that stood out to me:
Phone recordings from passengers on hijacked flights: Passangers who made these calls knew they would likely die, and the gravity of their situation comes through in the recordings. They were not panicked or angry, but simply wished to say I love you and goodbye.
New York City emergency vehicles recovered from Ground Zero: Hundreds of first responders rushed into the burning towers on the morning of 9/11 leaving their vehicles on the streets. Fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars were all damaged when the towers fell.
Missing person posters collected from the streets of New York: Within hours of the attacks, missing person posters began to show up all around the city. Each poster was drawn up with the hope that a someone, somewhere may have information. Most posters went unanswered.
‘Remembering the color of the sky on that September morning’: Artist Spencer Finch asked people to try and recall the color of the sky on the morning of September 11, 2001. Each square is a slightly different shade of blue. Though we all witnessed the same event, our personal recollections will inevitably be unique.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the museum. The events of 9/11 are now 16 years behind us but they are still fresh in the minds of Americans. Families lost spouses, children, relatives and friends, and most Americans witnessed the attacks in person or on TV. It is still an emotionally provocative topic which makes 9/11 difficult to memorialize in a way that is both objective and empathetic.
The museum impressed me for its ability to tell a complicated story in a sensitive and politically neutral way. It makes no attempt to sensationalize events, speculate, or marginalize any group of people. Every exhibit I saw was there to honor victims of the attacks and inform visitors. Going in I felt like I had a pretty good understanding of 9/11, but with every exhibit I was learning something new. There really is something for everyone here and it is a fitting memorial to an event that changed America forever.