Monday, June 23, 2014

My Visit To The 9/11 Memorial And Museum

I recently visited the 9/11 memorial and museum.  I waited to visit until the museum was opened, and it has been open for about a month at this point.  You can go directly to the memorial without a ticket or anything.  You do need a ticket to the museum, and even with a ticket, you can expect long lines.

There was security and police everywhere, which I guess isn’t much of a surprise. 

The entrance to the museum once you are inside the building.
While the main part of the museum is very open, I felt claustrophobic.  I had the distinct feeling that I didn’t belong there, like I wasn’t supposed to be there.  The main part of the museum mainly includes pieces of the World Trade Center that the museum is built around. 

The part of the museum that goes through the timeline of events on 9/11 and includes pictures, news footage on loop, and small artifacts, felt like too much.  I didn’t need to see the things that were there (and there is no photography allowed in that part of the museum).  None of the artifacts belong to the living, because what value would they have?  The artifacts are things that survived when the person did not. 

I was 15 when September 11th happened, and I was under the impression that bad things only happened to other people.  On September 11th, the world felt unbelievably small, and I felt like what happened, happened to a collective “us”.  I had never been to New York prior to 9/11, nor did I know anyone that lived there or died that day.

So for me, I was surprised that I had such a visceral reaction to the museum.  I was only there for about an hour, but it felt like many more. 

The museum facade as seen from one of the two reflecting pools.
I really appreciated the memorial, though, with the reflecting pools that are located in the footprint of the buildings, which contain the names of those that died on September 11th in the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and those that were killed in the 1993 terrorist attack on the WTC.  

I spent some additional time at the memorial site.  Surrounded by trees, and with the constant sound of waterfalls, it really is a place of memory and comfort. 

The museum was a different story.  It felt garish and macabre.  You travel pretty far down to get to the different levels of the museum.  To get out, you have to take a very long escalator that is lit up, and there is church-like music playing in the background.  You arrive back upstairs, to the light of day.

One of the two reflecting pools.
t was a gray and rainy day, which seemed fitting, and really matched my mood as I exited the museum and tried to process what I had just experienced.      

The memorial implores us to remember the lives of those that were lost, while the museum implores us to remember things we would rather forget. 

Honestly, I am glad I went to the museum, but it is probably not somewhere I would go back to.  The contrast between the disembodied feel of the open areas of the museum, and viewing the personal effects of strangers, was just too much for me.  I don’t know why anyone would want to relive that day, and I do feel that the museum capitalizes on other peoples’ tragedy. 

So rarely do I talk about events and experiences outside of illness that have had an impact on my life, so I decided to share this experience with all of you.

"No day shall erase you from the memory of time." -Virgil 
Of course, the things that happened on September 11th were some of the worst things imaginable.  And to my 15 year old mind, the personal tragedies of those who died that day or lost somebody that day were nightmarish.  Then, it didn’t seem like anything worse could happen in the world. 

But since that day, we live in a world in which bad things happen all the time.  And maybe they always did.  Maybe September 11th opened our eyes to a world that is not as it should be.   

The Freedom Tower, standing 1776 feet.  In both name and height, this building represents our country.
While I did the WTC visit on my own, A and I recently visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which provided beautiful and expansive views of the quintessential Manhattan skyline, although without the WTC, but now with the Freedom Tower.  Such symbolism of where so many began their quest for freedom generations ago, and the Tower representing freedom for this generation.

While for me New York was never the pinnacle, and regardless of my personal feelings about this city, there is something to be said for having all of these amazing sites in your backyard.

This is the Manhattan I always imagined, except with the WTC and not the Freedom Tower.  


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the 9/11 memorial and museum, Leslie. Although I've not visited either, the TV coverage of the museum opening made me wonder what, exactly, was the point of showing the belongings of those who died? We know they were people like us. That's why the whole thing was so horrific--it affected normal, average people who were innocent and didn't deserve such terrible deaths. The memorial itself, with the trees, the falling water, and the names, is beautiful and right, a fitting way to remember them..

    I may be visiting NYC in August. I'm not sure if I'll visit the museum, but I would like to pay my respects at the memorial.

  2. Hi Leslie, thanks so much for this insightful post! I have not been to NYC since they built the memorial or the museum, but I think I would feel similarly upon visiting. You make a good point about the belongings that were left behind seeming insignificant in comparison to the memory of the lost owner. It's almost like they were trying to make it a little bit morbid. The church music and escalator back to the light both sound a little over-the-top. I can't help but agree with your point about capitalizing on someone else's loss. I was in New York a couple months after 9/11 and people were aggressively selling American flags and booklets about the history of the world trade center. It disgusted me a little, and would have completely broken my heart if I had lost a family member that day. I'm not directly comparing the museum to peddling cheesy wares in the streets, of course, but am echoing your point with my own example. I am definitely curious to see the memorial in person and pay my respects.