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For Reflections of the Past Projecting onto the Future: “National September 11th Memorial and Museum”

I can’t believe it but its been over five years since I first went to visit the 9/11 site ( Back then the only things to see where the newly installed reflecting pools that stood in the footprints of World Trade Towers. At that time they were first starting to plant trees and construction was completely under way for the museum.  Getting in and around that site was a nightmare. Security checkpoints were so far from where the reflecting pools where it was a trek just to get to an entrance then. Now, thankfully, the process is much smoother.

I had prepared myself mentally and emotionally before this visit due to the high probability that much of what I was about to see was going to be devastating. The events of September 11, 2001, are my generations version of the “where were you when JFK was shot” question. As a New Yorker it felt even more like a personal attack even though I was lucky enough not to loose anyone close to me that day. As someone who lives in Brooklyn I still have the pieces of paper that landed in my yard burned from the fires that dispersed them into my borough. Thinking about that day and how truly terrifying it was seems like a dream, a nightmare that occurred while we were all very much awake.

Upon arriving at the site I passed the new train station that is now connected with the Westfield Mall. There are more places to shop and eat than you can imagine and there appears no better time to do that than as you are walking to your train. 

The morning I was there it so happened to feel like one hundred degrees below zero with a wind that made me worry I would be carried off into the Hudson. Out of all of the bodies of water in the world that is the one I want to be in the least. Any fan of Law and Order knows a body is likely to be found there day or night.

The museum seemed much further back than I thought it would be, making the reflecting pools seem miles away. Really they are right near the museum’s exit. Since I entered an entirely different way than the first time it was whole new world for me. Perhaps if I hadn't been freezing my cannolis off that day it wouldn’t have seemed like such a long walk. 

When I approached I was lucky enough not to have to wait in line as I had been provided with a press pass ticket. I do advise any who plan to visit to purchase your timed entry tickets ahead of time to avoid waiting on any lines.

Security lines were easy and well organized but once I was past them I felt confused as to where to go next. This would be the theme of the day. As I realized where to walk I saw I needed to go down the escalator to enter the exhibits. Going down, under ground to enter a museum felt weird. It was also purposefully darker which was eery. I felt like I was sort of reenacting what it was like on that day when the towers went dark. That was the first real moment of panic I had that this would be too much for me.

As I made my way through it wasn’t as shocking or overly intense as I had feared. I took many deep breathes while shaking my head in disbelief, once again, over the events of the day.

Walking around there seems to be a clear path until you reach the middle. From there I had no idea what way to go. I sort of winged it exhausting myself to make sure I saw everything. I was incredibly disappointed at the layout and that the story isn't told through the entire museum. 

What I had the hardest time understanding is the so-called Historical Exhibition which is a center room within the lowest level of the museum. I have no idea why it is separated out, perhaps because some of the items need controlled temperature or lighting, but it is a claustrophobic’s nightmare. It too became my nightmare when I entered to see what it was like but was overwhelmed by the heat and the crowds trying to make their way around. There was no order and no space to pass by. I began panicking thinking I didn't know when or how I would be able to exit. I overheard someone say that it would take about two hours to see everything. That was not my bag. I booked it out of there first chance I got. I saw a few things of interest like clothes found on the streets from people who were there that day but too much of what was there was small and needed to be viewed up close. That was not an option with so many people in the room. There simply has to be a better way. 

The Holocaust Museum in D.C. was able to tell a much more complicated story in a clear, coherent manner while illuminating the personal stories within. That museum is the greatest example of what a museum should be. If they can do with a tragic, torrid topic like the Holocaust, then any museum should be able to. 

I realized while at the 9/11 Museum that it was the first museum I have ever visited that was actually located on the site where the event took place. That was an odd but interesting sensation. 

According to their website:

“The 9/11 Memorial Museum is unique because it is located within and surrounded by remnants of the original World Trade Center site. 

The largest of the spaces within the Museum is Foundation Hall, a room with ceilings ranging from 40 to 60 feet and nearly 15,000 square feet of floor space. There, you can find the slurry wall―a retaining wall originally built to hold back the Hudson River―and the remnants of cutoff box columns that once formed the exterior structure of the Twin Towers.”

The story I will remember forever is the one of Ladder 3 and their Captain Patrick Brown. For some reason there was a museum employee standing in front of that dismantled fire truck telling the story of the company working that fateful day. I do not know the woman’s name but I wish I did to reward her for the incredible job she did. She made the men real to me and was so captivating I stood in awe even after she was done. I think this was one if not the most powerful moments of my visit. 

Another artifact making a lasting impression has to be the Survivors Stairs. It is haunting how intact they remain and knowing that the last people to escape used them to get out alive. I don’t know if any of those folks are strong enough to come and see them again but I have no idea all of the emotions there would be seeing them in this light. Very moving for sure, just as powerful as seeing all of the crushed pieces of mental but they are on opposite sides of the emotional spectrum. 

An unexpected breathtaking sight was the many missing persons flyers that were being projected onto a blank concrete wall. They kept changing to include as many on display as possible. It brought back all of those news casts that went on for weeks showing families at Ground Zero searching for any hope of finding their loved ones. It wasn't even a physical exhibit but it managed to get the job done.

I was making my final rounds before I left and a small black sign on the side of the gigantic Virgil quote caught my eye. It’s words are too hard to summarize so you will have to read them in the photo below.

I am not sure what this means. Are the remains stored and filed? Or, and I don't mean to be vulgar, do they expect us to believe there is a pile of bits of debris stored in a random room? I found this the most puzzling. 

Lastly I had to go to the gift shop. This store might seem controversial but proceeds go directly back to the museum to keep it operational. It also has a lot of materials that can be bought to show your pride and support of first responders and the like. I bought a t-shirt that reads: “I Heart NYC More Than Ever”. It speaks to my truth. 

My personal favorite items were exclusive Alex and Any bracelets with NYC themes on the charms. I thought that was brilliant. As a fan it was all I could do not to buy them.

Now that I have crossed this very big item off of my to do list ( there is only one 9/11 related museum I need to visit; The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. I only found out this existed today while doing research. It is located in Arlington, Virginia. Since I already visited the Flight 93 National Memorial ( on my way to Pittsburgh in 2015, I feel I need to complete the trilogy. Thus the next time I am in Washington D.C. I have yet another activity to add to my itinerary.

In the sixteen years that have past since that awful fall day in 2001 much has changed in our country and to this site. Going forward we will carry these memories, people, and lessons we learned onto the next chapter of this story.

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