Mixing Commerce With Consecration

by Tracy R. Walsh

President Obama, Officials Attend 9/11 Memorial Museum Opening Ceremony

Steve Kandell, whose sister was killed in the World Trade Center, shares his conflicted experience touring the National September 11 Memorial & Museum:

I can feel the sweat that went into making this not seem tacky, of wanting to show respect, but also wanting to show every last bit of carnage and visceral whomp to justify the $24 price of admission – vulgarity with the noblest intentions. … I think now of every war memorial I ever yawned through on a class trip, how someone else’s past horror was my vacant diversion and maybe I learned something but I didn’t feel anything. Everyone should have a museum dedicated to the worst day of their life and be forced to attend it with a bunch of tourists from Denmark. Annotated divorce papers blown up and mounted, interactive exhibits detailing how your mom’s last round of chemo didn’t take, souvenir T-shirts emblazoned with your best friend’s last words before the car crash. And you should have to see for yourself how little your pain matters to a family of five who need to get some food before the kids melt down. Or maybe worse, watch it be co-opted by people who want, for whatever reason, to feel that connection so acutely.

Rosemarie Ward, noting that many of the items on display were donated by victims’ families, is more moved:

Throughout the space are segments of twisted steel, like sculptures. A fire engine from the back looks a bit battered, but the entire front cab is a ghost of mangled steel. A set of partially damaged concrete stairs nestle between an escalator and the museum’s main staircase. The so-called “Survivors’ Staircase” was an outdoor staircase that led some survivors to safety on nearby Vesey Street. In removing this staircase from the site, architects and archeologists treated it as carefully as an ancient relic. …

The audio and video clips of those who are lost, of those who remain, of construction workers, of firefighters, of ordinary New Yorkers, are very moving. The personal accounts, such as the one from John Napolitano whose firefighting son died that day, are hard to listen to. The last phone calls of those lost are devastating. The multi-media exhibits, designed by Local Projects, are particularly moving. In some places visitors are encouraged to make videos while at the museum, which will become part of the exhibit.

The museum is extremely well done. It offers solace to those who still mourn, and an education for those who were not yet born.

(Photo: Objects recovered from the World Trade Center site are displayed during a press preview of the National September 11 Memorial Museum at ground zero May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80-foot high tridents, the so-called ‘Ground Zero Cross,’ the destroyed remains of Company 21’s New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items. The museum opens to the public on May 21. By James Keivom-Pool/Getty Images)