Going through the 9/11 Museum presented me with a strange dichotomy of emotions; it was both utterly heinous and incredibly beautiful at the same time.
Upon arriving at the 9/11 site on the morning of July 15th, I noticed that it was quiet.
I should mention that it was not silent. There is almost zero silence in New York City.
But, instead of the regular intensity of the city streets, there was only the hum of muffled chatter.
The mood was markedly different.
In the footprints of the 2 fallen towers, there are now 2 seemingly infinite water fountains. And lining the edges of these enormous memorial fountains are the names of all of the victims: those in the towers, those on the plane in Pennsylvania, the plane at the Pentagon, firefighters, volunteers, etc. There are even tributes to unborn children of those victims that were pregnant at the time.
The Survivor Tree
When the towers fell, thousands of trees were vaporized. But, amid the rubble and debris, one small tree held on.
“In October 2001, the tree was discovered at Ground Zero severely damaged, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010. New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and present. Today, the tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival and rebirth.” (via 911memorial.org) Inside the Museum
When we finally got into the museum, we were told it would take us roughly 2 hours to see everything. We planned accordingly.
Wanting to get as much out of the experience as possible, my mom and I rented interactive headsets.
The museum had many layers and floors. We went deep down into the ground to see everything available to us.
The “Survivors’ Stairs”
Ways We Remember
This piece is called “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning” by Spencer Finch. Each blue square is watercolor on paper (not tile).
“Each of the 2,983 squares represents one of the victims of the 2001 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.” (via artnet.com) But what’s more astonishing than this giant mosaic is what lies behind it.
This 4-ft tall porcelain urn created by a University of Minnesota artist has all of the names of the 9/11 victims on it. And on the lid are the words from the then-President Bush’s 9/11 speech.
This steel beam, appropriately named the “Last Column,” stayed standing after the towers fell. It became one of the many places where people would post pictures of their missing loved ones and publicize memorial inscriptions for those already lost.
This exhibit (the name escapes me) allows museum-goers to pay their very own tributes to the victims of 9/11. Just past the interactive screens (and below the “slurry wall”–a surviving retaining wall of the original WTC), messages that patrons write get projected for all to see. These messages are written in real time.
Here is my mom’s projection:
Inside the In Memoriam exhibit, there is no photography allowed (hence my picture taken from the outside). Lining the walls are pictures of each victim of 9/11 and the 1993 bombing. Some 3,000 images give patrons a glimpse into the toll of these hellish events.
Housed within the corridor of photographs is an inner chamber. Inside, a glass floor reveals the original dirt foundations beneath the building. Benches line the walls for patrons to sit. And projected on the walls are not only pictures of each victim, but on the speaker is a recording.
“[The] inner chamber presents profiles of individual victims in a dignified sequence through photographs, biographical information, and audio recordings.” (via 911memorial.org)
As I sat and listened for maybe 15 minutes in total silence, my heart sank. These were people with families and friends. They socialized on the weekends. They worked hard in their jobs. They had quirks and silly habits. They had histories and back stories.
Often, the voice that was reading the biographical information was a relative of the deceased. I wondered how long it took for the entire recording to read every single victim’s profile. I wanted to hear so many more tributes. I wanted to somehow honor the people by at least caring about their lives. But, we could only stay for so long.
After all of this, we were sure that we were done. It had been almost 2 hours at that point.
But there was one more thing to see. Through the revolving doors is an exhibit called Historical Exhibition. This exhibit takes you through thousands of details surrounding 9/11–before, during, and after. Photographs, artifacts, newsfeeds, transcripts, phone recordings. etc.
We were in there for another 2+ hours and could’ve stayed longer. Some of the pieces really made an impression on me.
-A written transcript from an airplane’s black box. It showed the dialogue between the hijackers and the pilots.
-Actual recordings of phone calls that people made from the airplanes, telling their loved ones “goodbye.”
-A piece of paper found with words scribbled on it. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something to the effect of, “87th floor, stairwell, 8 people, please help.”
I think what is most chilling to me is hearing of the people who knew they were going to die. These people were entirely cognisant of their imminent death. How absolutely terrifying that must’ve been.
Instead of taking the prescribed 2 hours to see everything, we were there for over 4 hours. We could have stayed longer.
To say the 9/11 Museum was overwhelming is an understatement.
While my heart aches for the total lack of respect for human life, I was still taken by the beauty of this memorial.
9/11 is a very ugly day in the world’s history. But the tribute of the 9/11 Museum is a tasteful juxtaposition to the evil that occurred that day.
I hope 9/11 is the worst thing I ever witness in my lifetime.