By Grace Masback
WANT Original Content
Although I was alive when the tragedy of 9/11 occurred, I have no memories of it. However, like other horrific examples of human misbehavior over the last century – the Holocaust and the Kennedy assassination – 9/11 has been commemorated by a memorial and museum that tells the story of what occurred for posterity. By describing the circumstances of 9/11 and honoring those who died, the memorial and museum ensure that society won’t forget the circumstances that led to the event.
The 9/11memorial and museum make a powerful statement. The memorial itself is striking, presented in the form of two square pools sitting in the foundation of the original twin towers. Water cascades over the sides of the pool with the sound and visual of the flowing water both breathtaking and awe-inspiring. The roar of the rushing water creates a sense of respectful calm. The names of the close to 3000 victims of the 9/11 attack are inscribed on a ledge surrounding the perimeters of the pools.
The museum exhibit, which is in an underground cavern adjacent to the memorial, is broken into three parts. The route to the exhibit space is punctuated by a striking photo taken by an artist at 8:45 am, just minutes before the first plane struck the North tower. September 11 was a beautiful, clear day and the sky is alluring in its gentle tones of blue. To enter the actual exhibit space, you descend alongside a set of what became known as the “survivor’s stairs,” a route to safety near Vesey Street used by thousands escaping the burning buildings.
The first section of the memorial contains a large public space in which objects recovered from the site of the disaster are displayed. The objects include the fire truck which ferried the brave men of Ladder Company #3 to the scene – several died while still climbing the towers to save trapped office workers. Also on display is a section of the massive communications spire from on top of the North Tower and some of the equipment from one of the elevators in the South Tower. You also see pieces of twisted metal, including a piece directly impacted by one of the jets that hit the buildings.
The second exhibit is a large space covered floor to ceiling with pictures of the close to 3000 victims. Every person killed is memorialized. Inside the larger space is a room in which a video cycles through brief written and spoken memorials of all of the deceased. The effect is powerful as family members tell stories about loved ones lost, detailing their unique qualities and the mark they left on the world. These stories pay tribute to the democracy of the tragedy, as financial executives lost their lives alongside chefs, building maintenance workers, policemen, and firemen.
The final exhibit is the most extensive. Designed to take about an hour, it guides visitors through a minute-by-minute experience of the events leading up to the tragedy, the tragedy itself, and the aftermath. Animated by jarring photography, real audio from distressed phone calls, and touching reminisces, it prompts deep reflection while simultaneously demonstrating the resiliency of a nation and the global community in the wake of this event. On my own recent trip to this touching memorial, one of the most powerful parts of my experience was a video clip showing a young Jon Stewart reflecting on 9/11 shortly after it took place. As an avid Daily Show viewer, I am used to Jon’s humorous take on world events. However, seeing him on a show from September 2011 in which he fights back tears while delineating the difference between cowardly terrorists and dedicated rescue workers helped me to grasp the true emotional power of the event and the extent to which the nation grieved, something I was too young to grasp at three years old.
The only thing to criticize about a museum so thoughtfully designed and executed is the overwhelming nature of the exhibit as a whole. If you try to take it all in on a single visit, you are likely to emerge disoriented by the sheer volume of detail and its graphic nature. Be prepared. When the group I was with had proposed visiting the 9/11 memorial and museum, I had initially balked – I was concerned about immersing myself in something so negative in its origins and reality. Wouldn’t we be better off shopping in SoHo or eating fancy food? In the end, the visit was 100% worth the investment of time and emotional energy. Though tear-provoking, the memorial and museum offer a stunning testament to the strength of humans to deal with adversity, to help one another, and to find a way to emerge stronger and committed to a positive future.