Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City

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9/11 The Memorial Building housing the museum is the tallest building in Manhattan
The Memorial Building housing the museum is the tallest building in Manhattan. Photo by Claudia Carbone

The Day of 9/11

This exhibit begins with photos and voices of people telling what they were doing and seeing at 8:46 on the morning of 9/11 when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower.

“We started running for our lives,” said one bystander. The most heartbreaking voice is a cell phone call from a man in the South Tower telling his wife he is OK because he’s in the tower that wasn’t hit. Minutes later at 9:03 United Airlines Flight 175 exploded into the South Tower.

The rest of this exhibit shows videos, photos, artifacts and remnants left of the buildings. Horrific video shows people hurling themselves to their death rather than face burning in the fire. Artifacts like the melted metal of Company 3 fire truck honor the first responders, many of whom were killed when the towers collapsed.

Twisted steel beams hit directly by the plane stand like burned trees in a forest. There are photos of people scrambling down what is now called “The Survivors’ Staircase.” The actual staircase is here too. Many photos are painful to see. The crowd moves slowly, quietly, reverently from one display to the other.

9/11 Art installation by artist Spencer Finch at the Memorial Museum. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Art installation by artist Spencer Finch at the Memorial Museum. Photo by Claudia Carbone

After 9/11: Memorial Hall

For me, this last exhibit is the most poignant. Memorial Hall begins with a huge art installation of tiles, each in a different shade of blue, asking if you remember the color of the sky on that September morn.

In the middle are words from Virgil: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” Behind the art installation is a repository of remains of unclaimed people.

One remnant known as the Last Column was part of the South Tower. This piece of steel was the last one removed from Ground Zero by first responders and workers. As a tribute, they signed their names and left messages. Soon, family members of the victims added messages, and the column became a sacred place to share stories and feelings.

Then comes a beautiful, long tribute to the victims with photos and extensive bios of each one. No one is left out. Every single person no matter race or creed is as important as the next. There’s a touch screen where people look for specific names. I am struck by a small display of a chef’s toque, kitchen utensils and recipe cards of Chef Clark who was the executive chef in the South Tower. At the end of this exhibit, I notice a pedestal table with a box of tissues. By now, I need one.

Longterm Fallout from 9/11

Fires burned for months at Ground Zero. Tens of thousands of survivors, responders and residents still suffer from their exposure to toxins emitting from the site. Illnesses like asthma and cancer have claimed the lives of hundreds, and many still suffer from depression and PTSD.

The Victims Compensation Fund was passed by Congress in 2010, and in 2015, it was extended for five additional years along with funding for the World Trade Center Health Program through 2090.

9/11 The Memorial Pool outlining the footprint of the North Tower. The new Oculus building is in the background. Photo by Claudia Carbone
The Memorial Pool outlining the footprint of the North Tower. The new Oculus building is in the background. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Marge Berdy was working as a designer in the garment district at the time of the attacks. She tells us about Women’s Wear Daily coming out with an article on “Flee Wear” for women soon after 9/11. This collection was specific clothing to wear in case a woman needed to run quickly: flat-heeled shoes, flowing skirts (no long dresses or mini-skirts), and no scarves or long necklaces.

Let’s hope none of us ever must count on flee wear to save our lives.

National September 11 Memorial Mission Statement:

Remember and honor the thousands of innocent men, women and children murdered by terrorists in the horrific attacks of February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001.

Respect this place made sacred through tragic loss.

Recognize the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others, and the compassion of all who supported us in our darkest hours.

May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.

You can buy tickets for the museum online at www.911memorial.org. The Memorial Pools are free.