We recently traveled back home to New York City for an overdue visit with family and friends. While we were there we made it a priority to visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. We lived just two blocks from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on the day of the terrorist attack and like millions of other New Yorkers, US citizens and people around the world, that day changed our lives forever (including inspiring our Trans-Americas Journey).
Is this the most complicated tourist attraction on earth?
After so many years of pushing and shoving to find the “right” way to memorialize Ground Zero and honor the victims. A staggering 5,201 submissions from architects and designers from 63 countries were submitted for the project and everyone, it seemed, had an opinion about what was appropriate for Ground Zero.
We wanted to see what had finally been created on hallowed ground where 2,753 people from around the world lost their lives during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11.
The memorial portion of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum consists of two large, outdoor reflecting pools constructed in the exact footprint of each of the Twin Towers. Each square pool is recessed into the ground and has four walls of 30 foot (8 meter) tall waterfalls and a final waterfall in the center. The falling water was strangely peaceful as it rushed into the mysterious central space in a never-ending flow.
Both reflecting pools are ringed by a bronze border deeply inscribed with nearly 3,000 names including the 2,977 victims who died in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the four hijacked planes on September 11 plus the victims of the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
The city of New York expects the memorial and museum to be major tourist attractions. The memorial brochure is printed in eight different languages in an attempt to communicate with visitors from across the globe.
Family members of victims are encouraged to place a white rose in the name of their loved one, adding an element of softness and life to the memorial. Another unexpectedly moving part of the memorial, for us, was the so-called Survivor Tree. A mere eight foot stump when it was found in the wreckage of the Twin Towers, the pear tree was nursed back to life and has been re-planted in the midst of the memorial.
Controversial September 11 Museum
When we visited the memorial, the museum had not yet opened. Now that it is open to the public we think we’re glad we didn’t get the chance to visit it. While we understand the purpose of a September 11 Museum we don’t understand why it had to be constructed on the site itself. Though we had friends who should have been in the towers on September 11 but miraculously weren’t, we don’t personally know anyone who died in the terrorist attack. Still, putting a museum on a spot that represents he final resting place for so many seems unnecessarily close.
Also, the US$24 museum entrance fee (the outdoor memorial is free) feels slightly offensive, though we were happy to learn that every Tuesday night between 5 pm and 8 pm (last entrance at 7 pm) entry is free and, of course, family members of the victims and 9-11 rescue and recovery workers are always welcomed free of charge.
We’re not the only ones who have a sort of sick feeling about the museum and this piece written by the brother of a victim expresses those misgivings, as he tours the museum, very, very eloquently.
The World Trade Center was our neighbor
We returned to New York in 1999 after a four year backpacking trip through South and Southeast Asia and we immediately moved downtown to the financial district. The area was being rejuvenated and rents were affordable. We found a great one bedroom apartment and settled in. Our most dynamic neighbor was the World Trade Center and for years the Twin Towers, just a few blocks away, factored into our view and our daily lives.
Our history with these buildings is complicated and visiting the National September 11 Memorial & Museum was both settling and unsettling. Here are some of our own memories.
Find out more about how the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of New York City’s World Trade Center inspired our Trans-Americas Journey.
Here’s more about travel in the USA