Photo of the Twin Towers in the 9/11 Memorial Museum

Thoughts on Visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum

It’s a sad fact that places can become synonymous with tragic events that occurred in them. Vietnam, for instance, may immediately bring to mind images of war for many people; when we travelled in Cambodia, I couldn’t help seeing the scars of genocide everywhere we went.   Similarly, we couldn’t ignore the huge mark the 9/11 terrorist attacks have had on the world, so while we were visiting New York City we chose to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum and Tribute Center.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum at night

The 9/11 Memorial Museum

The World Trade Centre Memorial in New York

I first visited New York City as an 18-year-old on a college trip in 2002, just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We queued at Battery Park for tickets to the viewing platform at Ground Zero and I remember lining up, reading all the missing posters taped to the walls, then climbing onto the platform overlooking the pile of twisted metal and rubble. One American man stood next to us, sobbing over the wreckage.

Fourteen years later, those physical scars have been erased and Ground Zero has been transformed into the World Trade Center Memorial.  Huge square fountains now stand in the footprints of the original Twin Towers, the names of all those who died on 9/11 and in the earlier 1993 terrorist attack, are carved in stone along the edges. All around, signs of resilience reign in the new offices under construction and the One World Trade Center building, which stands taller than the original towers.

9/11 Memorial, Manhattan, New York

The 9/11 Memorial Museum forms a prominent part of the memorial square and over 23 million people have visited since its opening in 2011. We booked timed tickets to the museum months in advance and ended up spending an entire day inside; we found the experience at times reflective, harrowing, uplifting and informative.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum – What to Expect

The museum is encased in the foundations of the Twin Towers, original pieces of steel and remnants of structural columns are visible as you descend into the main exhibition space.  You’re confronted with eerie artefacts; wrecked fire trucks, missing posters, the last surviving column from the towers, which is covered in messages and the Survivor Stairs, which hundreds of people escaped down.

Photo of the Twin Towers in the 9/11 Memorial Museum

Photo of the Twin Towers in the 9/11 Memorial Museum

An historical exhibition leads you through the events of September 11th, using film, audio, artefacts, photos and written words to tell the story of what happened on that day in New York City, at the Pentagon and on those four ill-fated flights. The physical artefacts on display are familiar yet strange – bloodstained shoes, worn briefcases, pieces of charred paper, faded Metro cards and twisted plastic ids. There are battered police and fire helmets, ripped uniforms and badges.  The artefacts and the people in the photos all seemed oddly old and dated to me; it’s easy to forget that the attacks happened 14 years ago, they still seem so recent.

The Last Column, Survivor Stairs, One World Trade Centre and steel beams at the 9/11 Memorial Museum

The Last Column, Survivor Stairs, One World Trade Centre and steel beams

The exhibition takes you right back to the day of the attacks. I’m sure many people, like me, vividly remember watching those events unfold on TV.  The news footage from that day is so familiar; the attacks touched everyone, altered the course of history and their impact is still reverberating in world events today.  That’s why the interactive elements of the museum work so well; audio booths and computer boards allow visitors to record their stories from 9/11. Some of these are shared in short films along with statements from witnesses and survivors and original telephone recordings from the day of the attacks.

Ladder 3 Fire Truck in the 9/11 Memorial Museum

Ladder 3 Fire Truck in the 9/11 Memorial Museum

There was also a focus on understanding how the attacks happened, who perpetrated them and why as well as the aftermath of 9/11 and rebuilding of Ground Zero. A beautiful In Memoriam exhibition displays portraits of all the victims of the 2001 and 1993 attacks; visitors can watch videos about these people and look up information about their lives. In cinema rooms we watched an immersive film about the rebuilding of the towers and a documentary about how the attacks were initially responded to. We saw photo exhibitions of Ground Zero and listened to a talk from a museum curator about how they preserved the surviving Last Column.

The 9/11 Tribute Center

We also paid a shorter visit to the 9/11 Tribute Center, which offers a completely different experience from the museum. The center is more intimate, with a small gallery display outlining the events of 9/11 and much more of a focus on the victims of the attacks and how people have been affected by them. There are videos of survivors and journalists telling their stories from 9/11, books full of messages from visitors to the center and space to add your own thoughts.

Photo of the collapsed Twin Towers from the 9/11 Memorial Museum

Photo of the collapsed Twin Towers from the 9/11 Memorial Museum

During our visit we met and listened to talks from two people who experienced 9/11 first-hand; a woman who lived in Tribeca and ran out to help only to be enveloped in the dust cloud and another who worked in an office nearby and directed people away towards the Brooklyn Bridge. We heard about the mental scars of 9/11, how the area became a military zone after the attacks, how businesses were ruined and people were left jobless and homeless.

After our visit we walked home over the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset. As we crossed the water I couldn’t help looking back over my shoulder at the skyline and wondering what it must have been like to walk across there on 9/11, to see the towers ablaze or completely missing, a cloud of smoke in their place.

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge in New York

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge

I also thought about how the world has changed since 2001, when I was 18 years old and had barely heard the word terrorism before. Now, bombs are exploding every day in countries around the world and wars are forcing millions of people to flee across the sea in search of refuge. Just a week or so before our visit to New York, bloody shootings took place in Paris and later, MPs gathered in London to vote on whether to bomb Syria. Sadly, it seems that the world is now even more at war than ever before.

Our visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum cost $24 per person; tickets can be pre-booked via their website. We booked tickets through Groupon to the 9/11 Tribute Center for $8 per person.

  • Louisa Klimentos
    Posted at 12:48h, 14 January Reply

    Very well said and you must of felt very sad.So many lives were lost and that is something we will never forget,love always louisa

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:23h, 14 January Reply

      Yes, the museum was pretty harrowing, it was also very well thought out and presented though. The fountains are really reflective and peaceful memorials too.

  • Patti
    Posted at 04:42h, 15 January Reply

    Visiting the memorial is something Abi and I very much want to do, although I know it would be very difficult for me. The last time we were in NY was 6 weeks before 9/11. Being afraid of heights, I chose to stay at ground level while Abi and Dustin took the elevator to the observation deck. The timing of it all still stays with me, 6 short weeks before the tragedy, we were there. As difficult as it is to visit memorials such as 9/11 – it’s so important to witness and remember.

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:55h, 15 January Reply

      It must have given you a chill when it happened, having visited so soon beforehand but I agree Patti, it is so important to witness and remember.

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 09:26h, 15 January Reply

    I remember arriving in New York in December/ 92, going across Brooklyn Bridge towards Manhathan and feeling totally in awe of the Twin Towers, I had never seen such tall buildings. Years later like you I watched in horror the awful events of 9/11 on the tv. I have not been back to NY since my first and only visit, but I would like to visit again soon and visit the Memorial Museum, I am sure it will be hard and very sad, but it is important to visit places like this and continue to remember all the people who have lost their lives in such a tragic way. Can we hope for a better world one day?

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:58h, 15 January Reply

      I hope so Gilda. What I can say is that the memorial fountains are a beautiful tribute and the whole square is a peaceful, reflective space.

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