Monday, August 17, 2015

Day 5: The 9/11 Memorial Museum

The morning sun cast a coppery glow on the view from our room on the 38th floor of our hotel near the UN. In the distance, you can see the angled Freedom Tower, the main building of the new World Trade Center.

Morning view of Manhattan
from 38th floor of One UN Plaza Hotel

The Original World Trade Center, 1973-2001

The twin towers of the original World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan were a landmark and an icon of New York City from 1973 to 2001. Reaching over a quarter mile into the sky, the towers stood at 110 stories each and were among the tallest buildings in the world. Each floor was an acre in size. Its architecture and engineering were very innovative.

The Twin Towers of the original World Trade Center

On September 11 of 2001 Islamic terrorists crashed hi-jacked jets into each of them, ripping holes in the structures and igniting devastating fires. The collapse of the two buildings caused damage and ruin to the surrounding buildings. 2,753 lives were lost in the catastrophe.

This attack was part of a coordinated series. One plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and passengers on a fourth forced the plane to crash in an empty field about 20 minutes by air from Washington, D.C. 184 people were killed at the Pentagon and 40 were killed on Flight 93.

Ground Zero

The 16-acre site of the terrorist attack is now occupied by a Memorial, a Memorial Museum, and Freedom Tower, the hub of the new World Trade Center. We had toured the Memorial and seen the tower on an earlier trip, so when we arrived at the time specified by our online tickets, we dove straight into the museum exhibits.

Foundation Hall

Artifacts associated with the events of 9/11 are actually displayed in the foundation space of the towers that fell. You can see part of the original retaining wall, called the "slurry wall."

Slurry Wall of original World Trade Center

In front of it stands the last steel beam to be removed from Ground Zero, marking the end of a 9-month recovery effort.

The Last Column

Still in their original location are remnants of the steel box columns that anchored the Twin Towers to bedrock.

Remnants of steel columns that anchored two of the
tallest buildings in the world to bedrock.

The force of the crashes is shown by pieces of twisted steel.

Section of steel facade, North Tower

South Tower interior Column

With the help of first responders, about 25,000 people were able to escape the buildings before they collapsed. Since elevators and escalators were disabled, many used a concrete emergency staircase that led to Vesey Street. A photographer actually managed to capture a shot of evacuees descending the staircase.

Survivor's Stairs

The staircase itself was damaged by demolition work during the recovery period until survivors and relatives requested that it be preserved in the museum. It has an escalator next to it, just as it originally did.

Vesey Stairs
Escape route for many survivors

Memorial Exhibition, In Memoriam

This exhibition commemorates the lives of those who died in the attacks with photos, oral remembrances, and personal artifacts. Photography was not allowed. When we were there, an audio recording featured people speaking the names of relatives or friends who were victimized by the attacks. It was so sad to think of all these people feeling such an enormous loss, and basically having their lives ruined.

Historical Exhibition

Using artifacts, images, video, first-person testimony, and real-time audio recordings from 9/11, the historical exhibition provides insight into the human dramas played out in the hijacked airplanes and in the towers, as well as the courageous actions of first responders. It is very painful to try to grasp the stark horror of it all. Television reports at the time left out a lot of shocking details. Photography is not allowed.

Memorial Art

The easiest part for me to grasp was commemorative art work. One of the walls encloses a repository for many who died at the site. It is adorned by a very uplifting installation by Spencer Finch, consisting of 2,983 individual watercolor drawings, one for each victim, each a unique shade of blue. The shimmering shades of blue surround a comforting quote from Virgil, a Roman poet.

Spencer Finch, b. 1962
Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning, 2014

In the Education Hall was an exhibit of commemorative art. Artist Red Grooms, who lived in lower Manhattan, was deeply affected by the terrorist attacks. He made this painted relief sculpture in tribute to the recovery workers at Ground Zero.

Red Grooms, b. 1937
The Shield, 2002

When the Maasai people of Kenya learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center, they offered 14 cows to the United States as a gesture of compassion and generosity. For the Maasai, cows are a sacred symbol of life. The U.S. accepted the gift but it was determined that the herd would remain in Kenya to be cared for properly.

James Cloutier
Painting to commemorate a gift of cows
by the Maasai to the United States


Touring the 9/11 Memorial Museum is immensely sad, but I felt that I had performed a Patriotic responsibility. I was glad that I had shared the suffering and loss. It seemed like my duty as a grateful citizen.


When we had all we could take of the devastating Historical Exhibit, we burst forth into the open air and took a look around the site.

Above the museum exhibits is an entrance Pavilion with various visitors' services. It was designed by Snohetta, an international architecture studio. The same firm is responsible for the current expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The Pavilion looks remarkably like a toppled skyscraper. The surface makes the light shimmer and plantings surround the low building, so it almost disappears.

9/11 Memorial Museum
Architects: Snohetta

The building forms the background for one of the Memorial pools.

Memorial Pool and Museum

The 9/11 Memorial

The Memorial itself consists of two pools of water in the footprints of the twin towers. Water glides gently down all four sides with a soothing sound and an appropriate action. The pools are lined with plaques listing the names of those who died.

One of two Pools at the 9/11 Memorial
Freedom Tower

The new building called One World Trade Center is colloquially known as Freedom Tower. For symbolic reasons it is 1776 feet tall, the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere. It is an office building, not a tourist site.

One World Trade Center
Freedom Tower

We were definitely in need of spiritual refreshment when we finished at the Memorial site, so we headed back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had a fresh salad for lunch, and then raced around trying to cram in as much art as possible. At the end of the day we had a light supper at Nectar Café nearby.