“Welcome to the 9/11 Memorial Museum(and Be Sure To Check Out the Gift Shop).”

Exit Through the Gift Shop? (photo credit: Sue Edelman)

Here’s Today’s Daily Outrage courtesy of the New York Post:

The museum at Ground Zero tells the dark story of the 9/11 terror attacks with spectacular artifacts and exhibits. It pays heart-wrenching tribute to the innocents and heroes killed that day.

It also has a gift shop.

The 9/11 museum’s cavernous boutique offers a vast array of souvenir goods. For example: FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority Police T-shirts ($22) and caps ($19.95); earrings molded from leaves and blossoms of downtown trees ($20 to $68); cop and firefighter charms by Pandora and other jewelers ($65); “United We Stand” blankets.

“To me, it’s the crassest, most insensitive thing to have a commercial enterprise at the place where my son died,” Diane Horning said.

She and husband Kurt never recovered the remains of their son Matthew, 26, a database administrator for Marsh & McLennan and an aspiring guitarist.

About 8,000 unidentified body parts are now stored out of sight in a “remains repository” at the museum’s underground home.

“Here is essentially our tomb of the unknown. To sell baubles I find quite shocking and repugnant,” said Horning, who also objects to the museum cafe.

“I think it’s a money-making venture to support inflated salaries, and they’re willing to do it over my son’s dead body.”

It’s easy to be reflexively angry when you don’t what it is exactly you’re angry about.

Is a gift shop in a 9/11 museum in bad taste? Gee, I don’t know. Does the snack bar ruffle some feathers too? Should there be no restrooms either because taking a leak there would be disrespectful?

It’s called the National September 11 Memorial Museum. It’s not just a 9/11 memorial. And you have to pay to get in ($24 admission for adults, $18 for seniors and students, and $15 for kids 7 to 17). Who’s going to do this? Tourists,  and New York City has a ton of those. Who else would want to buy a 9/11 Memorial hat or T-shirt or toy fire truck?

How many of the critics losing their minds over a $11.00 coffee mug have actually been in the museum? Perspective matters and getting all riled up over a gift shop nobody is forcing anyone to buy anything from without knowing how it fits into the larger picture is more than a tad premature.

English: Construction of the National Septembe...

English: Construction of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New York magazine sent their architecture critic to visit the museum and here is part of what he saw:

In late May 2002, the place they still called ground zero had become an immense and pristine hole. Truckload after surreal truckload of mangled steel and ash and gruesome finds had been carted away, leaving a flat expanse of concrete and rock. One final column from the Twin Towers remained standing, a 36-foot totem of rusting steel emblazoned with cryptic notes, duct-taped snapshots, and a running tally of dead bodies. But even with the cleanup declared done, workers kept raking the floor with ordinary garden tools, hunting for some infinitesimal shard of human bone. Today, the floor, the column, and one of those rakes are reunited in the National September 11 Memorial Museum, a huge and spectacularly mournful institution in the bowels of the new World Trade Center.

For years, I have stayed away from reminders of 9/11 and the weeks that followed. The most exhaustively recorded cataclysm in history yielded fictionalized movies, documentaries, YouTube clips, eyewitness accounts, TV news reports, police-radio tapes, and endless documentation. I avoided it all. Instead, I remained focused on the drama of reconstruction, visiting the site many times to watch swarms of hard-hatted welders cauterizing the urban wound. I did, however, have an early preview of what a museum might be like a decade ago, when I visited Hangar 17 at JFK. There, crushed emergency vehicles, twisted girders, sections of the broadcasting antenna, half a dozen bikes still chained to a rack, and a lump of fused metal, concrete, paper, and glass were all laid out in an improvised architectural morgue. The last column was stretched out there, too, housed in its own dehumidified area. The hangar tour was draining, and, years later, the prospect of revisiting that archive of mass murder in its place of origin makes me fibrillate with dread.
The museum is buried in a crypt beneath the crime scene, but I enter through the silvery origami-like pavilion designed by Snøhetta, whose architects have anticipated some of its visitors’ more primal anxieties. Large windows look onto the memorial plaza, where the atmosphere is a mixture of reverence and casual cheer. Outside, kids take selfies with the names carved in bronze and the big shiny towers beyond. Inside, all is bright light and blond wood and soothing necessities like the coat check and bathrooms. A wide staircase descends into darkness; alongside it, a pair of tremendous steel arms reaches up into the light. This is the first trace we see of the ruined behemoths, two of the linked tridents that formed the towers’ gothic arches. Weathered but unbent, they thrust vertically past their new home’s weave of angled struts, mute reminders of the original buildings’ enormity. They also stand as signposts to the Stygian galleries below.

Flower at September 11 Memorial

Flower at September 11 Memorial (Photo credit: pamhule)

It’s not just craving for forgetfulness that slows my step, but skepticism, too. I wonder where the museum experience will fall on the spectrum from anodyne to brutal—whether disaster will morph into prurient multimedia entertainment or force visitors into a morbidly earnest trudge. Virtually every decision in this enterprise has been controversial: the underground location, the inscription from Virgil’s Aeneid (“No day shall erase you from the memory of time”), the ticket price ($24), the gift-shop souvenirs, the placement of unidentified human remains in an inaccessible chamber just off the museum’s main hall, the inclusion of terrorists’ photographs, the short film about the rise of Al Qaeda, and more. Given this swarm of sensitivities, will the museum fall back on pieties and pabulum? The more I think about the task of perpetuating the recollection of that day, the more doubts flock: How can a museum chronicle unsettled history, or interpret an event we don’t fully understand? How can an exhibit be meaningful to those who were showered in ash that day and also to children who have yet to be born? I think of that field of ravaged metal at JFK: How can those relics be installed in a museum without converting them into aesthetic objects, beautifully lit but stripped of violence and specificity?

Burdened by these musings, I walk down the long staircase into the minimalist Hades designed by Davis Brody Bond. I am greeted by a murmuring choir of recorded reminiscences from all over the world, reminding me that 9/11 was a global event. The dark floors and austere sarcophagal aura make me wistful for the light above, but the architects have taken care to lead visitors gently into the depths. Underground spaces can be disorienting, but this one comes into partial focus at the first overlook. Shock arrives in ripples of recognition. A ramp winds down toward the foundations, where the cut-off columns that held up the Twin Towers sit embedded in Manhattan schist. A pair of building-size boxes, containing the memorial’s waterfalls and coated with glistening aluminum foam, hang in the immense cavern like geometric stalactites. I have arrived at bedrock level, the floor of the concrete bathtub, separated from the Hudson River by a 70-foot-high section of “slurry wall” so brawny and raw that it could almost be a segment of the Hoover Dam. It’s here that the collapsing skyscrapers came to rest, here that the worker with the rake knelt and scraped. That great trench has become a vast vault, containing some of the nation’s most eloquent ruins. The tale that this museum has to tell is partly about dimensions—the inconceivable scale of murder, the size of the weapons, the targets’ bulk, the worldwide aftershocks. Doing it justice requires a lot of space. The biggest artifacts are back, and as I stare at all that crooked metal, thick girders bent by the force of a speeding plane, I find myself trying in vain to conjure up the extremes of violence that formed it. The last column is standing again, dwarfed just as it was when the hall was an open pit, only now a touchscreen allows visitors to zoom in to the scrawls and taped mementos and read a digital text label for each one. After all, a museum’s job is not just to preserve but also to explain.
Before anyone gets all hyped and bent out of shape over the presence of a gift shop (so you can show all the folks back home you went to the National September 11 Memorial Museum!) perhaps they would be better served to pay the ticket price, enter the exhibit hall, walk the floor, see the sights and weigh the significance vs the trivialization of the whole endeavor.   If people are unhappy now they may very well be the same ones who were unhappy when the idea of a 9/11 museum was first floated.

The next time we visit New York we will decide whether we want to go visit the museum.   I’m not entirely sure I’m ready for such a grim experience.

But if I find I am and I’m so inclined, maybe I’ll buy a $40 FDNY rescue dog vest. Or not.

For only $10.95 this lovely coffee cup can be all yours. Impress your friends!

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2 thoughts on ““Welcome to the 9/11 Memorial Museum(and Be Sure To Check Out the Gift Shop).”

  1. I said the other day, I don’t know that I am prepared for this one. I visited the camps in Europe as a child and an adult, as a child they gave me nightmares, as an adult they gave me nightmares as well. I understand the need for these grim and terrible reminders. I have walked the Vietnam War Memorial, found the names of my friends, now when I go back I don’t look for them anymore. I have been to some of the horrible cemeteries in Europe and here that hold the bodies of all those who have died in our terrible wars, I have wept and the row upon row of crosses. I understand why it is important, I simply don’t know if I have the heart for it.

    As to the gift shop, I wonder how much of what is being sold is made in America. Just a curiosity, you know.

  2. I absolutely want to experience the memorial, and I absolutely don’t care whether there’s a gift shop or not. Thanks for the posting, Jeff.

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