New York’s 9/11 Museum now open: will you visit?

By Caitlin Kelly



It has taken a long time — and $700 million in donations and tax dollars — but the museum commemorating the attack on New York City on September 9, 2001 opens to the public this month.

President Obama went to dedicate it today:

The president’s remarks highlighted a somber ceremony at the new institution marking the worst foreign attack on American soil, one that shocked the world and ushered in a new era of fear, war, determination and clashes of values while redefining America’s place in the world. Surrounded by the wreckage of that day, deep underneath the ground where two planes felled the twin towers, the president and the other guests vowed never to forget.


Objects big and small from the greatest terrorist attack on American soil now make up a museum dedicated to that tragedy and the 2,983 people who perished. It is one of America’s largest and most ambitious memorial museums, almost entirely subterranean and erected in the graveyard of Osama bin Laden’s victims.

Construction worker Frank Silecchia found a crossbeam in the rubble that resembled a cross. It became a key exhibit at the new museum.

A police officer found Genni Gambale’s red wallet on the roof of a Marriott hotel, a few blocks south of the Trade Center, days after the attacks. In the wallet were a scorched American Express Corporate card, a $115 coupon for Lenscrafters, a Brooklyn Public Library card, pennies, nickels, dimes.

Now under thick Plexiglass, the wallet tells of a life cut short. Gambale was one of many trapped on the upper floors after American Airlines Flight 11 plowed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. She was 27.

I asked a friend if he is going to visit, and his response was swift and furious.

“No! They’re charging $24. The monuments in Washington are free. I think it’s obscene to charge money for this.”

I agree.

(It is free to family members of 9/11 victims, and $18 for seniors.)

I doubt I’ll go, but for additional reasons beyond a very high ticket price. I try to avoid even driving past the site of the former World Trade Center; I find the area frightening, depressing and filled with terrible memories, both visual and olfactory.

For many weeks after the towers fell, you could smell them many long blocks north, like some evil, dark wraith twisting between the skyscrapers. It was oily, chemical, acrid — and unforgettable.

There was no escaping it.

If you were in or near lower Manhattan (or D.C.) the day of those attacks, you likely have no appetite at all to relive the terror, doubt, confusion, grief and sorrow we all experienced.

That morning, I was in Maryland on a journalism fellowship, while my husband Jose, (then a boyfriend about to move, that very day, into my suburban apartment), sat in Brooklyn with all his possessions packed into boxes.

Instead, he heard the distinctive roar of an F-15 fighter jet overhead, a sound he knows, and knew we were at war.

He helped The New York Times to win the Pulitzer Prize that year for photo editing of those awful images. This was no “it’s only a movie” moment.

Instead he ran into a local drugstore, handed off the rolls of film from Times’ photographers — ash-covered from the collapsed towers, traumatized, running as fast they could — to develop it as quickly as possible then transmitting it to the Times’ midtown newsroom from the computer in his otherwise-empty apartment.

I reported the DNA testing of remains story, and it ran in newspapers and magazines in New Zealand, Britain and France. I also interviewed a volunteer morgue worker for Glamour, a women’s magazine.

The details were impossibly grotesque and I cried a lot.

A friend of ours, Richard Drew,  took a photograph that defines the day. It is a terrible, terrible image: Falling Man. These are real events that touched people we know.

The museum includes video and audio of the event — plus intimate artifacts like wallets and ID cards of people who became body parts, some still not recovered.

I listened to some of those audio tapes when I was a reporter at the New York Daily News. Jesus. It was five years after the event, but it might have been yesterday.

No, I can’t hear that again.


So, I’m not going.

Would you?

19 thoughts on “New York’s 9/11 Museum now open: will you visit?

  1. I think it is an outrage to charge an entrance fee for that museum. I think it is something that every American, or visitor even, should be able to see for free, if they want to.

  2. Hi Caitlin,
    I’ll never forget 9/11. It was horrific but I won’t be going to see the Museum. I doubt they will let me across the boarder.

  3. I agree that the price is outrageous and there are aspects of the museum (from what I’ve heard) that sound very awkward, if not terribly upsetting (remains of unidentified victims being present). But I also think it’s something that future generations should learn about and be able to physically stand in the space, upsetting as that may be. Similar to the Holocaust museums all around the world… yes, they are painful reminders but also important educational institutions. Some events are so horrific, we want to forget them… but we can’t, nor should we ever.

    1. But (devil’s advocate) what is this going to tell us that we really don’t already know or understand?

      Islamic radicalism? The nature of terrorism? To me, it’s voyeuristic…it’s not as though there are not reams and reams of print, audio, film, photos and video of the event readily accessible already. It’s why I loathe people who “visit” the Trade Center site. They weren’t here to be seared by the horror…

      1. It’s such an emotional issue, especially for people who were there and lived through it. My sister was 8 months pregnant that day and had to walk all the way from Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn. I don’t know how she feels about the museum but imagine she has similar mixed emotions. Thing is not everyone lived through it, some Americans were in other states or countries watching the horror unfold on television. I think perhaps for them and others, going to the actual location is cathartic, a way to pay their respects. I totally understand not wanting to go to the museum, but I don’t think it’s wrong that they built one. I do, however, wish it were free. Making money off that day feels wrong indeed.

        I’m also glad you wrote this post so folks can discuss it.

      2. Thanks….I suspect I am not the only one with very mixed feelings.

        I do get that people from other places may want to better understand it — while people like your poor sister probably never want to hear another word about it ever again.

  4. i agree about the horrible idea of charging an entrance fee to enter this memorial. as for visiting, it represents many different things to many different people, and like other memorials, painful and full of stark reminders, those who seek comfort in these places will visit no matter what. i don’t judge those who do or don’t, and know that everyone deals with painful memories in an individual manner.

  5. My daughter is a Manhattanite, moved there from here in S. Indiana right after college 18 years ago, so I remember the horror and fear of That Awful Day and how I wanted to pluck her up and bring her home.. She’s still there, however, raising a family, and I visit at least twice a year. Over the years, I refused to even walk past the site and I know I’ll never go to the museum. The building is striking, though, from every angle. I think you have articulated well what I have thought, Kaitlyn. The matter of $$ is obscene, but ain’t that America?

    1. I bet you were very worried that she would stay…all my friends and family in Canada said “Why not move back home?!” It took a long time to feel less frightened of another such attack and we live close (!) to a nuclear power plant — we can see it from our bedroom windows. Jose and I have actually discussed potential escape plans, but they are not easy to enact…at all. The authorities in our affluent county
      of 1 million people, north of Manhattan, even refused to even do any sort of trial of same… so good luck to all of us should anything like that happen.

      I have no issue with the building’s design and I get why some people want to go. But anyone who felt, heard, saw or smelled it — or (as I and fellow journalists did) heard and saw appalling accounts of it — is already traumatized. Even looking at those photos is enough for me.

  6. I think charging an entrance fee and monetising something like the commemoration of 9/11 is an awful, tasteless idea.

    Also, what I am about to say might sound controversial but it is something I often think when 9/11 is discussed. September 9 2001 was a terrible and unbearably tragic day. But what about all the thousands of civilian men, women and children who have been killed by terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and other countries? We remember 9/11 but we don’t remember them.

  7. I’m shocked at the high cost to visit, but I have no desire to see it anyway. I was there ten days after 9/11 with my daughter on a birthday trip we’d planned for some time and did not want to cancel. We did not want to give in to the fear people felt in those early days. I’ve been to the city many times and that trip was the most memorable for all the wrong reasons. The smell of things burning and the dust that covered everything is still fresh even now.

  8. No, I don’t think I will go. I still remember that day, when my heart suddenly stopped as the towers were falling down, because I couldn’t reach someone I hold dear who was working in that building and not answering his phone. I thought he was dead, until two days later, he called me, saying he was ok.

  9. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Friday links | A Bit More Detail

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