First Impressions of the WTC Museum
by John Delach
Be not troubled or afraid. I know many of you who lived through the terror and heartbreak of September 11, 2001, experienced those events or witnessed it all helplessly cannot or do not wish to revive those raw emotions by visiting the place once called “Ground Zero” be it the World Trade Center Memorial or Museum. Be true to your own counsel.
My purpose is to report my first impressions of visiting the museum. I had been to the memorial twice before when it was gated and entry required a ticket. Now the public space is open to all. It is in many ways a park, the memorial fountains are soothing, it is still partially fenced in by construction sites for new buildings and the PATH terminal which is terribly distracting and it will be filled by tourists especially this summer. No vendors are in evidence which has a calming effect.
The Museum is different. (I visited the museum on Monday, June 23rd with Mary Ann and my cousin and friend, Bob Christman.)
The ticketing process is still developing and purchasing tickets in advance is recommended, but, unless you are a member you will still face a slow line to claim your tickets. Extra time is a must. Security is the equivalent of being at an airport.
From security you descend by escalator, stairway or elevator to an informational level where there are guides, an information desk, rest rooms and the controversial book shop and gift shop. (It is discreetly set off to one side of this lobby.)
The elevators can be used to access the main floor but the primary path is along a long ramp that snakes downward. Early along there is a map cut into the wall in relief showing the four flight paths and recorded conversations from that day play as you pass. From high on the ramp, you first view some of the artifacts like the slurry wall, the last column removed from the site and steel from the side of one of the towers twisted by the impact from one of the airplanes. The survivors’ staircase is alongside the stairs and escalators that connect the suspended ramp to the main floor.
The main floor is far underground down where the footings for the towers were set. The footings for both the North and South Towers are visible throughout this huge space and a ramp on the south side of the South Tower brings you below the footings exposing concrete and steel above this path.
Several different artifacts, memorial objects and remembrances are set out in various locations throughout these spaces. The area near the North Tower by the slurry wall is an enormous space with breathtaking views.
It is on this floor where the curators took the utmost care to provide an experience that each visitor commands for themselves. The telling of that awful day is presented in a separate exhibit behind a glass wall under a sign that describes what it is. Access to the exhibit is through a revolving door which gives pause to decide if you are ready to re-live those events. The photos of the dead are discreetly set in alphabetical order on the inside walls of a large room that you do not see unless you seek to enter.
The same is true for other experiences of the day. Nowhere is the visitor subject to shock, violence or terror. It is a somber place for sure. It is stark and minimalist in its framing of the objects on display and the story it tells. The large number of tourists in their bright, summer apparel counters the somberness but even the most casual visitor I encountered was subdued and seemed to understand.
I dreaded this first visit and there were certain experiences that my companions and I avoided. But, I am glad I made the visit and broke the spell. In the fall I will be ready to return and this time I intend to take the next step and re-visit some of the events and recollections that I was not prepared to encounter this time.