The National 9/11 Museum opened to the public yesterday, with dozens of museum employees on hand to assist visitors through exhibits, numerous Red Cross workers and chaplains eager to help those who needed comfort, and at least three security guards who tracked me down and ultimately threw me out. For asking a single question.
President Obama dedicated the museum last week during a special ceremony open to politicians, victims’ families and select members of the media. I was curious about it, because I wondered if the museum really was “as beautiful — at times, disturbingly so — as it is horrific,” as the Post’s Steve Cuozzo put it, and “emotionally overwhelming,” as the NY Times’ Holland Cotter declared. Jake and I had no luck in getting into the media previews (although he’d visited the museum when it was under construction), so when a friend offered his extra ticket for today’s opening day, I took it.
Yes, the museum is very beautiful, well-laid out, enormous (10,000 square feet) and full of details. But it’s also somewhat excruciating to walk through. You’re forced to remember that bright, sunny day and how horrifically it unfolded. I was unemployed, so I was at home on the Upper West Side and saw what happened on TV. My dad was flying from Logan Airport to San Francisco and we had no idea what happened with him (luckily, his United flight was still on the tarmac, but it took forever for him to get through to call us). The burning smell drifted up to my neighborhood and I went to Fairway to buy water—other confused people had the same idea— and started to see people who had walked from their offices downtown, because the subways were shut down.
The photographs of victims will tear your heart out. The scale of the destruction, with the wrecked fire engines and World Trade Center elevator motor, is also distressing. The audio recordings are particularly harrowing, whether they document a 911 call from someone on the 106th floor or a survivor describing how he carried a quadriplegic coworker down the North Tower and didn’t realize the extent of the attacks until he went to look for the South building and discovered it no longer existed.