9/11 museum opens: New York pays tribute to those who died on the day that changed the world

The opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum has been dogged by controversy, with victims’ families opposed. So has it the necessary gravitas?

US Editor

It was moments after I had stepped out of the Brooklyn Bridge subway stop on that sunny September morning almost 13 years ago when I came to some quick conclusions. The smoking destruction I saw before me was surely the work of Osama bin Laden; everything I knew about New York – and the world – was about to change.

Much else I couldn’t predict, including the depth of horror I would witness before that day was out. I think I speculated if it might mean war in Afghanistan, though not in Iraq. Something I certainly didn’t see then: that Bin Laden had just ensured that Ground Zero would one day become one of Manhattan’s top tourist attractions.

This week I spent a short hour at the site during a break from the Abu Hamza trial a few blocks away. With my head already set spinning by testimony about al-Qa’ida, jihad and Mujahedin fighters, it was unsettling to jostle for space on the pavement with chattering French teenagers and families from the Midwest.

It has been like this for years, in fact. Even when all you could see was a huge hole with not very much going on except for the ballet of excavation vehicles, the city erected viewing platforms for tourists to get a glimpse.

The congestion doubled in 2011 when at last the memorial park itself opened. Maybe you’ve seen it already – two square voids in the footprints of where the towers once stood, their black walls cascading with water.

 

All our minds will turn to lower Manhattan again today with the unveiling of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, seven storeys of cavernous exhibition halls immediately beneath the park. Barack Obama is coming and hundreds more, including current and former political leaders of New York and New Jersey and some family members of the roughly 3,000 who died. There was a lottery draw for them to attend.

Getting here has been a long journey. The memorial, and now the museum, were only realised after years of struggle. Struggle for consensus over the designs, struggle to raise funds and struggle to balance the need to pay permanent tribute to those who died – not just here but also at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field where two additional hijacked planes crashed – with the sensitivities of those with a stake in the tragedy, the families above all.

Still today controversy is not extinguished. When roughly 7,000 human remains were solemnly transferred from a medical examiner’s facility to a repository on the lowest level of the museum last Saturday – 1,123 of the victims’ bodies, 40 per cent of the total, still have not been identified – a few of the families complained, precisely because the final resting place of their loved ones will now partly be the property of tourists even though they will be kept in a sealed room that only they will be allowed to visit.

Thus the reaction of Sally Regenhard, whose 28-year-old son, Christian, was among firemen who were killed that day. She said she couldn’t stomach the thought of the remains being “put in a museum, really for gawkers”. She added: “My entire family, we will never go in there. This is a post-traumatic stress situation waiting to happen.”

Columns from the destroyed World Trade Centre recovered from the wreckage are on display in the museum (AP) Columns from the destroyed World Trade Centre recovered from the wreckage are on display in the museum (AP) I witnessed people diving from the towers to escape the fires and walked before dawn the next day through ash-filled streets to the “pile” smoking with pulverised concrete and corpses. But it was nothing beside the experiences of so many others – the emergency responders who clawed with bare hands searching for survivors and of course the families. However the museum and memorial came out, some among them were always going to be offended and we can’t be surprised. And don’t get me wrong. A tourist crush there may be but that the two projects are completed is something to rejoice about. Few memorials have stirred me as deeply as those two mysterious, water-clad holes in the ground.

And of the museum Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor who stepped in to save both projects when they were foundering several years ago, said this to Politico this week: “For 3,000 families, it is a place to grieve. But for the rest of the city, state, country and the world… this is the way to educate the next generation that freedom isn’t free.”

America is brilliant at making museums, from oddball halls of fame beside interstates to the Holocaust Museum in Washington to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York. Visitors to the 9/11 museum, some of whom won’t have been born in 2001, will see a crushed fire engine, twisted pillars from the wreckage, pictures of the perished and one inscription, studded in steel from the towers, on the wall behind which the unidentified remains will be hidden, taken from Virgil: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

It will educate. It will put in context our daily troubles and even those that stood in the way of its completion for so long. Some of us will shed tears, but the good kind that tap into pain hiding inside and let at least a bit of it out.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?