Perhaps you’ve heard the complaints about the National September 11 Memorial & Museum: Some think it’s too expensive (admission is $24); others decry the inclusion of a gift store.
Some relatives of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — fueled by their grief and angered over delays in construction — say they will never set foot in the museum.
But on a trip to New York City, I couldn’t imagine skipping any part of this emotional narrative, a 110,000-square-foot museum which had been in the works for more than a decade and opened in the spring.
The entrance pavilion sits on the grounds of the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan, near the two granite pools that were built in the footprints of the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
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The 8-acre park was full of visitors when my family and I visited, but visitor traffic inside was carefully monitored (admission was timed), and the exhibits rarely felt crowded.
After we entered the museum, we caught a partial view of two steel tridents that were once part of the North Tower, which collapsed at 10:28 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, 29 minutes after the South Tower had fallen.
Looking over a balcony, we were startled to see that those columns descend for several stories. (Most of the exhibits are 70 feet underground.)
It was just the first of many remnants — enormous and seemingly out of context — that stopped us in our tracks.
Our next moment of reckoning came when we took an escalator to a darkened passageway where visitors experience a “soundscape” of recorded voices of people recalling their shock, fear and confusion.
Those words — and, a few steps later, photos of people who were experiencing, or recalling, the events of the day — were projected onto panels to chilling effect.
Emerging from the passage, we stopped at an overlook with a view of Foundation Hall. Our eyes were immediately drawn to an exposed 60-foot-tall section of the trade center’s “slurry wall,” built as part of the original foundation to help hold back groundwater and the Hudson River.
A tall section of steel, referred to as the Last Column, dominates the space. It was one of the last pieces to be removed from the ruins at Ground Zero and was signed, over time, by construction workers, police officers, firefighters and others.
The column “assumed symbolic status for the site’s recovery workers and those who witnessed their efforts,” a plaque explained.
We descended deeper into the museum by way of ramps, scanning various reminders of the attacks, including fliers posted by desperate family members and friends looking for loved ones.
The primary exhibits are arranged in spaces that sit beneath the memorial pools. Victims are remembered in the footprint of the South Tower, with their photographs, biographies and interviews with surviving friends and relatives.
We stood at touch screens and typed in the names of people we had known, two names among all those who had perished. Photos and biographical information popped up. That information was also projected into a nearby room, where benches for meditation were placed.
The exhibits in the space that sits in the footprint of the North Tower focus primarily on events of the day — what led up to it and its aftermath.
The list of indelible images is long: the photos of doomed firemen as they prepared to enter the towers; shoes, degraded wallets and crumpled eyeglasses; the entrance of a jeans emporium, merchandise still covered in dust; a section of North Tower steel that had been pierced by American Airlines Flight 11; newspapers published on Sept. 12, 2001; a section of a huge radio and TV antenna that stood atop the North Tower; a firetruck whose ladders were so twisted they resembled a huge, unearthly insect.
I could have spent hours, and perhaps days, here, taking it all in. (Some critics have lamented its size and scope.) A 2½ -hour visit was hardly a start.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum might be a place to visit alone so you can set your own pace. You might want to linger at the exhibits that recall relatively recent history or stand in line to see and hear the evidence of the attacks.
But it’s hard to imagine you won’t find a place to linger — even if you’re wondering how much more you can take.