Tribeca Trib

The September 11 Memorial Museum: A First Look Inside

The September 11 Memorial Museum: A First Look Inside

By Aline Reynolds — published by Tribeca Trib, Sept. 11, 2013

North Tower steel mangled by the impact of a Boeing 767. The stairs that offered hundreds a final route to safety. A fire truck bent and burned. These are among the largest objects from the World Trade Center destruction of 12 years ago that are now permanently housed in the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum, due to open its doors next spring.

Still a construction site amid the swirl of tourists on the surrounding memorial plaza, the museum still awaits most of its installations—the interactive timelines, videos, photos and stories of that day and the aftermath. But in a preview tour of the 110,000-square-foot museum led by 9/11 Memorial president Joe Daniels and the museum’s director, Alice Greenwald, members of the press got a first glimpse of the museum’s seven-story-deep interior and some of the massive objects that will be a visceral reminder of the enormity of destruction. (See the audio slideshow below.)

The largest of those installations—70-foot-high twin “tridents,” towering structural steel that had been part of the north tower’s base—are in the museum’s glass-enclosed pavilion. As visitors descend via a ramp, they will hear recorded voices of people recalling where they were and what they were doing the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Visitors will then reach an overlook offering a view of what the museum is calling “Foundation Hall,” a vast area at bedrock that features the exposed slurry wall, the reinforced concrete that held back the Hudson River.

“If the [Twin Towers] were still here now, this area would have been the parking garage, and the parking decks provided the lateral bracing against the wall,” explained Daniels. “So when the towers came down and all that was destroyed…there was concern that the wall was going to breach. It didn’t, [but] it had to be reinforced.”

A centerpiece of the hall is the “Last Column,” the final piece of steel to be hauled away from the site. Now shrouded in cloth, it is covered with the graffiti and  emblems of rescue and recovery workers. “We brought it back to stand tall within this hall,” said Daniels, “as a reminder of that nine-month period, as well as the resiliency that was required to clean up the site.”  Descending towards bedrock is a view of wall-mounted “impact steel,”  a section of girders from the north tower’s 93rd through 99th floors, bent like straws by American Airlines Flight 11. (A companion piece stands at bedrock level.)

Visitors will walk down stairs beside the “Survivor Stairs,” the last intact remnant to be removed from the site. “You’re literally following the same pathway that hundreds followed on 9/11 to survival, to safety,” Greenwald explained as she stood at the foot of the stairs. “In some respects,” she added, “what we’re saying to our visitors is, we all live in a world now that was defined by this event. And, in that sense, we’re all survivors of 9/11.”

At bedrock will be the historical exhibition, which include a row of box beam column remnants from the south side of the south tower. “Like anything, the Greek ruins, Rome, Jerusalem,” said Daniels, “these things are original, and they help tell the story of the building of the [towers] and, ultimately, the stories of how they came down.”

Other objects now installed are the “cross,” (crossbeams that remained from 6 World Trade Center),  tangled strands of rebar, and the remains of Bent Propeller, the steel sculpture by Alexander Calder that stood on the former WTC’s Austin Tobin Plaza. The fire engine of Capt. Billy Burke, who died while trying to save a paraplegic man from one of the burning buildings, is also installed.

Along with the museum’s historical exhibition at bedrock is the memorial section, yet to be installed. It will feature a room filled with portraits and profiles of each of the 2,983 victims of the 2001 attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as the 1993 truck bombing at the World Trade Center.

A private room reserved for victims’ family members will allow for quiet contemplation near hidden, unidentified remains discovered amid the wreckage. (The remains of around 40 percent of the deceased have yet to be identified, Daniels noted.)

An installation entitled “Reflecting on 9/11,” also in this section of the museum, will allow visitors to record their own 9/11 experiences. Only FBI evidence photos of the 9/11 perpetrators will be shown. “Seeing a picture of the person that murdered their loved one,” he said, “is very, very difficult.” “Al Qaeda is portrayed for what they are in this museum,” he added, “which is an ideology that is hateful.”

On the other side of the room will be relics donated by local residents and workers, including the preserved, dust-covered window display from Chelsea Jeans at Broadway and Fulton, on loan from the New-York Historical Society, and furniture from an apartment in Battery Park City’s Gateway Plaza that was heavily damaged by flaming debris.

“We’ve spent seven years coming to this moment,” Greenwald said, “and every choice that we made was a choice that involved an analysis of whether the artifact was really going to tell the points that we needed to be made.”

Daniels said that to understand the events of Sept. 11, 2001 is to know what came before and after: the bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the attacks on the USS Cole and the U.S. embassies in East Africa, and the rise of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1980s. And then there were, in the months after 9/11, the outpouring of support around the world and the extraordinary recovery effort.

“One of our important messages is that 9/11 didn’t just start on 9/11,” he said, “and it didn’t end on 9/11.”