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At last, the public gets to visit the 9/11 Museum

President Obama speaking at the opening ceremony of the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Below left and right, photos of some of the people killed in the attack and bikes found outside the World Trade Center after 9/11.  Pool photo by John Angelillo/UPI
President Obama speaking at the opening ceremony of the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Below left and right, photos of some of the people killed in the attack and bikes found outside the World Trade Center after 9/11.
Pool photo by John Angelillo/UPI

BY JOSH ROGERS and SAM SPOKONY  |  Now, the public gets it’s turn to see the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

After a week of international coverage, a presidential visit and a higher intensity of World Trade Center controversies, May 21 was the first day people without a special connection to 9/11 — or without some other “in,” could see the museum.   

Photo by Jin Lee, courtesy of 9/11 Memorial Museum
Photo by Jin Lee, courtesy of 9/11 Memorial Museum

Some were locals coming from around the corner, some were drawn from across the Hudson River and some were tourists who visited before going to a Broadway show.

And some, like Queens resident Carol Beroff, just took a couple hours off of work to walk through the museum.

“You know, I’d never even been to the Memorial Plaza before,” said Beroff, who was working at 66 John St. on September 11, 2001, just after walking out of the museum.

Downtown Express photo by Josh Rogers
Downtown Express photo by Josh Rogers

“I’m glad I came, because I thought the museum was really well done,” she added. “For people like me, this is all just a recap of images we’ve seen before, but that didn’t make it any less worthwhile.”

Dave and Priscilla Spohr, who live upstate in Putnam County, came down with their teenage son and daughter to take in the newly opened museum.

“It’s a tough story to tell, and I think they showed it the right way, not just for people who were around here but for people who’ve never seen this all before,” said Dave Spohr, who used to work on Wall St., and was working in Midtown during the 9/11 attacks.

“Yeah, it was really inspiring,” his son chimed in.

Members of the public on the memorial plaza, above, view the program on a television monitor during the museum’s dedication ceremony. Below, two tridents from the original World Trade Center loom inside the museum, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife Chirlane McCray visit the memorial after the dedication ceremony, and the “Survivors’ Stairs,” which helped hundreds evacuate the W.T.C. to Vesey St. on Sept. 11, 2001.  Pool photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Image
Members of the public on the memorial plaza, above, view the program on a television monitor during the museum’s dedication ceremony. Below, two tridents from the original World Trade Center loom inside the museum, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife Chirlane McCray visit the memorial after the dedication ceremony, and the “Survivors’ Stairs,” which helped hundreds evacuate the W.T.C. to Vesey St. on Sept. 11, 2001. Pool photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Image

But the Spohrs, like many visitors to the museum, were not so happy about its gift shop, which has already taken some criticism for being insensitive — although 9/11 Museum representatives have said they need the shop to raise additional cash in the absence of government funding.

“It was really tacky,” Dave Spohr said of the gift shop, which includes numerous tourist-friendly trinkets alongside more solemn memorabilia.

Downtown Express photo by Josh Rogersa
Downtown Express photo by Josh Rogers

His wife thought a different option would’ve been more suitable for extra fundraising.

“They should just have a donation area by the exit, for people who want to give a little more,” she said. “It’s such a moving experience, that I think enough people would do that.”

Steve and Diane, a married couple from New Jersey who declined to give their last names, had in fact been so put off by media reports of the museum’s gift shop that they didn’t even want to see it for themselves.

“Yeah, we heard about it, so we just skipped it,” said Steve, after he and his wife had just walked out the exit.

“I think there’s just something conceptually wrong with having that kind of shop in a place like this,” he added.

But not everyone was turned of by the gift shop.

Pool photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Polaris Image
Pool photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Polaris Image

Janet and Fred O’Neill, a pair of retirees from Long Island who were both working on Water St. on 9/11, walked out of the museum toting a bag from the shop. Janet had no problem saying that she bought a commemorative coin and a sticker to go in a scrapbook she’s making for their grandchildren, who were too young in 2001 to really remember the experience of the terrorist attacks.

“And I didn’t see anything offensive in there,” said her husband. “If they need the money because they’re not getting the federal funding, I really don’t see what the problem is.”

Although they didn’t lose any loved ones on 9/11, both had coworkers who lost family members.

“We’ve seen all the pictures before, but to actually walk through there and see all the personal effects was very moving,” said Janet. “Very sad, but very moving. There’s something about seeing all of the people who were on the planes, and in the towers, and the first responders. You really learn about them, and that’s a special thing.”

President Obama, who attended the opening ceremony May 15, said, “We can touch their names and hear their voices, glimpse the small items that speak to the beauty of their lives — a wedding ring, a dusty helmet, a shining badge.”

The museum is also full of large artifacts including fire trucks damaged by the collapsing towers the and never claimed bikes that were chained to a rack outside the W.T.C.

Large photos of the 2,983 people killed on 9/11 or in the 1993 Trade Center bombing are on display as well. Small ones of the 19 hijackers are visible close to the floor in a different section. 

“This is a museum containing artifacts, that is itself housed within an artifact,” museum director Alice Greenwald said at a press preview the day before the opening ceremony. 

Architect Craig Dykers of Snøhetta, which designed the above ground portion of the museum, said he was very conscious of making the building a welcoming presence in the neighborhood.

To that end, planners decided to put the Twin Towers’ large steel trident remnants inside the museum, but also make it visible from the outside. 

“We felt that the several hundred thousand people that live here come to this place as part of their neighborhood — not as a part of a national memorial — need to feel it’s a comfortable part of their home,” Dykers told Downtown Express. “Placing the tridents outside, in a sense, would give them too much presence in the community.”

Pool photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Polaris Image
Pool photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Polaris Image

Museum opens up the memorial
The opening of the museum for previews last Thursday also freed up much of the World Trade Center to visitors, allowing strollers to visit the memorial, and pedestrians to cross the site at Liberty St.

“We went for a stroll last night,” Kristine Boel, 29, said May 16 as she walked again with her newborn, two-week-old daughter, Olivia, her husband, Christian, and their French bulldog. “It gives you another place to walk. We’ve been watching all the work from our window.”

She said she would “definitely” visit the museum soon after it opened. She said it was moving to see images of the museum on TV —  “it took my breath away.”

The memorial, which opened almost three years ago on the tenth anniversary of the attack, required reservations for free tickets up until last week.

Museum officials said at the press preview that the opening is an important milestone for the memorial as well.

“It will be a park for people to come sit on a bench and contemplate,” Greenwald, the museum’s director, told Downtown Express May 14.

Prior to the public opening Wednesday, the museum is open by reservation to family members of the victims, rescue workers, survivors and Lower Manhattan residents.

The memorial plaza was busy with visitors May 16 as well as people using the new walkway.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum made other additions during the opening week including adding an outdoor cafe/food truck and moving the Downtown Alliance information kiosk to the memorial.

An Alliance worker said things were much busier in the temporary location near Greenwich and Liberty Sts. Just then, four men dressed in business suits walked by and one had a question for a police office officer: “Can we exit that way?”

“Yes,” was the simple answer.

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