Visiting the 9/11 museum and trying to make sense of what happened on that fateful day

By John Sapida

I was a young child, around 9 years old, when the September 11 attacks happened. I do not remember much about my personal reaction, or if I had any, but I knew that amidst the emotions and confusion around me, this was something out of the ordinary.

Recently, I decided to pay a visit to the National September 11 Memorial Museum to follow up on a project I did for school on the topic of ‘dark tourism and representation of mass atrocity through memorials and museums.’ I was curious about this episode of contemporary history, and also because the museum gives out free tickets every Tuesday evenings.

The museum was built and opened to the public in May. Amidst criticisms and controversies, it has been an attraction for Americans and tourists alike. Visiting this site and viewing the exhibitions and artifacts will definitely bring visitors back to the events of 9/11 and commemorate the lives lost.

One of the most powerful is an exhibit entitled In Memoriam. Within this exhibit is the “Wall of Faces” created by images of the nearly 3,000 people who perished. The exhibit also provides a reflective space to learn more about them. A small screening room shows photo reels and provides biographies and recordings of their stories.

There are three notable interactive and immersive media exhibits which provide great opportunity to witness compelling storytelling. First, the museum features an 11-minute excerpt from the documentary film, entitled “Rebirth at Ground Zero,” produced by the Project Rebirth nonprofit organization which creates programs that facilitate healing after 9/11.
This documentary shows years of time-lapse footage and voice clips of interviews to show the rebuilding of the new tower at One World Trade Center. The exhibit literally puts you in the middle of the action.

Another exhibit allows visitors to write and share memories and messages of hope, thanks, and encouragement on a touch screen kiosk in any language they choose. Visitors are then allowed to tag their message geographically to where they are from around the world.

Finally, the third exhibit features a recording studio where visitors can record oral remembrances that could potentially become part of the exhibits.

Some other major exhibitions include relics from the Twin Towers, such as the Survivors’ Stairs. Visitors can find some leftover steel that shows the impact of the attacks on the building. Other items, such as an elevator motor, a fire truck, a bike rack, and a large radio and television antenna, are also preserved.

The museum is also home to original pieces of art inspired by 9/11. One of them is Spencer Finch’s “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on that September Morning” which symbolizes each of those who perished in the September 11 attacks as well as those slain in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. They are represented by the individual squares in different shades of blue.

The victims’ personal belongings, such a pair of ladies shoes and a backpack left in the rush to escape the burning buildings, were unearthed and exhibited.

Upon leaving the museum, I started thinking how possibly every single person viewing the exhibit remembered where they were on 9/11. I also thought what this memorial could mean for the family members of the departed. A place like this could mean so much more to them than to regular tourists. Like the survivors, the families were directly affected by the events, and this museum is their space of contemplation and a way for them to reconnect with the memories of their loved ones. It is important to meditate about 9/11 with careful consideration for everyone else whose lives it shattered.

Not a piece of sculpture, this gnarled steel beam shows the impact of the crash on the framework of the Twin Towers. Photos by John Sapida

Not a piece of sculpture, this gnarled steel beam shows the impact of the crash on the framework of the Twin Towers. Photos by John Sapida

The Last Column contains messages and mementos to remember the departed

The Last Column contains messages and mementos to remember the departed

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