The National September 11 Memorial Museum will finally open its doors to the public on Wednesday, May 21. For years, there have been tensions over how any memorial at this site would look and operate. The museum was supposed to open in 2012 but disagreements among the state and local, public and private authorities that had a hand in its creation delayed the opening until now.
By all accounts, visiting the museum is an emotional experience. The displays includes artifacts, large and small, from firetrucks to personal objects of people who worked in the two towers. But the road to this museum’s opening has been fraught with controversy, and that doesn’t look to abate anytime in the near future.
Just a few months ago, for example, clergy members registered their distaste for "The Rise of Al Qaeda," a film shown at the museum, which objectors felt unfairly depicted a link between Islam and terrorism. Right now, an atheist advocacy group is pushing for the removal from the museum of the so-called Ground Zero Cross, a large fragment of steel beams in the shape of a cross.
In the time that the museum has been open to a limited number of people, including 9/11 families, a couple of complaints have surfaced. Some families are troubled that the museum is being operated as a museum, not a sacred space of grief. For the general public, tickets cost $24 for adults. (Registered rescue and recovery workers and 9/11 families get in free.) There's also a museum membership that gives patrons special discounts in the cafe or gift shop. The gift shop itself has been a particular magnet of ire.
Steve Kandell, a Buzzfeed editor, lost his sister in the attacks, and wrote a heart-rending account of his visit to the museum during the days that it was open solely to people who had been directly affected by the events of 9/11. Kandell writes:
I think now of every war memorial I ever yawned through on a class trip, how someone else’s past horror was my vacant diversion and maybe I learned something but I didn’t feel anything. Everyone should have a museum dedicated to the worst day of their life and be forced to attend it with a bunch of tourists from Denmark. Annotated divorce papers blown up and mounted, interactive exhibits detailing how your mom’s last round of chemo didn’t take, souvenir T-shirts emblazoned with your best friend’s last words before the car crash. And you should have to see for yourself how little your pain matters to a family of five who need to get some food before the kids melt down. Or maybe worse, watch it be co-opted by people who want, for whatever reason, to feel that connection so acutely.
Kandell also writes of his visit to the remains repository, where many unidentified remains are stored by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York and which is off-limits to the general public. The repository has been another lightning rod of contention among the families of the deceased.
But with the emotionally charged nature of the event it memorializes, how could a single place of remembrance exist without disagreement? And the museum may shape-shift over time, as those disagreements develop and change. The New York Times’ Holland Carter writes:
[W]ithin its narrow perspective, maybe because of it, the museum has done something powerful. And, fortunately, it seems to regard itself as a work in progress, involved in investigation, not summation. I hope so. If it stops growing and freezes its narrative, it will become, however affecting, just another Sept. 11 artifact. If it tackles the reality that its story is as much about global politics as about architecture, about a bellicose epoch as much as about a violent event, it could deepen all our thinking about politics, morality and devotion.
The span of strongly held opinions about how 9/11 should be remembered, particularly on the WTC site itself, is wide—there may be as many as there are people who remember that day, in some way. Now, you can visit the museum and form your own.