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September 11 memorial and museum face varied reviews

Just one month ago on May 21, 2014, the 9/ 11 Memorial Museum opened to the public and to date, over 300,000 individuals have visited the site - but not everyone is happy.

Members of the public wait outside the museum
Members of the public wait outside the museum
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Paying respects
Paying respects
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The memorial site itself is more of a park than anything else, encompassing two waterfalls in the footprints of the towers, surrounded by the names of those departed. It is meant to provide a quiet space to reflect: “a tribute of remembrance and honor to the nearly 3000 people killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon, as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993.” The memorial plaza is free to all – no tickets required.

The museum is directly next to the park setting, and visitors have to head underground to see the exhibitions, at a price of $24 per adult. According to museum director Alice Greenwald, “The Museum’s core exhibitions are located at bedrock, seven stories below ground, allowing visitors to be in the very space where the Twin Towers once stood. Not simply located at the site of the attacks, the Museum occupies a space defined by in-situ historic remnants. Where most museums are buildings that house artifacts, this Museum has been built within an artifact.

There are two main exhibition spaces. In Memoriam, the memorial exhibition, is located on the footprint of the South Tower. The exhibition commemorates the 2,983 men, women, and children killed in the 9/11 attacks and the bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993, honoring them for how they lived their lives rather than for how they died. The historical exhibition, located on the footprint of the North Tower, examines the day of the attacks, what preceded them, and how 9/11 continues to shape our world.”

To coincide with the museum opening, examiner spoke with a few public leaders in the community who have direct connection to the site, both past and present. Each of them is involved with a group titled Save the Sphere, which hopes to return the bronze artwork known as the Koenig Sphere, to its original spot between the footprints of the Twin Towers (stay tuned for a future article about their struggles). The individuals we spoke with each have their own strong opinions about the memorial and museum and deserve their voices to be heard.

Here’s who we spoke with:

Thomas Meehan III is the father of Colleen Ann Meehan Bakow, an employee of Cantor Fitzgerald working in the North Tower, who lost her life at age 26. Margaret Donovan is co-founder of the Twin Towers Alliance and worked in midtown when the attacks took place. Marilyn Masaryk lived in Battery Park City across from the World Trade Center for twenty years before the attacks happened and was subsequently moved after her building was forced to close. And Michael Burke, the leader of Save the Sphere, is the brother of William Burke Jr., FDNY captain of Engine Co 21, who gave his life on September 11.

Examiner (JE) asked: Where were you during the attacks on 9/11/01? How did you hear about it?

TM: [At home], “a neighbor rushed to the house with a small portable TV with rabbit ears, and that was the first time we were able to see the damage to the towers, and understood that something terrible was happening before our eyes. Unable to reach our daughter, we were frantic in trying to determine if she survived the fires, (the aircraft had struck the floors she worked on) and then the collapse of the buildings. Her husband of less than a year worked in Jersey City and watched in horror, also unable to reach her.”

MD: “I worked at Marsh & McLennan in Midtown and on 9/11 I called in at 9AM to say I was going to vote in the primary and would be a bit late. Oddly, there was no answer, so I finally gave up and went to vote and got onto the subway. When I emerged at Columbus Circle it was announced that there would be no more service. I got to the street just as I heard a radio announce that the South Tower had just fallen. The reason there had been no answer was that our offices (and companywide telecommunications) were in the North Tower at the point of impact.”

MM: “I was at home that morning, heard a loud crash, thought it was a major car accident on West Street. I heard a lot of voices and looked out the window and saw many people on the street, all looking up. I saw the flames and smoke from the first plane, did not hear the second plane, but then the first building was coming down and it looked like it was headed straight towards me; the window screens blew in and all the plants on the window sill fell. I ran and hid in a closet, heard loud crashes (turned out it was the windows imploding from the pressure of the building coming down).

When the noise stopped I left the closet and the apartment was pitch-dark from the dirt and ash.

I went down to the lobby area and then the second tower came down. I was evacuated to Liberty State Park, then trekked back with a friend to try and locate her husband (we did), ended up in a school in Chinatown for the night, spent 9/12 through the last week in December with family and at a motel. Spent the time working with a clean-up crew to clean everything in the apartment and pack. Moved back but into another building as ours was closed until the following June for repairs.”

MB: “Billy called from the firehouse; told [my wife] to ‘go home, we are under terrorist attack! Tell Mike not to come into the City!’ This was before the second plane hit. She immediately called me; told me she could hear ‘the fear and urgency in his voice.’”

JE: What is your opinion of the 9/11 Memorial? What do you believe is missing?

TM: “While during the past twelve years there has been much debate, no one can view the reflecting pools and names engraved and not be emotionally touched by how they have been remembered. That said, the city achieved what it wanted: a park like setting, two pools of water, nothing above ground that conveys the immense loss that day. No sphere, no tomb of the unknown for the remains, no eternal flame, nothing that future generations that visit the site will see upon their arrival to tell them what once stood there.

“With the passage of time, those directly connected to the event, the parents, spouses, siblings will no longer be alive, those voices who held opposing views will have been silenced. Those that visit the park-like setting with fully grown trees, and places to sit and perhaps have lunch, will gaze at the two pools and waterfalls, under a clear crisp sky just as on September 11th, 2001, and perhaps only then when they approach the reflecting pools will they see the names, and wonder who they were, and why names are surrounding two waterfalls.”

MD: “People who come to the World Trade Center from across the country and around the world will discover at the memorial how massive the towers were and in the museum they will learn what we New Yorkers could never forget. But what they will not find on the memorial plaza, accessible [for free] to all who wish to pay their respects, is the dignified Tomb of the Unknowns that we think would be the central, indispensable part of a memorial in any other city or country. Nor will they find the stirring colors of the flags flying in honor of every country that lost a citizen on 9/11.”

MM:

“There is something unnerving about the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit -for many it is just another tourist site to be checked off the list - just watch people taking pictures of each other and laughing.

But I think that for people with a relationship to someone who died they would find, maybe not comfort, but a sense that there is recognition of their loved ones.

“I believe that the Memorial site is cold, antiseptic and void of all meaning as to what happened there that day. There is nothing above ground to teach people, to show what happened there-it is a Memorial that could be anywhere, representing anything. It appears that the landscaping is more important than remembrance.”

MB: “What is also missing is an American flag prominently featured. There is one, sometimes, rising from an air vent unit on the far west side of the site, adjacent to the West Side Highway, to the backs of visitors. The photo of the three firemen raising the flag at Ground Zero became as iconic as the Marines’ flag raising on Iwo Jima. Yet the memorial does not even recognize it. Why?

At this place, where a crime against humanity was committed, the design allows for no judgments. The memorial jury dedicated this place exclusively “as a special place of mourning.” If we “mourn” without any regard to how and why they died; the meaning and significance of “these deaths” – we betray their memory.”

JE: What do you think is the best part of the site as it is today?

TM:

“Simply, the engraving of her name in granite, to be seen and remembered.”

MB: “The only thing that gives it a little life, that generates any emotion are the names. The original design called for them to go underground and arranged and identified with no reference to 9/11. Arranged as they are, by whom they were with [when they perished]. It was only the ceaseless protest of the families including staging a 24/7 sleep-in at the site that had the names placed as they are now. Imagine, as the memorial jury sought, [that] those walls surrounding the waterfalls were bare.”

JE: Today, when you look at the names surrounding the waterfall, Cantor Fitzgerald employees are named together, first responders are named together, flight passengers are named together.

JE: What is your opinion of the 9/11 Museum?

TM: “Another injustice which cannot be changed, but should not be forgotten is the placement of the remains inside the museum seven floors below grade, where now you must pay to pray to honor the remains of those lost.

While the museum cites that many requests were made to return the remains to the site, as parents we were never asked to participate in this decision process; so much for a democratic process. It was not until the eve of the 12th anniversary that we were informed where the remains would be placed, and that a facility for the Medical Examiner would be provided as well, at some unstated cost. Shame on them all.”

MD: “Respect and reverence is what people need to see and have a right to see when they come to the World Trade Center. They should not have to walk through the sounds and sights of the museum, after paying $24, past a gift shop and café, to pay their respects. It is a travesty that the sacred unidentified remains of the victims are being used as a money-making draw into the extravagantly priced museum.”

MM: “I think the price is outrageously high and also wrong. I feel that admission should be free-this should be the country's museum.

“I seem to be the only one focused on this-but the Museum seems to be tilting-reminds me of buildings falling down. When I point it out to people they all agree. Not a pleasant thought.”

MB: “Ideally, the other notable artifacts, the crushed fire trucks and flyers of the missing, should have been associated with the visitors’ memorial experience. This could have been accomplished by putting the museum plaza level, closely associated with the memorial. Instead of burying these sacred objects underground where they never were. That would have given far greater meaning to a visit. It also would have been far, far cheaper.

“It is ironic to note that cities, towns, villages and fire departments across the USA have requested and sometimes traveled cross-country to obtain a segment of WTC steel for their humble 9/11 memorials. The only memorial that does not include anything of the WTC is the “national” 9/11 memorial at the WTC. Where it all came from.”

The Memorial plaza is open every day from 7:30am to 9pm. You do not need a ticket to enter. The Memorial Museum is open from 9am until 7pm. An average visit takes about two hours. Admission for adults is $24, but is free every Tuesday evening after 5pm. Family members of victims, as well as 9/11 responders and active military personnel can enter the site for free.

If you haven’t already been to the memorial and museum, stop by and pay your respects. Let us know what you think. Is the memorial a place to reflect and remember or do you think there needs to be something more there? Is the museum overpriced, are the gift shop and columbarium tactless, or do you think it has represented the people and the day effectively and properly? Start the dialog in the comments below.