16 years on, 9/11 Memorial & Museum is a must-see in New York
At first it felt too small.
Set beside two gigantic reflecting pools, stashed away behind Santiago Calatrava’s whalebone-like Oculus transport hub, New York’s 9/11 Museum seemed almost like an afterthought.
Then I went below ground.
The visitor journey is genius. And gut-wrenching. You step from a leafy plaza, thundering waterfalls and soaring views of the Freedom Tower into security checks. X-rays and shift-working uniformed guards focus the mind, pulling you into the real world, and the morning of September 11, 2001.
You descend into “the architectural heart” of the former World Trade Center. As you go down, spaces bloom horrifically in scale. You see slurry walls and box column cut-offs., the flesh and bones of buildings destroyed that day.
At one point, I paused at what looked like a display panel. It was actually a battered heritage sign from the original Twin Towers (see galleries).
There is the ‘Last Column’ with its mementos and missing posters; the crushed shell of a fire engine (above), impossible to tell front from back.
Just as you’re getting to grips with the huge, hallowed spaces, however, the journey takes another turn — this time towards terrifying intimacy.
There are victims’ voicemails. A tube of lipstick. A photojournalist’s shoes.
Couriers’ bikes remain locked to a rack, their frames bent and wheels buckled. The skin-crawling small moments are raw and devastating, but always purposeful.
I’ve been to New York many times since 2001, but this was my first visit to the memorial. I wasn’t expecting to feel so shaken.
I left thinking of my children, of today’s terror attacks, feeling helpless but determined. You can focus on horror, or you can focus on those that run towards it to help.
That’s where the goodness lies.
Plaza & Pools
More than 5,200 designs were submitted for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Michael Arad and Peter Walker’s twin reflecting pools (above) were a worthy winner.
Brilliantly simple, they see two gargantuan pits occupy the footprints of the former World Trade Center, with waterfalls gushing from a perimeter featuring the names of all victims from the 2001 and 1993 attacks.
The symbolism is obvious but profound, as impactful for adults as children hearing the stories for the first time. Around them, trees in the plaza will one day reach 60-feet in height.
Plan your visit
There is 110,000 square-feet of space in the 9/11 museum, with temporary exhibitions alongside permanent displays and commemorations of each and every victim. It’s not something you should rush, and I’d think carefully before bringing children (How will you explain the events? What details and imagery are they old enough to process?).
Entry costs $24 (€20) for adults, and $15 (€12.50) for kids, but you can save somewhat with a City Pass (citypass.com), or book 60-minute guided tours ($44/€37).
See 911memorial.org and nycgo.com.