How do you memorialize an event as devastating and as life altering as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States?
This is a question the foundation behind the National September 11 Memorial Museum has come up against over and over again. And it is partially why it has taken so long for the museum, designed by Norwegian architectural firm Snohetta, to open. Lawsuits from families and religious groups, fundraising issues, and construction delays all halted the building of the museum. After years of obstacles, the 9/11 Museum will finally open ceremonially with President Obama tomorrow and to the public next Wednesday.
"We want this museum to make the world a better place," Joe Daniels, president and chief executive of the memorial foundation, told The Wall Street Journal. "The sense of 'they were who we are' is so important if we're going to prevent something like this from happening again."
On view are relics from the disaster, including charred remnants from the original World Trade Center towers, burnt airplane parts, a storefront display covered with ashes, and tragically hopeful missing signs. The museum also has heart-wrenching audio and video clips from the disaster. As may be expected, the whole experience is, as Holland Cotter titles his review for The New York Times, "as Powerful as a Punch to the Gut."
Much of the initial controversy surrounding the museum was focused on the 14,000 unidentified or unclaimed remains, which are housed next to museum but are not on view at the request of the majority of families. With this in mind, Cotter likens visiting the 9/11 Museum to a religious pilgrimage:
Its nearest equivalent I can think of is the dynamic of religious pilgrimage sites, whether Christian churches, Buddhist temples or Sufi shrines. There, the mortal remains of saints, and objects sanctified by their touch, are the focus of attention. Here, you also walk a long, sanctified route, stopping at the equivalent of side chapels and altars, contemplating icons, talismans and embodied miracles: a pair of crossed steel ground zero girders that to some eyes formed a crucifix, a Bible found fused to a hunk of steel and opened to a passage that warns against repaying violence with violence.
Even though the museum is finally opening its doors to the public, the 9/11 memorial foundation is still struggling to raise funds. The $24 entry fee (waived for victims' family members, first responders, and recovery workers) is expected to cover many of the museum's costs, but the foundation is still looking for $20 million in private donations.
The National September 11 Memorial Museum opens to the public on Wednesday, May 21.