The 9/11 Museum and Memorial is one of the best (if not the best) museums I’ve ever been to. And when I say “best,” I definitely don’t mean “the museum that gives me all the warm and fuzzies” because that couldn’t be farther from the truth. However, is this one of the most thorough, well-put-together, and emotionally moving museums I’ve ever toured? Abso-freaking-lutely.
I want to warn you–if you’re afraid exploring the 9/11 Museum and Memorial is going to be depressing and gut-wrenching and emotionally tolling then you are 100% correct. BUT–a very big ‘but’ here–you should go anyway. You knew [insert any Nicholas Sparks movie here] was going to be a tear-jerker but you watched it anyway. You knew volunteering at the animal shelter was going to slowly rip your heart to shreds week after week, but you continue to go anyway. This is no different. Only with far fewer kittens you try to sneak home in the pouch of your hoodie.
Exploring the National September 11 Memorial and Museum took us about three hours but it could easily have been five if it weren’t for that train we had to catch. The MEMORIAL is a gorgeous outdoor space open to the public and the MUSEUM is the indoor, mostly underground, exploration into the events surrounding September 11th, 2001.
The September 11th Memorial is smack dab on the location of the former World Trade Center buildings and exists in the form of two reflecting pools, about an acre each in size, in the exact space of the Twin Towers. Bordering the two fountains are the names of every single victim related to this site and all 9/11 events: both World Trade Center buildings, first responders, the 1993 WTC bombing, Pentagon, and everyone aboard flights 93, 175, and 77.
Surrounding the reflecting pools is one of the most sustainable plazas ever constructed and a kind of urban forest, if you will. Beginning in 2003 a competition was held for the design of the future memorial to the recent tragedies (ahem, last 4 or 5 blog posts…). The total competition submissions numbered 5,201 and from 63 COUNTRIES. That fact right there astounds me. The glory went to architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker for their design meant to convey the spirit of hope and renewal.
In this “urban forest” is a very special tree known as the Survivor Tree. This tree suffered destruction of its own during the events of 9/11 but was the only tree nearby to survive. It was soon removed and placed in the special care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. It was rehabilitated, babied, hand-fed, rocked to sleep, and returned to the memorial in 2010. Today it serves as a symbol of survival, resilience and rebirth.
Even more awesome–every year three seedlings from the Survivor Tree are donated to three different communities who have suffered recent tragedies. Some of those communities include Newtown, Connecticut; Boston, Massachusetts; and Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.
The September 11th Museum is found underground, beneath the sites and within the foundations of the former Twin Towers. Here you’ll find photographs, memorabilia and personal items, artifacts, and salvaged wreckage that shows up in many forms. You’ll hear actual telephone calls and voicemails from those inside the towers after being hit. You’ll see news footage of the events and accompanying commentary. And you’ll see the most haunting thing I have ever seen with my own two eyes–security camera footage from the airports of the terrorists boarding the planes.
You’ll hear stories of the first responders and you won’t believe they are real. You’ll see photographs and personal information about each of the 2,983 victims. TWO THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED EIGHTY THREE. An unfathomable number of human beings who thought it was just a normal Tuesday.
You’ll recall what you were doing that morning when you heard the news and you WON’T BELIEVE it has been 15 years. That can’t be right… right?
My bff (who I actually went to the museum with) and I had just started our freshman year of college and were asleep in our dorm room when we got a call from an acquaintance. He told me to turn on the TV because terrorists were flying planes into buildings. I think I laughed it off, like he must be mistaken. I was 18 years old and hadn’t ever really heard about terrorists before. I went to lunch at the cafeteria that day, ate my broccoli and cheese in silence, wondering if I should go home because we were about to be in a war? I seriously had no clue what was happening but I knew I didn’t want to be six hours away from my family.
Nothing put this 15-year span of time into perspective more than seeing this dad telling his son about the events of September 11th, 2001. THAT KID WAS. NOT. BORN. YET. I think I remember that thought actually stopping us in our tracks. There are teenagers alive today that don’t know a time before 9/11. They have never boarded a plane without taking their shoes off first. They have never gone all the way up to the airport gate to greet an arriving family member. Remember when we could all just run rampant through airports?
The above photo shows Foundation Hall and the Last Column. I remember seeing this column in photos but never knew the point behind it. Turns out it was the final steel beam removed from Ground Zero after nine months of recovery efforts. It’s covered in mementos, inscriptions, and even missing persons posters.
A quote from Virgil’s Aeneid is the centerpiece of this work by artist Spencer Finch titled Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning. The piece consists of 2,983 individually watercolored tiles, one for each victim, each painted a different shade of blue representing the artist’s attempt to remember the color of the sky on September 11th, 2001.
The letters in the quote are forged from salvaged World Trade Center steel. ⇠Another example of how every single thing in this museum has meaning.
The 9/11 Museum and Memorial can be toured on your own but they also offer guided tours where they tell you the horrific stories behind everything you see such as the above Ladder 3 fire truck and the beams that served as the impact point of the first plane. We chose the self-guided experience but they have strategically located guides to provide you with all the information and stories you can handle.
Not pictured is the hall of the historical exhibition–the guts of the museum, as they were called. There’s no photography allowed in here and it’s advised to keep your mouths shut. This exhibit walks you through the events of 9/11/2001, then the events leading up to it, and a breakdown of life afterwards. Here is where you get to meet the terrorists and learn all about their years-long journey to becoming pilots for a day and terrorists for eternity. You’ll hear a phone call from a man in the first tower to his mother letting her know that it wasn’t his tower that was hit and he’ll call her back later.
The presentation at the 9/11 Museum is really unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.
Tickets to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum can be purchased up the three months in advance–we bought ours about an hour prior from the kiosks located inside the memorial. They look like ATMs if that helps.
HOURS OF OPERATION:
- 9/11 Memorial: 7:30 AM – 9:00 PM
- 9/11 Museum: Sunday – Thursday 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM Friday – Saturday 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM
- 9/11/2016: Open for 9/11 family members only 7:00 AM – 3:00 PM, and open to the public 3:00 PM – midnight for the viewing of the Tribute in Light.
MUSEUM ADMISSION PRICES:
- General Adult Admission: $24
- Adult Museum Admission + Tour: $44
- Adult Museum Admission + Memorial Tour: $39
- 9/11 Family Members: Free
- 9/11 Rescue and Recovery Workers: Free
- Active/Retired US Military: Free
- FDNY/NYPD/PAPD: $12
HOWEVER, admission to the 9/11 Museum and Memorial is included in the New York CityPASS (which will save you 42% off the admission price plus five other top attractions). Just sayin… (Seriously, check out this deal ⇣⇣⇣ — I wish I’d know about this before I visited.)
ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER
One World Trade Center–aka the Freedom Tower–is now the main building of the revamped World Trade Center site. It’s 1,776 feet tall (commemorating our nation’s freedom birthday) making it the tallest building in the Western hemisphere. We’re coming for you Dubai! Just kidding, we’re so far below you. Heh.
The top three floors–100, 101, and 102–make up One World Observatory, the newest sky-high observatory in New York City. I didn’t make the trip up myself (stupid train!) but I’m told the views from the observatory are ridiculous and I can imagine. Back in 2009 I went to the top of the then world’s tallest building, Taipei 101 in Taipei, Taiwan, and that view was the most incredible/scariest experience. Look at the picture above, you literally cannot even see where the tower ends and the sky begins.
⇢ UPDATE: I have since ventured 100+ stories up to the One World Observatory. See where it ranks here in my post ⇢ Which is the best observation deck in New York City?
There are about six different admission prices for the observatory (not included in the Museum/Memorial) and I’d recommend purchasing your tickets in advance. The line for this was around the block the whole entire day.
For more information on these sites, check out their very well organized website at www.911memorial.org
Like this post?
Sign up here to get fresh posts + the MWL monthly newsletter full of behind the scenes travel and blogging updates ⇢ straight to your inbox!