I visited the September 11, 2001 Memorial Museum in New York City last weekend.
It is a very sobering place.
Located several stories below Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, the museum accomplishes the nearly impossible. To somehow, in some magical way, tell the story of the 9/11 terrorist attack in a calm, sensitive way without ever diminishing the abject horror of the event.
On the morning I arrived at the museum, the weather was eerily similar to that fateful day of the attack. Stunning, deep blue skies, a gentle breeze blowing in from New York harbor, lots of people milling about in shirtsleeves, and street vendors selling the ubiquitous hot pretzels and roasting chestnuts. Once you began your timed-entry descent into the bowels of the museum, however, your surroundings could not be more different.
The total absence of natural light begins to close in on you as you walk down into the several subterranean environs of the museum. The colors, so gay and vibrant above ground, now morph into grays, blacks, shadowy stone and concrete hues and faint indirect lighting.
The first thing you notice are the voices. Nobody would ever accuse me of having great hearing, but at first I thought it was the murmurings of the large crowd entering the space with me. Then I realized that the voices were being transmitted, slightly above a whisper, to all in the museum. Voices. Pleas. 9-11 calls. Phone messages. Emergency radios. Broadcast news reports. These voices would be your near-silent accompaniment throughout your visit.
The displays are well-thought out and cover all aspects of the attack on America, including the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. Obviously, the assault on the Twin Towers is the main focus of this museum.
The by now well-known icons of that sad chapter in American history are everywhere. The crushed fire trucks, the soot-covered turn-out gear, the stopped watches, and the towering steel beam in the shape of the cross. The missing persons fliers. They are all here, illuminated by muted lighting as if to say, “We know you have seen this before, but we really must show you this.” Like I said, sensitive.