The National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center, New York City
A photographic story in remembrance of the 2,977 souls lost on 9/11
I visited the 9/11 Museum last December. It has taken me until now to want to post my photos. It seems fitting, on this 14th anniversary of that horrific day.
Entrance Hall to Concourse Lobby and the beginning of the exhibition.
This is the tableau that begins the journey into the museum. On the left stands the World Trade Center tridents, a signature architectural element from the base of the Twin Towers, which were once part of the facade of the South Tower. The juxtaposition of the photograph and the tridents is a sobering reminder of what happened and of what lies ahead in the exhibit.
From the Concourse Lobby, visitors are directed to the Ramp, which begins with a soundscape of voices of people remembering their experiences of 9/11.
The end of the Ramp overlooks Memorial Hall and the soaring Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning. This artistic installation, created by Spencer Finch (American, b. 1962), is composed of 2,983 individual watercolor drawings commemorating the individuals killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. Each square is a unique shade of blue, and each is a distinct attempt by the artist to remember the blue of the sky on the morning of September 11.
“Finch’s work centers on the idea of memory. What one person perceives as blue might not be the same as what another person sees. Yet, our memories, just like our perception of color, share a common reference.”
— Exhibit plaque —
The quote, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time,” comes from Book XI of Virgil’s The Aeneid. New Mexico artist Tom Joyce (American, b. 1956) forged each of the letters from pieces of recovered World Trade Center steel.
“Originally trained as a blacksmith, Joyce was invited to harness the transformative process that occurs when iron is touched by fire. He took wounded, remnant steel … and forged it … into letters of hope and beauty. The result reminds us that Virgil’s words are not just a statement; they are a promise.”
— Exhibit plaque —
An escalator descends from the Ramp to Memorial Hall, the original foundation level of the Twin Towers and the exhibitions. Straight ahead from the escalator is Tribute Walk. Displayed along the walls of the Walk are different artistic expressions created in response to 9/11. Difficult to see because of camera blur, the piece at the end of the walk is not artistic. It is instead impact steel, a portion of the North Tower facade from floors 96 through 99 that was twisted by the direct hit from American Airlines Flight 11. A companion piece of impact steel from floors 96 through 99 is displayed in the South Tower Excavation. The fenced and lit area to the left exhibits remnants of the columns that supported the South Tower and marks the excavated portion of the tower’s perimeter.
To the left of the columns is one of a few entrances to In Memoriam, a quiet space where visitors can honor the victims of 9/11 and 2/26/93. Individual portraits comprise the “Wall of Faces,” and touchscreen tables provide additional information about each person. An inner chamber lies within In Memoriam where profiles of individual victims are displayed via photographs and audio clips. This was one of the most emotionally difficult parts of the Museum for me. Even had cameras been allowed, I would not have used mine.
Foundation Hall lies along the western edge of the original footprint of the North Tower. It is a soaring space, first experienced from an overlook on The Ramp, with views of the massive “slurry wall” and the “Last Column.”
The “slurry wall” is basically a 7-story dam built to hold back water from the adjacent Hudson River. It enabled the excavation of the site for and building of the Twin Towers’ foundations. Damage to the wall and subsequent flooding of the site was of great concern in the aftermath of the attacks. Not only would flooding hamper rescue efforts, but other below-grade structures, like the PATH tubes and subway tunnels, could flood. The design of this wall helped to prevent flooding of parts of lower Manhattan.
The Last Column was the final piece of the World Trade Center left standing and the last artifact removed from Ground Zero. It is a fragment of one of the 47 steel beams running from bedrock to the roof that held up the South Tower. Standing approximately 36 feet tall, it became a marker among the rubble of the last known location of many first responders who were killed in the lobby of the South Tower and a makeshift memorial, plastered with mass cards, photos, and engine company and police precinct insignias. “PAPD 37,” at the very top, is the number of Port Authority cops lost; “NYPD 23” and “FDNY 343” pay tribute to police and firefighters who gave their lives.
Shrouded in black, draped with an American flag (the honor given to all 9/11 victims who were recovered), with bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace,” this Last Column was removed from the World Trade Center site on May 30, 2002, marking the end of the nine-month recovery effect, which finished ahead of schedule and on budget.
September 11, 2001 Historical Exhibition
Entered via glass doors, the main historical exhibition is an enclosed area located within the footprint of the North Tower. Exhibits and artifacts chronicle the events of September 11, the events leading up to 9/11, and the aftermath of 9/11 to the present day. No cameras or recording devices are permitted.
Exiting the exhibit area, visitors are once more taken past the World Trade Center tridents. Emotionally spent from all I had seen, I was not at all prepared for the haunting tune of Amazing Grace playing softly in the background. From beginning to end, the 9/11 Memorial Museum is a poignant and powerful reminder of that fateful day and all that followed and changed as a result. Above all, it is an amazing tribute to those who lost their lives, to those who worked so tirelessly to recover and rebuild, to the resilience of the human spirit, and to the triumph of good over evil.
It is a visit I will forever remember.