9/11 Memorial Museum

Prior to 9/11 and despite having never been to New York, I was very familiar with the New York skyline.  Not only had I seen it on news broadcasts and travel brochures, but New York’s famous skyline was featured in a great many movies.  Which is why it still shocks me that the Twin Tower buildings, the focal point of the New York skyline, no longer exist.  The horror of the absence of these two visually important structures doesn’t seem to diminish with time.

New York's new skyline

New York’s new skyline

As New York’s financial district is close to Battery Park, (where you catch the ferry), we decided to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum and the Statue of Liberty on the same day.  For anyone else planning this kind of an itinerary, this is a huge day with lots of lining up, queuing, and crowds.

Freedom Tower

Freedom Tower

As we had pre-purchased our tickets to tour the Statue of Liberty at 3pm, I thought we could view the 9/11 Memorial in the morning then walk for 20 minutes down to Battery Park and take the ferry to Liberty Island.  However, being ignorant and while also touring New York during its busiest month, I was unaware of the scale of what I was trying to cover in just one day.  I had planned on being down at the Memorial by 9am but with Arabella in go-slow mode and with us trying to find Pete, we didn’t arrive until around 11am, by which time Ground Zero was enormously crowded.

One World Trade Centre

Can you see the window cleaner?

As you walk to Ground Zero the One World Trade Centre Building known as Freedom Tower dominates the skyline.  It is still being completed but after a long 13 years, New York once again has a building that is taller than the Empire State Building.  The glass and steel structure is being built on the site where the Twin Towers once stood and while being the tallest building in Manhattan, is also one of the tallest buildings in the world.

Can you see the window cleaner?

One World Trade Centre

I did see a window cleaner perched in a cage, working close to the top of the building.  While he has an enviable view, this is not a job I would ever apply for.  After getting a stiff neck from staring up at the skyscraper, we walked through Ground Zero.  It’s a much larger site than I was expecting, revealing just how immense the Twin Tower buildings were.  The Memorial’s twin reflecting pools are about an acre in size and feature the largest manmade waterfalls in North America.

Reflective Memorial Pool

Reflective Memorial Pool

The names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools.  At the request of the families whose loved ones were murdered, the names aren’t listed alphabetically but instead listed in groups.  Cantor Fitzgerald, the company that lost 658 of its 960 employees, has those names grouped together; as are the names of the rescue personnel who went into the building and never came out.  

The waterfalls in the reflective pools are very peaceful and you do feel a sense of serenity while looking at the pools however as you walk around the first pool reading all the names and then you see the second pool with just as many names, you are struck by the immense loss of life.  It’s a very sobering place and most people, in respect for those who perished, walk around in silence or in revered tones.

Oak trees line the pathways

Oak trees line the pathways

The area has been beautifully landscaped and planted with around 400 white oak trees that will eventually reach about 80 feet in height and create a canopy over the eight acres.  The Survivor Tree, a Callery Pear Tree that was planted at the World Trade Centre in the 70’s was the only living thing to survive the fall of the two twin tower buildings.  In order to be nursed back to health, it was reduced to an eight-foot tall stump, transplanted to a New York City park to be nurtured, then transplanted back to the World Trade Centre where it sits to the west of the south pool; a symbol of survival.

After spending time at the reflecting pools we then moved on to visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum.  We went around a corner and then saw an incredibly long queue.  And that was just to purchase the tickets!  Had I known, I would have pre-purchased the tickets on-line.  While Arabella found somewhere to sit, I joined the end of the very long snaking queue.  It took half an hour to get to the ticket desk where I was told that due to the number of people visiting, we wouldn’t be able to enter the museum until 2pm.  Because we had 3pm tickets to the Statue of Liberty, the earliest we could see the museum was 6pm.

The queue for tickets to the Museum

The queue for tickets to the Museum

That turned out to be not a bad thing because at 6pm there was no queue to get in and the museum wasn’t as crowded as it had been earlier that day.

The Survivor's Staircase

The Survivor’s Staircase

Part of the staircase

Part of the Survivor’s Staircase

The aim of the museum has been to make sure the world never forgets.  What adds to the power of this museum is its location; the 110,000 square feet of exhibition space are situated directly underneath the World Trade Centre site.  It lies 70 feet below ground and as you walk down and see the exposed walls of foundations of where the World Trade Centre buildings were, you really do feel like you’re on sacred ground.

Rescued from the site

Rescued from the site

This is a large museum and you do need to allow a good few hours to get through it.  Having 6pm tickets, I did feel rushed and would have liked to have moved through the exhibits a lot less hastily.  There are some very large items in the exhibit including two fire trucks that raced to the site to rescue people, the ‘survivor’s staircase’ that was the path taken by so many who managed to escape the building, and the steel cross that rose up out of the devastation and became a symbol of hope and peace.

Looking down into a section of the Museum

Looking down into a section of the Museum

However there are many more smaller items that are very touching and make you very aware of how this was a horrific crime committed against the innocent; personal items belonging to the victims including a watch, a wallet, a pair of reading glasses, a pair of heels, a flight attendant’s lapel.

Coming to the rescue of so many

Coming to the rescue of so many

In another area you can read the transcript from one of the doomed aircrafts as two hijackers take over the plane then, as they’re about to crash it into one of the twin towers, praise their god in Arabic.

Fire truck

Fire truck

There are other exhibits with voice recordings; a flight attendant leaving a message for her husband alerting him to the fact there’s ‘a small problem’ aboard her flight, a business man trapped in the building leaving a message for his mother, ‘everything’s okay’, and so many more.

Part of the fire truck

Part of the fire truck

There is also a room where there is video footage of those whose only option was to throw themselves out of the building and how one woman dressed in a light pink business skirt, modestly held it down as took her step away from the building.

The fire chief's helmut

The fire chief’s helmet

Visiting the World Trade Centre is an exhausting day both physically and emotionally.  9/11 was a tragedy on an enormous scale and an event never before seen or imagined and hopefully never to be repeated.

The cross at Ground Zero

The cross at Ground Zero

9/11 Memorial Museum:  180 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10006

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  1. I was at home that morning and watched the news as the events were unfolding. Very moving.

    • We had just come in from being out for dinner. We turned on the TV and a message flashed across the screen that a ‘light plane’ had crashed into the World Trade Centre. We changed the channel to find out the latest and saw the second plane crash into the second tower. We stayed up all night watching what was beyond comprehension. I’ll never forget it.

  2. A moving visit to the site of such tragedy.

  3. Thank you so much for your words and for sharing this Charlie. I got emotional just reading it and looking at your beautiful pictures, I still can’t believe how this tragedy still has such an emotional impacted after all this time. I’m glad we will never forget. Thank you! Liz x

  4. No words.

  5. A very beautifully written and moving post.
    I am enjoying all your stories, recommendations and tips about NYC as my family and I are heading there for Christmas/New Year. Thank You!

    • Thanks Lily. I’m so excited to hear you are going to New York for Christmas and New Year – you will have the best time. I’ll be sharing all my thoughts on the places I’ve been and I’ll be so thrilled if you have the opportunity to try these places and let me know your thoughts. Good luck with planning your holiday.

  6. Aww…I suddenly remembered the news flash. Anyways, you’re lucky to have visited the site! Thanks for sharing!

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  7. Charlie – this is such an awesome post – a wonderful recap and a wonderful tribute – I remember seeing those people jumping out and remember thinking that they must have lost all hope if jumping was their only option – gah.
    Next time I go to NYC, am gonna have to visit this museum for sure!

  8. Well done, Charlie. Very touching.

  9. Such an incredibly terrible time in our history. I’m always shocked when reminded of how much time has gone by. I cried through your visit as if it happened yesterday. It’s still so clear in my memory. All if the families who lost loved ones, some lost multiple family members. I just cannot imagine.

  10. I saw the site whilst the clearing was being done and some of the makeshift memorials were up. It was very moving and by your descriptions, still is. Thank you. GG

  11. We’ll never forget either because we were on a plane at Dulles ready to take off when our plane was sent back to the terminal due to an ‘incident.’ 3 days earlier we’d been on the top of the World Trade Center. It was surreal. Then to top things off, we’d bought our tickets through Ansett and they went bust. Thank goodness for travel insurance.

    I can’t imagine trying to pack both those places into one day in New York in July. Well done!

    • That’s incredible, Maureen. You were so fortunate to be there three days before the tragedy and I’m so glad you weren’t there three days later! Did you go all the way up to Windows on the World? You certainly were a part of this tragedy with being there at that time. And I’m so sad about Ansett – it was one of the best airlines.

  12. Thank you for the coverage! Best and most personal I have seen. So remember!! Had been to a party the night before and when I turned on the news I remember flicking channels and wondering why the same horror movie was being shown on so many of them . . . Just could not be real . . . . two planes had hit at that stage and that was one day I did watch TV all day and then some . . . . none of us will forget the coming of age in today’s world . . . .

  13. I am so glad you could share these photos and give me a glimpse of this special museum. I very strongly desire the opportunity to visit and think it would be very emotional to be so close to items that represent so much loss, pain and terror. It’s difficult to even look at the photos, quite frankly, but I don’t want to be shielded from the memory either. I’m so glad you had the opportunity to visit, Charlie.

  14. Just reading your description of the museum made me teary Charlie. Very moving indeed xox

  15. We didn’t know to pre-book this museum either so we never saw it the last time we were in NYC. After reading your post, I’m glad because I would need time to prepare, emotionally. Even reading your summary brought tears to my eyes and I’m holding back sobs. That day was unbelievable to me. A friend had just been to the restaurant at the top the day before. My good friend, Carmen lost several colleagues that day. I still find it unbelievable to look at the skyline and not see the towers.
    Thank you for this post. I shall not only plan to see this museum, but I’ll take a box of tissues with me for good measure.

    • I’m sorry to hear you were so connected to this tragedy, Eva. I do hope you will see the exhibition on your next visit to New York as although it’s horrific, you do feel the resilience of the human spirit.

  16. I still find it surreal that the Twin Towers are no longer there. In my only trip to NYC, I did go to “The Top of the World” in the Twin Towers for the view, never suspecting the horror that would occur two years later. Thanks for the tour of Ground Zero.

    • How fortunate you were to visit Windows of the World before it was destroyed. That is a restaurant I always wanted to go to. Like you say, it’s absolutely horrific that the restaurant and the buildings no longer exist.

  17. G’day! Thanks for sharing the photos …I cried the whole post through…as 911 is a day that is never the best for you know who…
    Cheers! Joanne
    P.S. I have experienced Windows Of The World many times ….

  18. I feel choked up all over again reading your experience at the memorial. That was such a devastating time. I was a reporter then, and walking into the newsroom the day after we didn’t know what to do. Nothing seemed important after 9/11, no story worth of our time or focus. Interviewing a man who lost his son was gutting. I’m so glad they created a spot that both honors and remembers. xo

  19. This gave me cold chills to read. I would love to visit the memorial one day. Thank you for sharing. It is amazing how so many years later, seeing images and talking about the day affects me. Where I was and what I was doing when it happened is etched perfectly in my mind. I am glad you had a lovely trip with your daughter. Hugs, Terra

  20. Thank you for sharing, reading it was emotional, I also watched it on TV and could never ever pretend to have some understanding of what it would be like. Like others have said, still so many years on, reading posts, like this still makes me shed a tear for all those that have lost loved ones, and those whose life will never be the same because of this. A sad day for many world wide.

  21. I had been to the Towers and Windows restaurant the Summer of 2000. That horrible Monday I sat, eyes glued to my TV. I remembered, as I do now, the people I had met in the Towers that day and hope, against all odds, that they made it out.
    I dunno, Charlie. I don’t think I could walk through the museum, not yet, anyway. I’m very glad that it was built and done so with the wishes of the victims’ families in mind. By all accounts, it is a fitting memorial and one that we should all see — just not yet.

    • I had no idea you were there just a year before, John. How eerie and tragic. I always had a goal that I wanted to go to Windows on the World so when I saw the building attacked I was transfixed and wondered what was happening to all those in the restaurant at that time. I can understand you not feeling like now is too soon to see the museum – such a horrific event in America’s history.

  22. I’ll never forget this moment in American history when our security was shattered and so many lives senselessly lost.

    What a deeply sensitive and moving review you’ve written, Charlie. Thank you.

  23. What a touching write up Charlie. There is nothing for me to say more about this tragedy, that you have not already expressed wonderfully.

  24. —–Just reading this & looking at the photos makes me very emotional. I’ll never forget that day. Ever. It was like HELL.
    Those stairs, the helmet, the fire truck. It’s almost too much to handle.

  25. I remember when this happened. We all sat in front of our TV’s staring at the images in a fog, not knowing what to think at first. Hoping, praying that the first plane was just pilot error or a malfunction of the plane of some sort, but having a feeling it was something much worse. Then seeing the second plane hit and KNOWING it was something darker, more gruesome. Something evil and horrific. How anyone can say that they are a peaceful religion and that they are doing this for any god, is beyond me! We sat and cried and cried for the families who lost loved ones. Mothers, Daughters, Fathers, Sons, so on….Such needless devastation.

    You shared the memorial and museum in a wonderful light, Charlie! Thank you…another place I must visit!! 😉 xo

  26. I still remember when it happened…it was early in the morning and I was getting ready for high school…and i thought it’s strange why is the same movie showing on every single TV channel…when I asked my mum that’s when we realised what had happened.

    I really hope no one ever forgets and that nothing like this ever happens…we need more love and not hate in this world!

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