The memorialization of 9/11, a personal journey

9/11 Memorial Museum, opinion and commentary, 9/11 photo essay, The National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center, 9/11 events and aftermath, 9/11 exhibitions

My first, and what will be my only visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum ended in ambivalence and confusion.

If the museum was created as a narrative, it failed. If the museum was created to honor the victims, it failed. If the museum was created to pay tribute to the heroes, it failed.

The 9/11 Memorial on the other hand succeeds slightly better in its mission, although seeking reflection and intimacy are problematic while the surrounding construction continues. Why didn’t they stop there?

The introduction in the museum Welcome pamphlet reads, in part:

“The National September 11 Memorial Museum … attests to the triumph of human dignity over human depravity and affirms an unwavering commitment to the fundamental value of human life.”

And yet, I felt no triumph and little human value amid its walls and underworld. It felt cold.

Perhaps, the museum is best experienced by those who weren’t here on that tragic day. Or those who weren’t born yet. For me, it’s still too close – too raw to view objectively. My city, our people, were attacked. The main historical exhibition hall displays the day’s events in excruciating detail. Why would anyone want to relive that day?

The main exhibition, September 11, 2001, is housed in what is the most congested, claustrophobic space amidst the other vast, better-considered underground spaces. Painfully overcrowded with both people and the timeline of that day, the individual rooms are jammed with imagery, remnants, artifacts, news reports leading up to the attacks and their aftermath, and a recounting of each of the planes’ ultimate ends. It was to say the least, too much. If the point of the historical documentation was to overwhelm the visitor with atrocities, then consider it a success.

Perhaps a more open, larger space or better curation could have told the story in a more human way. I expected something majestic and commemorative: A point of view, that left room for the viewer to decide what to recall, takeaway or be inspired by. Instead what’s presented is a literal depiction of 9/11. I didn’t experience the triumph of human dignity here. I felt devastated by the horrificness all over again. In full disclosure, I opted out of visiting the In Memoriam space, passed on a few other rooms, and diverted my eyes from the many projections of the posters of the missing and the deceased. It blurred into an overpowering, uninformative sensory assault.

Less is more. The vast spaces like the Foundation Hall allowed time for introspection – to absorb what surrounded you, and to process how it fit into the 9/11 narrative.

I’m not sure that it’s possible to house this event in a museum that would be appropriately respectful to the victims and their families, and the survivors. For the story of that world-altering tuesday in september, should an historical archive have been the more appropriate access point at this moment in time? I don’t know the answer.

And lastly – the gift shop. I didn’t go in, and don’t want to know what merchandise it holds.

My photo essay is my takeaway from the experience. These images (photography was not allowed in the historical exhibition hall) and their stories are what touched me and maybe capture the triumph of survival and recovery in a different way.

If you have visited the museum and had a different experience, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts.

9/11 Memorial Museum, opinion and commentary, 9/11 photo essay, The National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center, 9/11 events and aftermath, 9/11 exhibitions

Photography: © 2015 Janet Giampietro

2 Responses to “The memorialization of 9/11, a personal journey”

  1. rosies Says:

    It’s very personal. Unlike some, I felt nothing when I visited Anne Frank House in Amsterdam; and cried my way through US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

  2. Janet Says:

    Hi rosies:

    Thanks very much for the comment, and personal experience.


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