More than 12 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Barack Obama will join victims’ families, survivors and rescue workers today to dedicate a museum that honors the dead and seeks to impart lessons for the living.
They will gather on the site where the World Trade Center once stood and almost 3,000 died, before proceeding to a hall seven stories underground. There, they will stand near the exposed Manhattan bedrock that once held the Twin Towers’ foundation before terrorists crashed two hijacked jets into the buildings, causing the conflagration that destroyed them.
“Every American who’s old enough to remember the day remembers with searing clarity,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday during a White House briefing.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, who will accompany him, “are especially mindful in their positions, but also as citizens, about the need to remember and the power of memory in a nation’s history as well as the need to properly grieve and rebuild and move forward,” Carney said.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio will also attend the dedication, as will predecessors Rudolph Giuliani, who ran the city on Sept. 11, and Michael Bloomberg, whose 12 years in office spanned most of the rebuilding of lower Manhattan.
Inside the 9/11 Memorial Museum, twisted steel beams, mangled fire trucks, and the teddy bears, family photos and other personal effects that adorned workers’ desks offer silent testimony. They are juxtaposed with the sounds of sirens, screams of horror and calm radio dispatches of doomed firefighters.
“This museum isn’t only about documenting history, it is about understanding our humanity,” said Alice Greenwald, director of the museum and chief curator. “We tell stories about people who acted with extraordinary kindness and compassion, helping strangers evacuate, refusing to leave colleagues behind, even if doing so meant certain death.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four U.S. jetliners, crashing two into the north and south towers of the Trade Center. A third slammed into the Pentagon, and passengers and crew tried to commandeer the fourth, though it crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The 2,983 deaths marked the single largest loss of life from a foreign attack on American soil.
The museum also pays tribute to the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing of February 1993.
The 110,000 square feet of exhibition space stands adjacent to a memorial that attracts 5 million visitors a year. It features twin reflecting pools in the space where the towers stood, each almost an acre in size, surrounded by hundreds of oak trees.
Thirty-foot (nine-meter) cascades create the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. Surrounding the pools, the name of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks is inscribed on bronze panels.
The museum houses more than 10,000 artifacts and almost 2,000 oral histories. Its purpose, Greenwald said, is to teach future generations about the impact of Sept. 11 and to consider how lives around the world were changed in the moments, days and years after the event.
Tickets will cost $24 for adults, with Tuesday evenings free from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., said Joseph Daniels, president of the museum. Free admission also will be extended to active service members, victims’ families and those who worked on rescue and recovery efforts.
The museum also contains 8,000 pieces of human remains under control of the city Medical Examiner’s Office, which continues to analyze DNA to identify victims. Some families have objected to the presence of the remains in a place that will be frequented by tourists.
Bloomberg, chairman of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, helped raise about $450 million of the $700 million combined cost of the memorial and museum from private sources. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.