|Should you go?|
|Time spent||80 minutes|
|Best thing I saw or learned||A tiny origami crane folded in 1955 by a girl named Sadako Sasaki, who was fighting leukemia due to the bombing of Hiroshima.
Sadako’s brother gave the crane to the families of 9/11 victims in 2007. And the museum points out that several 9/11 charitable foundations helped in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Ripples of compassion.
The 9/11 Tribute Museum occupies the second floor of a nondescript office building just a few blocks south of the World Trade Center complex. While its role is now overshadowed by the massive memorial and museum to the north, it manages to differentiate itself, offering a distinct voice in commemorating the worst day in New York’s history (so far).
A project of the families of victims of September 11, this museum opened in 2006 as the effort to create the official memorial dragged on. What could easily be a place of mourning and despair instead chose to focus on kindess, compassion, and resilience.
What You’ll See
The 9/11 Tribute Center opens with a brief, wall-text-and-image-based history of New York City, efficiently charting its rise as a center for world trade, and in the course of time the rise of the World Trade Center. Proceeding down the narrow Hallway of History, with old pictures and selected quotes, you can also hear the ominous voiceovers from news recordings playing on a loop up ahead, recordings from the morning of September eleventh. It’s an effective bit of foreshadowing. The wall texts include a quote from Minoru Yamasaki, the Trade Center’s architect:
The World Trade Center should become a living representation of man’s belief in humanity … his belief in the cooperation of men.
I never particularly thought of the old WTC that way. To be honest, the windswept plaza and giant boxes always seemed sort of dehumanizing. But this museum makes the case that in its destruction, Yamasaki’s vision has proven prophetic.
The Tribute Museum has some artifacts, objects salvaged from the wreckage. But its main thing is testimony, both live and recorded, from people whose lives were transformed by September Eleventh. Video screens throughout the space offer a variety of brief recorded clips from diverse people — office workers, survivors, first responders, families of the victims. And at regular intervals through the day, people speak live about their experiences that day and since then.
When I visited it was a paramedic, from NYC’s EMS, who helped with the recovery efforts at Ground Zero in the days and weeks after. There’s a simple, carpeted space in a corner of the museum, visitors seated on the floor and this guy on a high stool just talking about friends of his who died, his memories working down there, how his health has suffered in the years since.
Part of me wonders whether this continual recounting on the part of survivors is mentally healthy. On the one hand, sure, it’s got to be good to talk about it. On the other hand, you’re regularly dredging up what were probably the most painful times of your life, to some extent reliving them by recounting them.
Still, it was moving and I was glad I got to listen to his story.
Good From Evil
The Tribute Museum surprised me with how much of its space it devoted to not 9/11 itself but to the numerous foundations and charitable organizations that arose in its wake, as people have tried over the past decade plus to create something positive out of the horror that impacted them and their families.
It’s the main theme of the museum, that even a supremely evil deed can lead to good, and that small acts of compassion and kindness reverberate. This becomes increasingly important as 9/11/2001 recedes into history.
I Volunteer as Tribute
My main association with the word “tribute” these days is the Hunger Games books and movies. (In that dystopia “tributes” meant the poor kids from outlying districts selected by lot to fight and die for the entertainment of the Capital.) This museum uses the concept of “tribute” in several ways. Most importantly it explicitly asks visitors to take some specific action for the greater good of people and the world.
The 9/11 Tribute Museum calls it “Seeds of Service.” Seeing the destruction and the evil and the many things that people have done since 9/11 to try to make the world a better place, what are you going to do? What’s your tribute? What of your time, talent, money, skills, can you donate to what cause to make the world better? Then and there, the museum asks visitors to record themselves talking about what they do, or will do, to give something back.
Should You Visit the 9/11 Tribute Center?
It’s sometimes hard to recommend the unhappy museums, even the best of them. I mean, I found the Museum of Jewish Heritage incredibly moving. But if you’re looking to to spend your museum-oriented leisure time and money on places that will leave you, well, cheerful at the end, it’s a tough sell.
In that vein, I don’t know that anyone really needs to go to more than one 9/11 museum, and if you’re only going to one, it should be the big one.
But certainly if you want a different perspective on both the horror of the day and the efforts to draw some good from the bad, this place fulfills that mission.
And who knows, maybe if you’ve been meaning to volunteer somewhere but keep putting it off, the 9/11 Tribute Museum might nudge you over the edge to taking some positive action in your world. If so, a visit will be well worth it.
|Address||92 Greenwich Street, Manhattan|
|Cost||General Admission: $15|
|Other Relevant Links||Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, Amazon|