On Thursday, President Obama dedicated the 9/11 Memorial Museum in a touching ceremony, calling it a "a sacred place of healing and of hope." After years of delays caused by Superstorm Sandy, building issues, and funding roadblocks, the museum is finally set to open to the public May 21 — nearly 13 years after the towers fell. Before the rest of America is able to see the museum, survivors and victims' families have been able to take a first look at the exhibits. The museum itself is an artifact of the attacks, and is located entirely underground in the foundation of what is now known as Ground Zero.
The museum's atrium features "Twin Tower Tridents," two steel beams that were salvaged from the wreckage of the attacks, and they are unmistakably evocative of not only the heartbreak, but the perseverance that resulted from the attacks. The 110,000 square feet of exhibition halls pay tribute to both the victims of the 9/11 attacks on New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, as well as those who perished in the first attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993. All told, the museum commemorates nearly 3,000 lives.
When planning your visit to the museum, here are a few things to expect.
What you will see
The visitor experience is likely to be a harrowing one, as the museum features poignant reminders of that fateful Tuesday morning. Charred ambulances, the remnants of a fire ladder, helmets and heavy machinery comprise the damaged remains of first responders' equipment. The damaged subway sign for the World Trade Center, public pay phones, and flags are present, as are more personal possessions, like teddy bears, ID cards, and photographs of each of the 2,983 victims who lost their lives to the attacks.
Over 10,000 objects rescued from the site adorn the halls of the museum, from handmade fliers in search of those missing, to the retaining wall that remained standing after all the damage and debris was cleared, and prevented the Hudson River from flooding lower Manhattan.
There is also a "Reflecting on 9/11" exhibit, where visitors may record their own thoughts about 9/11 that will be permanently kept on record. There's another area dedicated to United Flight 93, where the watch of Todd Beamer, one of the brave men who prevented the hijackers from crashing the plane in Washington, D.C., is displayed.
The museum does not just commemorate the events of 9/11, but also the struggles and bravery that ensued after the attacks. While the museum remembers the lives lost, it is also unquestionably a tribute to life, celebrating hope, heroism, and valor. The last stop in the museum is at the "Last Column," about which museum president Joe Daniels said, "It again goes right back to resiliency — seeing those messages of hope and remembrance on this very tall Column — that's still standing strong."
What most people won't see
One of the most contentious part of the museum lies in one of its most moving exhibits. In one area of the museum, there is an art installation designed to reflect the clear blue skies of 9/11. Directly behind this exhibit are the still-unidentified remains of over 1,100 victims. Many families have taken issue with such a repository for human remains, preferring them to be kept above ground in the 9/11 Memorial. Forty percent of those who perished in the World Trade Center in 2001 were never found.
Only family members will be able to see this portion of the museum, and it is expected that more and more remains will be added to the exhibit as they are uncovered.
What you might find controversial
Some aspects of the museum have come under harsh criticism, including the $24 entrance fee, which some claim make the memorial a “revenue-generating tourist attraction.” While families, survivors, and first responders will get in free, the museum's $63 million annual operating budget will require the support of private individuals, as Congress has blocked the way for federal funding.
There is also an exhibit that displays the faces of all 19 hijackers, which comprises perhaps the most potentially incendiary part of the museum. Some of taken issue with the idea of immortalizing the terrorists, raising concerns offer memorializing these 19 individuals alongside their victims. The exhibit also features a film, entitled The Rise of al-Qaeda, which is meant to shed light on the origins of radical Islam and the militant group, but critics have suggested that the displays are offensive to Muslims. The video, some say, seems to further the notion that the entire religion is one of violence and terrorism. However, organizers have said that such a move is necessary to fully portray the events of 9/11.
Though a week still remains before the public opening of the museum, anticipation is already high. The 9/11 Memorial has already attracted 12 million visitors since it opened in 2011, and with the addition of the museum, visitors are only expected to increase.