At 8:45 am on September 11, 2001, I was sitting in my Trig class thinking about Erik, the cute boy I had just started dating the day before. At the time, I was a high school senior, preoccupied with dating, college applications, and prom. My memories from that day have faded with time, but I’ll never forget the moment my vice principal ran into the room with a look of horror on his face. A plane had just crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York.
I was too young at the time to really understand what had happened. I had grown up in a time of American prosperity, sheltered from the tragedies of the real world. I was also incredibly lucky not to have known anybody who died on that day. I sensed that something unprecedented had occurred, but I never imagined just how much the world was about to change.
The events of that day will always stay with me but the feelings of sadness and anger have been harder to hold on to. That is what the 911 Museum in New York City offers its visitors: an emotional journey back in time to a day that stripped away the prosperity and sense of security of an entire nation.
The museum is located next to the 911 Memorial at Ground Zero. The exhibits document the events, heroic rescues, and tragic stories of that day with artifacts, photographs, news footage, first hand testimonies, and personal effects belonging to survivors and victims.
The grief and anguish of that day hits you almost instantly. The path that leads to the main exhibits is haunted with echos of 911 stories shared by past museum visitors: world citizens from all walks of life discussing where they were and how they felt.
The main historical exhibit, called “September 11, 2001,” is divided into three main sections that chronicle the events leading up to the attacks, what transpired on the actual day, and the immediate aftermath. The exhibit includes artifacts found on site, news footage, wrecked rescue vehicles, recorded first hand accounts from survivors, and powerful images of those we lost. Perhaps most heartbreaking were the heartfelt voicemails left by those that perished on flight 93.
The “In Memoriam” exhibit is just as heartbreaking, featuring portraits from the 2,983 people who died on September 11 and during the 1993 attacks. Visitors can learn more about the victims by viewing their personal profiles. This exhibit was the hardest for me to get through because it gave this tragedy a face, or rather, many many faces. For the first time I learned the ordinary stories of ordinary people who began their morning just as I do when I go to work.
The rest of the exhibits feature remnants from the original World Trade Center site (including the last column), art that was inspired by these events, and time-lapse footage that captures the rebirth of Ground Zero and the construction of the Freedom Tower.
Plan to spend 3+ hours inside the museum and try to arrive by 9 am when it opens. I purchased a ticket for the first entry of the day and got a chance to see several of the exhibits without the usual crowds.
Be warned, this will be an extremely emotional and heavy experience that will stay with you for some time. Plan to do something uplifting following your visit. For me, this experience was a sobering reminder that life is far too short and a single moment can change everything. It also reminded me of the pain felt by so many on a day that I was lucky enough to spend daydreaming about a boy.
For more information and to plan your visit, go to: https://www.911memorial.org/museum