Memorial Museum FAQ
Memorial Museum FAQ
Question and Answers with Museum Director Alice Greenwald
Memorial museums are museums where educational exhibitions and public programs take place within the context of a memorial environment, typically commemorating events of tragic and global or national significance. The 9/11 Memorial Museum tells the individual stories of the 2,977 people killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on Flight 93, as well as the six people who perished in the February 26, 1993 World Trade Center bombing. In our historical exhibition, we present the story of those attacks and particularly, the events as they unfolded on and after 9/11.
The Museum conveys that those events are part of an ongoing story, one that began long before September 11, 2001, and continues to shape our world today. As a place of memory and learning, situated within the archaeological heart of the World Trade Center, the Museum aspires to educate the millions expected to visit the site each year, in hopes of building a better future and demonstrating the transformational potential of remembrance.
Years of planning and input have helped to inform the design of the Museum. In 2004, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation—which sponsored the international 9/11 Memorial design competition that chose Michael Arad and Peter Walker’s “Reflecting Absence” design—convened key stakeholders to help provide direction for an eventual museum. Their recommendations gave foundational guidance to 9/11 Memorial Museum planners.
Beginning in 2006, a Museum Planning Conversation Series has brought together representatives of different constituent groups—family members of victims, first responder agencies, lower Manhattan residents, survivors,landmark preservationists, and government officials—several times each year to offer their recommendations for, and responses to, the evolving Museum plans. Scholars and cultural advisors have been consulted regularly, and the Museum’s exhibitions and planned visitor experience have been developed by a team of curators, historians, educators, professional media developers, and exhibit designers. The Program Committee of the 9/11 Memorial’s Board of Directors, which includes a number of 9/11 family members, has provided ongoing, critical oversight of the design and content of the Museum.
The Museum tells the story of 9/11, chronicling the events of the day, exploring the historical context leading up to them (including the February 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center), and examining the aftermath, beginning in the days and weeks immediately following the attacks. The Museum also considers a range of questions and issues arising from the 9/11 attacks that continue to define the world in which we live. In addition, in an area adjacent to visible remnants of original structural columns from the Twin Towers, an exhibition covers the history of the construction of the original World Trade Center.
Because of the events that happened on 9/11, elements of what remained at the World Trade Center site achieved landmark status and became subject to federal preservation law. The 9/11 Memorial is, in fact, legally required to preserve the authentic remnants of the original World Trade Center in the area known as bedrock, and to provide meaningful public access to them.
These historic assets include what remains of the foundation slabs of the Twin Towers, the remnants of the exterior structure of the towers known as “box columns,” and the retaining wall originally built to keep the Hudson River from flooding the World Trade Center site when it was first excavated, known as the “slurry wall.”
On 9/11, despite the devastation of the attacks and the collapse of two 110-story buildings, the slurry wall—while challenged—held firm. Had it breached, lower Manhattan and the subway lines that run through it might have been flooded, and the destruction could have been even more unimaginable. In the original master plan for the new World Trade Center, architect Daniel Libeskind felt that the slurry wall, in its ability to withstand the forces of destruction, itself had become a symbol of the strength and endurance of our country and its foundational values.
Because of the obligation to make these archaeological elements meaningfully accessible to the public, the Museum had to be placed where they could be seen—at the bedrock level of the site, seven stories below ground. The authenticity of this location becomes one of the characteristics of the 9/11 Memorial Museum that will make it uniquely powerful. Where most museums are buildings that house artifacts, the 9/11 Memorial Museum will be a museum quite literally housed within an artifact.
The Museum displays artifacts of intimate to monumental scale—from a wide range of personal items donated by victims’ families in memory of their loved ones to multiple objects salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
Among the larger artifacts presented are the two forked steel beams known as “tridents,” already visible through the Museum Pavilion’s glass atrium. Standing over seven stories tall, these columns were once part of the original façade of the Twin Towers. Now, they signify the power of the historical artifacts within the Museum.
In addition to the tridents, there are two FDNY fire trucks, an ambulance, structural steel from the point of impact where Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower, and the 36--foot high Last Column, the last piece of structural steel to be removed from the site at the end of the recovery effort in May 2002. The column is covered with mementos, memorial inscriptions, and missing posters affixed by ironworkers, rescue personnel, and others. During the ceremony that marked the end of the recovery period, the Last Column was laid on a flatbed truck, draped with an American flag and escorted from the site by honor guard. In the Museum’s Foundation Hall, it stands tall again, exemplifying the foundations of resilience, hope, and community with which we will build our collective future.