Visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum
It’s Memorial Day Weekend in the United States. For many Americans, this weekend ushers in the official start of summer. I know I’m ready to unwind at the Jersey Shore. Toes in the sand, kindle charged to 100%, big sunglasses, and afternoon naps. Sounds perfect, huh?
But, even though we’re all excited for the long lazy days of summer, this weekend is also a time to remember individuals who were killed in armed conflicts. Memorial Day is (understandably) a somber time for many families. As for myself, I always quietly hope for peace at home and abroad.
Of course, in addition to wishing for a more tranquil existence between nations, Memorial Day made me think about the various bleak sites that I’ve visited on my journeys around the world. These are places of great sorrow and pain and loss. While depressing, I personally believe you can learn a lot about the human condition when to go to the House of Terror in Budapest or Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich. We force ourselves to think long and hard about those events, and then promise ourselves not to let the horrors happen ever again. Ever.
Recently, I visited one of those places: the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.
Honestly I put off going to this museum for a long time. At one point, I even promised to never go. Why? Because I still remember 9/11 very clearly in my mind. The weather was spectacular. Not a cloud in the sky. I was sitting in the high school cafeteria, on my second day at a brand new school, when the administration announced planes hit the Twin Towers. A girl ran across campus, hysterical. Her dad worked in New York. Growing up in New Jersey, so close to New York City, makes 9/11 feel a lot more personal even though I (thankfully) know no one who was harmed or killed on that horrific day.
My Feelings on Visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum
Oh man, I already knew going to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum would be difficult for me, but I still wasn’t prepared for just how much this place overwhelmed my emotions. It was a tough visit, folks, no denying it.
Over all, the museum is very tasteful and beautiful in the sense that the exhibits focus on the victims and their families and friends, as well as the idea of human resilience in spite of very great and deep losses. More controversial topics, like the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, aren’t featured nearly as much, which I think is for the best. The museum’s focus is very much on the victims.
In particular, the Memorial Exhibition inside the museum really touched me. You enter a room covered in portrait photographs of the nearly 3000 people who passed away on 9/11/01. You can learn more about their lives on touch screen devices, which I think added a very “human” element added to the memorial. Another unique part of the museum was the clothing display, consisting of tourist WTC shirts covered in dust, taken from shops at the Twin Towers. Very eerie.
Furthermore, the most difficult areas of the museum (for me) was a room describing eye witness accounts of people jumping from the towers, as well as a space dedicated to the experiences of passengers on Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. CeeCee Lyles’s (a flight attendant) phone call brought me to tears. I still don’t know how she kept her voice so calm, although I suppose we never know how we’d react in such a “life or death” situation.
I want to be totally honest, though. I learned a lot and appreciated life much much more after visiting the 9/11 Museum. Regardless I don’t know how I feel about the rather steep $24 admissions fee. It is a normal price for any New York City museum, but considering the subject and location … I just don’t know. Apparently I’m not alone in my feelings. The entrance cost caused quite a stir among 9/11 families when the museum first opened in 2014. 9/11 families themselves do not have to pay to enter the museum, however, which I respect and agree with. Free Admissions Tuesdays are also an option if you’re traveling on a budget.
Ultimately, I’m happy with my decision to finally feel brave enough visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It is absolutely worth a visit especially for people who grew in New York City and the extensive metro area.
How do I Get to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum?
The World Trade Center is located downtown in New York City’s Financial District. I live in New Jersey. To reach the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, I took the NJ Transit train to Newark Penn Station and switched to take the PATH into the World Trade Center. I honestly think this route is best for all my friends residing in the Garden State. Avoiding New York Penn Station is always wonderful.
For those of you in New York, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum are both easily accessible using the subway. You can take the E train directly to the World Trade Center itself. Meanwhile, A, C, J, Z, 2, 3, 4 or 5 trains go right to Fulton Street, which is a simple walk.
Due to it’s location, the 9/11 Memorial can be paired with other famous downtown sites, such as the Brooklyn Bridge.
Should I Buy My Ticket for the Museum in Advance?
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum are both highly recommended in all the New York City guidebooks and on popular tourist sites such as Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor. Unsurprisingly, lines can get long at the museum, not only to buy tickets, but also to go through a security checkpoint.
Now I’m a big advocate for purchasing tickets in advance, especially at popular sites. Sure, you lose a bit of flexibility, but you gain time by not standing forever at the ticket counters.
You will need to select a time for your tickets if you buy them online ahead of your visit. Arrive at least fifteen minutes in advance to go through security. As far as I know, there are no additional charges for buying tickets on the museum’s website versus buying them at the museum itself.
Don’t Take Selfies at the Memorial
I will be the first person to admit that the 9/11 Memorial, which is right outside the museum, is absolutely beautiful. Beautiful. The north and south pools are where the Twin Towers once stood tall and proud, absolutely defining New York City’s skyline. Large fountains, located inside these pools, soothingly lap against the concrete and create an atmosphere of peace. Unlike the museum, the memorial is free and quite a busy place. Not to mention, it’s understandable tourists want to take photos of the memorial. And tasteful photos are fine. I have a few pictures in this post, after all.
However, please remember approximately 3,000 people perished at the site. You can read the names of the victims on the memorial itself. Family members bring flowers and grieve their lost loved ones. The 9/11 memorial is essentially a grave yard.
My point? Show an ounce of respect, and knock it off with the classless selfies.
On a related note, in some parts of the museum like the Memorial Exhibition with the victims’ portraits, you’re not allowed to take pictures. Please respect that.
It’s Okay to Cry
Like I said, walking through the 9/11 Museum isn’t easy on visitors’ emotions. Regardless of your feelings on the political ramifications of 9/11, the museum is a stark reminder that real people died that day, which led to the heartbreak and devastation of countless others.
You’ll receive personal insights into people whose lives were violently cut short, and it’s a tough pill to swallow for anyone.
Many visitors got visibly emotional on my trip. Of course, it’s also nature to wonder if the people around you knew someone who was killed on 9/11. Although it feels like a century ago, 2001 is very recent and alive in the minds of many. So I promise no one will give you weird looks or shame you if you shed a tear or two.
Although I didn’t notice any myself, I have heard that tissue boxes are strategically located in different parts of the museum to help distraught visitors. A thoughtful gesture.
Have you ever visited the 9/11 Memorial? How about the Museum? What “darker” sites have you visited on your travels? What did you learn? Thanks as always for your support.
For more information about the city, check out my solo travel tips for New York.