9/11 Tribute Museum Opens, Honoring the Good That Followed Evil

A gallery in the new 9/11 Tribute Museum. In the foreground is a bench from St. Paul's Chapel, where first responders and recovery workers found respite from their emotionally and physically gruelling work. "Not every space [in the museum] is fully developed so we can have changing exhibitions," said Kristine Pottinger, the museum's program director. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jun. 13, 2017

If there is a life-affirming lesson to be learned from the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the new 9/11 Tribute Museum is the place to find it.

Officially opening on June 13 in its new, 18,000-square-foot quarters at 92 Greenwich Street, the museum’s mission and message have evolved from its 10 years as the Tribute Center, housed across from the World Trade Center site in a Liberty Street storefront. There, years before the bigger and better known National September 11 Memorial Museum opened, the center served as a shrine of solemn remembrance where 9/11 stories were told by the people who lived them.

Without abandoning that mission, the new museum seeks to celebrate the countless acts of kindness, service and goodwill that sprung from that day. And it intends to be a place to “plant the seeds” of new acts of service among its visitors.

While still a place of “tribute,” there’s been 15 years of collected history since the event," said Connor Gaudet, the museum’s oral history coordinator, and those are the stories we’re looking to tell here, as much as the stories of the people’s lives on the day itself and the immediate aftermath. It’s what the 9/11 community has done in the last 10 years since Tribute Center opened, or 16 years since the tragedy.”  

“I would never want to tell a story that ends in horror,” noted Senior Curator Meriam Lobel, who recorded 9/11 stories from more than 500 people since she began with the Tribute Center in 2005. “The way people responded is maybe what people, especially young people, can take away as a model of behavior. It’s a counterpoint to helplessness.”

Which is not to say there is no horror.

After passing through a “time tunnel” of brief pre-9/11 Lower Manhattan history, the visitor encounters the audio loop of a newscaster cheerfully telling us that it’s election day, a “beautiful day,” joltingly followed by another voice announcing “a hijacked aircraft headed toward New York…” And from there, the visitor gets a short multimedia immersion into the tragedy. The museum provides a detour around this gallery but, in any event, “that’s not the purpose of the museum,” said its designer, Lee Skolnick. “So we needed to establish the attack but we weren’t going to spend all our time on that.” In fact, Skolnick’s design is meant to keep you headed towards more uplifting terrain.

“The whole idea is that the visceral experience is moving from dark to light, from jagged and chaotic to smooth, from heavy and dense materials to light materials,” he said. “Everything is moving towards hope.”

A “360” view of a 9/11 Tribute Museum gallery. 360 photos by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib (Click and drag your cursor to see the full 360-degree view.)

The 9/11 Tribute Museum - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


The exhibition briefly touches on many aspects of 9/11s aftermath, from health impacts to rebuilding. But it clearly puts the call to service at the heart of its mission. Following a gallery of tribute to the many foundations and groups fostered by the tragedy comes a last room—the service gallery. “Every other area is a sweep but it never comes full circle until the end,” Skolnick said of the visitor experience. “And the idea there is that were turning the tables on you. We’ve prepared all this and now we want to say, What can you do? What can I do?

Visitors are provided information on many ways to get involved in their communities, and they can register what they have done or would like to do. They will also be encouraged to remain connected, online, by posting their activities. All that will be shown on an ever-changing map in the museum. “Our hope,” Lobel said, “is that the map becomes so populated all over the world with different things people have done to help each other.

For all of that, noted Kristine Pottinger, the museum's program director, the visitor is never meant to forget the tragedy. “It is why we’re here unfortunately,” she said, “and there are a lot of Kleenex and a lot of tears when people walk through. It’s not an easy subject.

“But,” she added, “we do ultimately want to make you a better person for having walked through our doors.

The 9/11 Tribute Center - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA