The September 11 Memorial Museum: A First Look Inside

The 70-foot-high twin "tridents," towering steel from the north tower, dominates the museum's pavilion. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Sep. 11, 2013

North Tower steel mangled by the impact of a Boeing 767. The stairs that offered hundreds a final route to safety. A fire truck bent and burned. These are among the largest objects from the World Trade Center destruction of 12 years ago that are now permanently housed in the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum, due to open its doors next spring.

Still a construction site amid the swirl of tourists on the surrounding memorial plaza, the museum awaits most of its installations—the interactive timelines, videos, photos and stories of that day and the aftermath.

But in a preview tour of the 110,000-square-foot museum led by 9/11 Me­morial president Joe Daniels and the museum’s director, Alice Greenwald, members of the press got a look at its seven-story-deep interior and some of the massive objects that are visceral re­minders of the enormity of destruction.

The largest of those installations are towering 70-foot-high twin “tridents,”  part of the North Tower’s base, that are housed in the museum’s glass-enclosed pavilion. As visitors descend a ramp, they will hear recorded voices of people recalling what they were doing on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Visitors will then reach an overlook offering a view of what the museum is calling “Foundation Hall,” an expansive area at bedrock that features the exposed slurry wall, the reinforced concrete that held back the Hudson River.

“If the [Twin Towers] were still here now, this area would have been the parking garage, and the parking decks provided the lateral bracing against the wall,” explained Daniels. “So when the towers came down and all that was destroyed...there was concern that the wall was going to breach. It didn’t, [but] it had to be reinforced.”

A centerpiece of the hall is the “Last Column,” the final piece of steel that was ceremonially removed from the site. Now shrouded in cloth, it is covered with the graffiti and momentos of rescue and recovery workers. “We brought it back to stand tall within this hall,” said Daniels, “as a reminder of that nine-month period, as well as the resiliency that was required to clean up the site.”

Descending toward bedrock is a view of wall-mounted “impact steel,” a section of girders from the north tower’s 93rd through 99th floors, bent like straws by American Airlines Flight 11. (A companion piece stands at bedrock level.)

Visitors will walk down stairs beside the “Survivor Stairs,” the last intact remnant to be removed from the site. “You’re literally following the same pathway that hundreds followed on 9/11 to safety,” Greenwald ex­plained as she stood at the foot of the stairs. “What we’re saying to visitors is, we all live in a world  that was defined by this event. And, in that sense, we’re all survivors of 9/11.”

At bedrock will be the historical exhibition, which include the “Cross,” (crossbeams that remained from 6 World Trade Center), tangled strands of rebar, and the remains of Bent Propeller, the steel sculpture by Alexander Calder that stood on the plaza. The fire engine of Capt. Billy Burke, who died while trying to save a paraplegic man from one of the burning buildings, is also installed.

Nearby is the memorial section with portraits and profiles of each of the 2,983 victims of the 2001 attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and of the 1993 truck bombing at the World Trade Center. An installation entitled “Reflecting on 9/11” will allow visitors to record their own 9/11 experiences.

Other items on view will be the preserved, dust-covered window display from Chelsea Jeans, formerly at Broadway and Fulton, that is on loan from the

 New-York Historical Society, and furniture from an apartment in Battery Park City’s Gateway Plaza that was heavily damaged by flaming debris.

Affixed to one of the walls is a quote from Virgil written in letters, more than a foot high and forged from World Trade Center steel. “No day shall erase you from the memory of time,” it reads.

“That message,” Daniels said, “goes to the heart of this institution.”



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