By Debi Lander

Visiting the September 11 Museum in New York City is worth the mental and emotional preparation required to relive the horrific events of that day. The visit offers compelling stories of the nearly 3,000 who died and those whose heroism saved others.

The National September 11 Memorials and Museum honors victims of terror attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the plane crash near Shanksville, Pa., and the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six.

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The approach brings you past twin reflecting pools called “Reflecting Absence.” Spanning nearly an acre each, they feature North America’s largest manmade waterfalls. The borders of the pools mark the Towers’ footprints, and each victim’s name is engraved on the border. Cascading water drops from street level, vanishing down holes in the center — no bottom visible. The effect overwhelms. Is it the absence of the towers or the waterfalls recalling the whole country’s tears?

Visitors enter the museum through a ground-level glass building with security screening. An original steel beam from the once-sky-scraping Towers dominates the descent to today’s underground architectural wonder. Robert De Niro narrates an informative audio tour, with guided group tours and an app also available.

The museum’s three exhibition sections tell stories of the days before, of, and after 9/11.

A memorial area commemorates the lives of the perished. The floor-to-ceiling photos, one for each victim, lining a large room make the experience deeply personal. The faces alone compel, typing in a name at a console brings heart-wrenching information from the victim’s family. The center of this space holds a smaller room lined with benches. A transparent glass floor shows the original ground beneath. This haunting room remains dark, adding to the impact of hearing each victim’s name read aloud and projected onto the wall.

A theater offers a multi-screen film experience, aptly titled “Rebirth at Ground Zero.” Time-lapse footage follows the transformation and renewal of the World Trade Center site. The painful beginning pictures flag-draped coffins being removed from Ground Zero rubble as workers stand by with quiet reverence. The following transition, showing steadily advancing work on the new structures, evoke the indomitable will of a great city, and the ultimate triumph of a whole nation’s spirit over the catastrophe.

Leaving this area brings one past “Survivor’s Staircase,” placed in the museum at their request. This concrete stairway once sat outside, offering a lifesaver for thousands exiting before the collapse.

Another room offers an extended 9/11 timeline. A well-placed warning outside tells visitors of the poignant, graphic videos and rescued mementos inside. Disturbing but profoundly connecting, live footage and answering-machine messages speak the pain of friends and family on and after from that terrible day. The many barely recognizable dust-covered fragments of office items, artwork, and personal possessions offer a shroud over what ended for so many that day.

An area not open to visitors holds the unidentifiable remains of 9/11 dead — making it the only graveyard many have for lost loved-ones.

The museum shop, a must at historic sites, seemed out of place here. Books about the event appealed, but sweatshirts?

The 9/11 Museum generates controversy, but large numbers of visitors show how strong the need for those who watched shocked and mesmerized as those towers fell on national TV is to connect with the place and in some way, the victims, and the heroes.

If you go: The cost for adults is $24, but a CityPASS package saves money when touring other sites in NYC. The audio guide was an additional $7.

Visit to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.


Photo courtesy Debi Lander

Survivors Staircase


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