September 11 museum at impasse over money

More than 4 million people have visited the September 11 Memorial in New York City since it opened last year on the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Visitors from around the world come to watch the waterfalls rush into the deep footprints of the former World Trade Center Twin Towers and to read the names of those who died, etched in bronze panels surrounding the pools.

But work on the September 11 Museum at the site, which was to open in time for the 11th anniversary of the attacks, stopped months ago because of financial disputes between the private foundation that owns the Memorial & Museum, and the public Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center site.

The museum’s steel and glass entry hall is built, but its interior is unfinished, and a sign outside warns visitors away. Monica Iken, whose husband, Michael, died in the attacks, calls the impasse a disgrace.

“It’s an embarrassment for the world to see,” she said. “They come there, and I’ve been there several times where people come up to me and say, ‘Where’s the museum, why is it not open?’ How do you explain that: ‘Oh, because we’re fighting over some money?'”

Museum renderings show visitors entering under huge trident beams from the original buildings, and taking escalators down to cavernous galleries that will hold damaged rescue vehicles and a set of stairs down which some survivors fled. Photographic and sound exhibits will tell the stories of that day and memorialize each of the nearly 3,000 people who died. There will also be displays telling the story of al Qaida and the terrorist plotters, although some family members of those who died, like Jim Riches, who lost his firefighter son Jimmy, think those should be limited to side displays in kiosks.

“If you want to see their pictures, let them go into the kiosk and look at their picture,” he said. “But I think you’ve made it more like a Hall of Fame for the terrorists, and that’s the way I feel, by putting their pictures up there.”

Museum officials, who refused to be interviewed, reportedly have carefully considered how to present a history that might be traumatic for some visitors, particularly children. They have deleted images that are too graphic or that show an individual victim’s identity. The foundation reportedly plans to charge an admission fee of $25, although the memorial will remain free of charge.

But it is a collection that will never be shown that has caused the fiercest controversy, a refrigerated repository for 9,000 unidentified fragments of human bone and tissue, now held in the New York medical examiner’s offices. It will be seven stories underground, and off-limits to all but family members of the victims and the medical examiner. Museum visitors will see only a vast wall bearing a quotation from the Roman poet Virgil: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

But Jim Riches and members of 16 other victims’ families are suing. He said that only a few family members were consulted by the September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation about their wishes. His group wants to poll all of the families on the issue. Riches says he thinks that most would choose to visit the unidentified remains at a tomb above ground, and not as part of the museum

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