Where were you on September 11th 2001? I was at work. We didn’t have a TV but I remember so clearly someone running into the office and shouting to turn on the radio. We all gathered around and listened in horror as the reporter explained the scenes in New York. A plane had flown into the World Trade Center! The office was eerily silent as we heard about the second plane and realised this was no ordinary plane crash. That someone had done this on purpose! Later that day we all joined the rest of the world and cried tears for those in New York and on those planes, as we watched horrific, almost movie like, scenes from that dreadful day on the news.
That is a day that most of us old enough to remember will never forget, those scenes etched in our memories forever. It is a day that changed so many lives around the world and one that should never be forgotten, along with those that unnecessarily lost their lives. It is a day our children should know about so those memories live on forever.
The one place I had to take my children to see in New York was the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. They weren’t alive in 2001 but are old enough to have heard about what happened. However they realised very little of what went on.
We met Tim McGuirk outside and he showed us around. First we looked at the Memorial, two pools which stand exactly where each of the Twin Towers were. The memorial, designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, is entitled “Reflecting Absence”. Each pool is one acre in size. 30-foot waterfalls cascade down all four sides into a hole in the middle. No matter where you stand around the pools, you cannot see the bottom of the waterfalls. This was designed purposefully to represent eternity. Around the edges of the pools are listed the names of 2983 people that lost their lives – the 2,977 people killed at the three attack sites on September 11, 2001 and the six people killed in the February 26, 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center. These names include the 441 first responders who gave up their lives to help on 9/11. Every so often we came across beautiful white roses in the names. Tim explained that every time someone has a birthday a single white rose is placed in their name that day.
When the memorial was created, next of kin were able to make requests for names to appear near each other. Those that loved each other, were related or were friends and colleagues were placed together by request. Others are together such as those on the flights and first responders.
The pools are surrounded by trees. This was a beautiful, peaceful place to visit and remember.
Next Tim led us to the Museum which honours the victims of the attacks and all those who risked their lives to save others. The museum also recognizes the survivors and those who demonstrated extraordinary compassion. The museum aims to show the triumph of human dignity over human depravity and celebrates human life. It shows the consequences of terrorism at the same time as how people fought back with compassion and love.
Tim showed us a picture taken in the morning before the attacks and told the children a little of the history of what happened that day. He pointed out to them the perfect blue sky and explained that a lot of people were saved purely by consequence of the day chosen. It was an election day so some went to vote, it was the first day of term so some took their children to school. Miraculously many who would normally have been at the World Trade Center that morning, were on their way to work instead. However many were there and the museum does a brilliant job of honouring the thousands of victims as well as recognising the endurance of the survivors and the amazing courage of those who selflessly risked their lives to save others that day.
Later we walked downstairs, next to the preserved Vesey Street stairs, known as the Survivors’ Stairs, which were used by hundreds to escape to safety, into a vast room with a memorial wall. This work of art includes a sheet of paper for each of the victims in all different shades of blue, representing that perfect sky.
Part of the memorial is closed to the public and managed seperately. This is where the remains of victims still lay. For many relatives, this is the place they go to remember their loved ones.
We saw exhibits such as the steel, bent on impact by a plane, a fire truck from which the lead firefighter courageously gave his life to push on helping others to get out, and a pillar of steel which people used as a memorial in the days following the attack. The 36-foot high column, covered with mementos, memorials and missing posters, was removed from the site on May 30, 2002, marking the official end of the nine-month Ground Zero recovery effort.
The bedrock level of the Museum contains the remaining foundations of the original World Trade Center.
We went into one exhibition that made it all hit home. A memorial room commemorating the lives of victims, with their thousands of pictures covering the walls and, right in the center, a room where you could listen to families and friends giving accounts of their loved ones. Listening to these accounts really helped me realise these were people like you and me, with lives taken when they shouldn’t have been and I don’t think anyone could leave that room with dry eyes.
We were given the opportunity to write our own messages of remembrance on screens which were then projected onto the walls.
The museum also has temporary exhibitions. While we were there this was a sports exhibition. It really showed how much impact that day had on everyday life, even sports. With team members missing from some events and a show of unity and compassion at others, even the sporting world was affected.
Lastly, when we were done in the museum, Tim took us back outside to see the Survivor tree. This callery pear tree became known as the Survivor Tree after it was discovered at the site, severely damaged, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was rescued from the rubble and cared back to life by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The tree was planted back at the Memorial in 2010. This is still here as a living reminder of resilience, survival and rebirth. When there have been disasters or terrorist attacks around the world since, seedlings from this tree have been sent out.
To say we enjoyed our visit would probably be the wrong word. I couldn’t be more pleased we visited and that my children had the opportunity to experience some of the memories from 9/11. The museum is done brilliantly, tactfully and with great honour to the victims families. The Memorial is a site everyone should visit. I am very grateful to Tim McGuirk who was great with the kids and took the time to show us round.
I will finish with a quote from the museum:
“May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.”
Taking an autistic child to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum?
Sensory wise this is not a difficult place to visit. Lights are dimmed and the museum is quiet with a reflective atmosphere. The temperature is cool.
The Memorial pools have walls around them which could potentially be climbable and the memorial is an open area with no fence around so supervision is necessary.
How much your child gets out of their visit will depend on their level of understanding but I believe this is somewhere everyone should be able to access.
It is necessary to go through airport like security when you enter the museum.
The museum can become crowded. The best times to visit are weekday mornings and late afternoons except for Tuesdays.
If you purchase your tickets to the museum online then you can enter the museum more quickly.
If you need to escape somewhere quiet, you can go to the Reflecting 9/11 Studio. Museum staff will help you find this.
The museum has prepared a social narrative to help prepare for visits. This can be found on their website.
We were guests of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, all opinions are our own. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is located at 180 Greenwich Street. For more information or to
reserve a ticket to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, please visit 911memorial.org.
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