9/11 Enters the Realm of Museum

Friday, May 23, 2014


If journalism is the first draft of history, “museumification” is probably the last. So OTM producer Meara Sharma and I went to mark that moment for 9/11, on the opening day of the museum in its name built on the footprint of the twin towers.

Upon entering, we encounter those who saw 9/11 from afar, an estimated ⅓ of humanity. Recorded voices of people from across the country and around the planet recall where they were and what they felt as the image of the World Trade Center in flames seized television screens worldwide. The sounds of witnesses soon blend into the voices of those personally affected, men and women, and young children reciting the names of the loved ones they lost.

In one room, photographs of the dead covered the walls. Many look like wedding photos; one woman is even wearing a tiara. There’s a database providing information about each victim, and Brooke speaks with a woman who found her deceased cousin amid the names. “Everything we’re seeing here, we saw live on TV,” she says. “It’s strange.”

We come upon a vast atrium where a quote from Virgil is set in raised stone against a sea of blue tile: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” Around us, broken objects from the towers and soaring pieces of twisted metal sit like sculptures in a sterile gallery. A fire truck from the day looks almost pristine from the front, but its back is a mangled mass of wire. It’s hard not to be reminded of the work of John Chamberlain, or Claes Oldenburg. As abstract expressionists; they strove to imbue their art with emotion. There’s exceptional pain in these charred remains, as well as a sense of grace.

Eventually we come to the room filled with the most disturbing material: the perspectives of those on the ground, in the moment. A security guard leads us through a revolving door, and suddenly we’re immersed in sirens and police reports, images and video of the destruction, calls for help and stories of those who escaped. It’s like being dropped back inside the horror and total confusion of that day.

There are still tougher places to go. One alcove plays the final phone calls made by those on flight 93, and another displays photos of people in the towers who chose to jump, rather than burn. We see them at that moment of decision, and then plummeting, floating, frozen in mid-air. On the walls are quotes from those who looked on, from below. James Gilroy remembers one woman: “She had a business suit on, her hair all askew. This woman stood there for what seemed like minutes and then she held down her skirt and jumped off the ledge. I thought, how human, how modest, to hold down her skirt before she jumped. I couldn't look anymore.”

Interestingly, though the visitors certainly were solemn, we noticed few tears. Maybe after more than a decade of anniversaries, the national mantle of mourning no longer suits the time. After all, the city and the nation have seen many catastrophes. This was a big one, but perhaps, more importantly, it was our catastrophe. 50 years from now, it'll be simply a catastrophe. And it's in places like these that future generations will experience it. What that experience will be like, for them, we can’t possibly know.





Jake Barton

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [15]

Daire from Virginia

I agree with the general sentiment of this commenting body. A sub-par story for OTM.

Nevertheless, I liked the string composition that played as you transitioned out of the story. What was it called? Who wrote re it?

Thank you

May. 29 2014 04:03 PM
Stephan Bianchi from Santa Cruz, CA

The 9/11 Memorial Museum displays the impact of the destruction of the twin towers on individuals and on Americans’ view of themselves as victims and as heroes.

That is all very interesting, but what is more important is to determine why the attack occurred and how to prevent future tragedies. The most important part of Brooke Gladstone’s report was to ask those questions. The response was that issues of American foreign policy were covered somewhere in the museum, but inconspicuously to avoid upsetting visitors.

The museum should show what we have learned since 9/11, even if that is controversial. Do we still believe the perpetrators were simply crazy people who hated freedom and the American way of life? Did we end the terror by invading Iraq, inspecting airline passengers and launching a massive surveillance program?

What really motivated people from far away lands to sacrifice their own lives to bring misery to Americans, and how can we convince such people to organize for good?

May. 26 2014 04:00 PM
Tyro Michael from NYC

I appalled that this site of national tragedy costs $24 to enter it!!

Politicians easily find money for crazy wars but can't for this supposed "hallow" ground?

Pearl Harbor costs nothing to see. The Holocaust Museum and the Smithsonian Museums in DC cost nothing but THIS does???

May. 26 2014 12:41 PM
Lynn from Michigan

Where is the anger? 9/11 was not just "simply a catastrophe" like a tsunami, it was caused by a group of radical muslims interested in killing all who do not share their beliefs. The brothers of these muslims are likely to be laughing at us and our weakness and tears while they prepare for another attack.

May. 26 2014 08:42 AM
Garyboy from Harlem

I'm sure this "museum" never mentions the word "Muslim" or "Islamic." I'm sure it shamelessly omits how they teach their little children how to make suicide bomb belts. I'm sure the "museum" omits how Arab governments systematically instruct their school kids to blame 100% of their problems on Jews and the Great Satan. I bet that you would not see even ONE car, in the Arab world, with a bumper sticker that reads, "COEXIST."

May. 26 2014 08:29 AM
Jane from San Jose, California

Just listened to this report--I think it was incredibly well done, raw--honest--personal--human. The only way to report a story like this. The horrors of that day, the unthinkable, unimaginable, incomprehensible experience of all those who lost their lives, and the rest of us as we looked on, as we grapple with the memory of that day, and contemplate the thousands of individual experiences of those who parted with their lives that day, and the tens of thousands more who lost someone they loved--those tasked with creating a living memorial to the enormity of that event and those tasked with reporting about it face an impossible task: provide a way to comprehend the incomprehensible.

The only way to do that honestly is to make it personal, to insert yourself into the story, because there is no single omniscient point of view of an event like that. "Tell the story you know." Brooke Gladstone, a native New Yorker, takes us with her as she walks through the museum, not trying to strike an aloof, inauthentic omniscience, but rather provide a stream of consciousness of her own personal thoughts and observations as she fulfills her task to inform about a monument to the incomprehensible.

By approaching it in such a personal way, I learned what's in the museum; I came to appreciate the extreme care that went into designing it; I encountered my own fear of revisiting the memory of that day and the weeks that followed; and I learned that the reporter struggled with how to walk the line between deference to those who suffered and the public's need to know and mourn and process the meaning of 9/11 as it calcifies into history.

May. 26 2014 04:03 AM

After all the stories I listened to this week concerning the opening of the museum, this was by far the absolute most compelling, most informative, and caused me to actually think about some of the controversies, rather than just hearing a drab reporting of both sides of the issue. When the story first came on, I thought to myself, 'What's this got to do with media?' And almost as soon as the story began, I felt that familiar smile come on to my face, as it has many times before on OTM, and I realized like a light going off in my head, 'it has everything to do with media!'. Ms. Gladstone is a polished professional who treats each and every listener as a mature, discerning individual, worthy of her obvious deep understanding of the effects of media upon us all. Thank you, OTM!

May. 26 2014 02:34 AM
Monte Haun

"With all the taste shown in the 911 museum but being a capitalist, I made a tee shirt"

Useful as a Bloody Shirt to wave in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, all our past and future adventures that rely on blaming our enemies for the Chaos we cause.

Monte Haun mchaun@hotmail.com

May. 25 2014 11:07 PM
grace heitkamp from Lonsdale, MN

I wonder if the museum finally sheds light on how Building #7 fell on that day - a continuing mystery to many of us.

May. 25 2014 04:26 PM
DJ Earplugz from NYC

Thanks, OTM! I always wondered what a recording of two whispering birdbrains walking through a museum, trying (and failing) to come up with an interesting observation would sound like.

May. 25 2014 12:30 PM
Robert from NYC

Shame on you On the Media. This museum is a disgrace to the memories of those who died, their survivors, and NYers. Nowhere else in the world would such a museum charge a fee especially to the residents of the country. I personally hope it fails financially.
And your whispering is more irritating that your regular voice, Brook. What drama, bad drama.

May. 25 2014 10:15 AM
BKNY from Brooklyn

Gift Shop. Hmmmmm. Hey. I have a great idea! A museum commemorating the war in Afghanistan. With all the taste shown in the 911 museum but being a capitalist, I made a tee shirt:


The shirt of course can and SHOULD be sold in the 911 museum.

Having lost a family member in the South tower… I'm sure he is smiling from above about the gift shop. After all, some of his body parts are there. Sigh… if only one could buy some of that.

May. 24 2014 07:42 PM

The segment reminded me of some articles I would recommend to folks who would usually refer to the day the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by only its calendar date (without the year):

"Commentary: A letter to broadcasters regarding the eleventh day of September"


"Reclaiming September 11 as a normal day: Calling event “9/11” has unfairly besmirched a date that happens to be my birthday"


" 'Pity for Me is Misplaced,' Urbandale Writer Born on 9/11 Says"


May. 24 2014 08:53 AM
Douglas from El Paso

The museum is not complete without the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing that warned of an attack.

May. 23 2014 10:27 PM
Adair Cole from Los Angeles, CA

Terribly self-important and truly tone deaf commentary from Ms. Gladstone on this one. A question posed by Ms. Gladstone: "does this museum mean that the terrorist lost, or won?" Followed by an insincere dismissal of the same question (on an edited broadcast).

Ms. Gladstone, if the question was so bad, why not remove it completely? Even better, why not remove yourself completely? Did nobody on the OTM staff stop to question whether or not Ms. Gladstone's experiences were truly the most interesting and vital part of a story on the "museumification" of 9/11? Spoiler alert: they were not.

To the producers of OTM and Ms. Gladstone, I get it, I too am a fan of Ira Glass and Jonathan Goldstein, but the continued and inexplicable "TLDR-ification" of On The Meida has become difficult to swallow.

You're better than this.

May. 23 2014 10:03 PM

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