FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Twisted steel from the Twin Towers, a crushed fire truck, a wedding band and a last recorded phone message from a victim are a few of the thousands of poignant artifacts housed in the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum.
More than 12 years after the devastating terror attack that killed nearly 3,000 people, the long-delayed underground museum below the World Trade Center site is finally slated to open, with a ceremonial dedication by President Obama on Thursday. The museum will officially open to the public on May 21.
"The museum tells heartbreaking stories of unimaginable loss, but also inspiring stories of courage and compassion,” said former mayor Michael Bloomberg, the chairman of the 9/11 Museum, during a press preview Wednesday. “Its opening honors the commitment we made to 9/11 family members and to all future generations — that we would never forget those we lost or the terrible lessons we learned that day.”
The museum's 110,000-square-foot exhibition space, built on the same bedrock that was once the foundation of the Twin Towers, tells the gut-wrenching story of 9/11. Through multimedia displays, narratives and a collection of artifacts, both monumental, like the 58-ton steps that hundreds of survivors ran down to safety, and personal, like a handwritten note, pleading for rescue, touched with bloody fingerprints and thrown from the 84th floor — the history of the day is vividly captured.
Descending into the dimly lit, cavernous museum on long ramps, the visitor is soon surrounded voices, recordings of people recalling where they were, and their memories of first hearing about the devastating attacks.
It's an arresting experience, and one that continues through the expansive musuem's two core exhibitions: the memorial exhibition, called "In Memoriam," which details the lives of those who died, and a three-part historical exhibition that explores the day of the attacks, what led to them and their aftermath, including honoring the heroism of recovery and rescue workers.
Museum planners said they knew it was a delicate balance to strike in creating the space: not shying away from the horrors of the day, while also making the experience one that visitors could digest.
Walking through the musuem is not easy, with hundreds of images of the attacks, and voices of newscasters, and people reliving the shock, dread and devastation of the day. Eventually visitors head out from the exhibits on soaring escalators, with music playing, as they brought back to the light of day, with the memorial pools in view outside of the glass walls.
The long-delayed construction of the museum was hampered by funding disputes, until a deal between the state and city in September 2012 finally allowed work to resume.
Over the next week, the museum will offer previews of the exhibits for survivors, families of victims, first responders and Lower Manhattan residents and business owners, museum officials said.
Starting May 21, general admission tickets to the museum will cost $24. Victims' family members, first responders and recovery workers will not have to pay.
The public will be able to visit for free for three hours on Tuesday evenings, and there will be discounts for seniors and students.