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Meatpacking District Museum Puts 9/11 Memories on Display

MEATPACKING DISTRICT — With the approach of the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, the 9/11 Memorial isn't the only museum seeing an uptick in interest.

The Ground Zero Museum Workshop in the Meatpacking District has been seeing an upsurge in visitors to its one-room space filled with memorabilia and photographs, where visitors can take two-hour tours with an oral presentation from a guide, a brief video, a chance to hold a remnant from the towers, and an audio tour of the 100 images and artifacts.

But unlike the new 9/11 Memorial, which has already sold out tickets for September 12 and most of the following week, the six-year-old museum at 420 W. 14th St. still has a few passes available for its scheduled tours on September 11 and 12. 

Gary Marlon Suson, the museum's founder and the official photographer at Ground Zero for the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said that he still has room on some of his tours scheduled for 9/11/11, and a few of his tours scheduled for 9/12.

The small museum, filled with Suson's photographs of Ground Zero in the months after the attacks, started out as Suson's studio when he documented the aftermath of 9/11.

Now he calls it "the little engine that could," because of its modest size and initial struggle to attract visitors.

"I drained my $20,000 savings to document 9/11," said Suson, who didn't receive initial compensation when he photographed the recovery. He recalled getting so financially strapped that ConEdison shut off his studio lights four times, when he didn't pay the bill.

Then, when he turned the studio into a museum in 2005, he faced more setbacks.

"The first two years we were pretty much empty, and I did all the tours orally," he said, but some families of 9/11 victims encouraged him to keep it open.

By 2007, news outlets began featuring the space, which is now listed as one of the top visitor sites by tripadvisor.com.

 "In 2008 I hired tour guides," he said. "It wasn't healthy for me to keep reliving my experience."

Suson said each year the museum increases in visitors and income by about 30 percent, but it keeps its small size.

Tickets to the non-profit museum are $25 for adults, and $19 for students and seniors, with a portion of the proceeds going to charities.

Currently the museum is raising money for Ralph Geidel, a firefighter who lost his brother in 9/11 and developed throat cancer after digging for nine months to search for his remains.

"The Geidels taught me how to dig for human remains," said Suson, an Honorary FDNY Battalion Chief. "This place allows people to experience [the recovery] through my eyes."

Suson said that though his museum's popularity has surged, it may not continue after September 2012, when the National 9/11 Museum opens. 

"I've had several meetings with Jan Ramirez, the curator of the [9/11 Memorial] museum," said Suson. "Their team is going through my collection and deciding which pieces they need" for their collection, he added.

He said that he fears that demand may decrease for his museum once the Downtown museum opens.

"This place is near and dear to my heart, I'd be saddened if it closes," he said. "But you have different kinds of art museums — maybe we'll have different kinds of 9/11 museums."

For now, the Ground Zero Museum continues to prosper, and will be partnering with Google's new program Google Offers to launch a special one-day offer of $15 discounted tickets. The date will be released later this summer.

Visitors can purchase tickets on the museum's website.