When you visit a city on a return visit, or after several return visits, you are free of the pressure to cross off site-seeing lists, making return visits almost always more rewarding because you can finally ease into a place and let the day take you where it wills without maps or guide books. Sometimes, however, the will of the day takes you where you are not eager to go, but definitely need to be.
On a (return) visit this past week to NYC, one of my days willed me to two gaping holes in the earth where two towers once stood that years ago had afforded me impressive views of the city. This time, however, instead of cruising in an elevator hundreds of storeys skyward, I descended into the depths of the National September 11 Memorial Museum.
Words are insufficient to describe what it is like to stand dwarfed next to naked steel beams once an integral part of a skeleton great enough to extend the whole way up to the “Windows of the World” and to be overwhelmed by the fragility of life reflecting in the smiling faces of portrait upon portrait of those who didn’t manage to make it home the evening of September 11. Volunteers in blue vests stand discreetly next to exhibits and politely answer questions as you navigate in stunned silence through bare concrete halls displaying poignant reminders of a day forever etched in all of our memories.
Having studied in DC and often visited the museums and memorials there that are free, I was struck, even before entering the National September 11 Memorial Museum, by the steep entrance ticket price of 24 USD per adult and 18 USD per student. If the funds were going to the families of victims and first responders, the fee seemed a small price to pay. But if not….
It just seems wrong that any company or individuals should make any profit from anything related to 9/11 or any such tragedy for that matter. Neither of the two volunteers I asked were able to say for sure where the money for the tickets went. Since then I’ve looked online. I was surprised to discover that according to Wikipedia’s National September 11 Memorial Museum page, the museum is not administered by the National Park Service like the Flight 93 National Memorial but rather a non-profit corporation?! After trying to figure it all out, I still don’t really get it. How much more costly can this museum be than all the museums in Washington DC that are free? I also don’t quite understand who owns the September 11 Museum, who runs the museum, the logic of a non-profit corporation as opposed to a national park service and where all the funding goes and for what but it would seem to me if the museum is a public museum, funded by public funds and sincere in its mission statement, any and all balance sheets related to the administration of the museum as well as meeting minutes, etc, should be publicly available online directly from the museum website at the click of a mouse button. Sadly, it didn’t seem from what I could find that steep ticket costs were being used for the health and well-being of any of the families at all but I could be wrong. I definitely hope that I’m wrong.
When you visit NY, you immediately recognize that there is no place in the world with as much pulse, edge and grit as NYC. There just isn’t. At the same time, beneath all the chaos, glitz, glamour and lights, you have what really makes the city great – the New Yorkers themselves – the brash, no-nonsense, genuine New Yorker who didn’t hesitate that morning on 9/11 to rush down to the eye of the hurricane and sacrifice his/her life to help another or spend weeks in the ruble searching debris and now dedicates retirement days to discreetly standing next to exhibits patiently answering visitor questions.
Lots of my fellow Americans – particularly those of us who grew up more in the burbs and countryside like I did, often don’t get the gushing, outpouring of enthusiasm for New York that many Europeans seem automatically prone to. But I do. I get it. And it has nothing to do with the neon lights so bright on Broadway.