In prior posts I have mentioned my friend Jaime and her Fun Fall Outings where she grabs a group of us and we tour a cultural institution together, always with a guide, to further cement our understanding of said cultural institution. While the word FUN does not come to mind regarding yesterday’s outing many other words do. Words like: important, vital, historic, painful, cathartic, infuriating, challenging, inspiring, thought provoking, heart warming, peaceful, and mandatory.
This week Jaime took us to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in downtown Manhattan. I am not going to go into detail about the museum for a few reasons. Number one being: you should go there yourself. Allocate a lot of time and bring a friend and some tissues. Two: It is personal and private how one reacts to this exhibit. Three: The memorial has justifiably been written about at length by numerous talented writers offering varying perspectives.
What I will write about is HOW you might consider planning your visit. This was my third time to this unfortunately, not optional, contribution to lower Manhattan. The amount of work and thought that went into it’s creation is hard to fathom and the team that put this together should be celebrated for their monumental labor of love. It was my first time to experience a tour of the museum. I deliberately use the word experience to describe the tour because it was just that: an experience. I was not passively following around an expert as can sometimes be the case – I was experiencing the museum through the guide’s eyes, words and powerful stories. If you take nothing else away from this blog post:
1. GO TO THE 9/11 MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM
2. TAKE THE TOUR
My first thought when I descended the stairs into this subterranean display was: How am I going to hear the guide? It was mid morning on a Tuesday and visitors were pouring into the museum. It was crowded and numerous languages were being bandied about. Was he going to yell? There were 24 of us for the guide to manage. How would we keep all together and see what he wanted us to see and hear what he wanted to say?
These queries were quickly answered when a nice person handed over a headset and a monitor to wear around my neck. Genius! I have done the pre-recorded tours before with a headset, but never a live person whispering into my ear. For whatever reason, or for numerous reasons, this delivery mechanism was vital to the experience. The second I put those headphones on I was alone in the museum with a guy named Max. Amazing. Max’s voice was strong and calm and had a distinct rhythm to it. He shared facts and he made me think. He used his powerful words to paint pictures of the stories of survivors and victims from that awful day in September. Suddenly the fire hat in front of the mangled fire truck on display had an owner and a story. In telling this one story (though he told us many) he reminds us that each of the victims had stories, and lives, and loved ones which is why we must never forget.
But we do forget. We get busy. We get distracted and our stuff looms larger in our lives than it should. Not because we’re bad people, we’re just living our lives and creating our stories while and when we can. Visiting the museum provides a moment to remember the stories that were cut short on that sunny day in September.
Max, as a tour guide, is giving each of his guests a gift. A gift of insight and awareness that cannot be replicated when one just walks through the museum reading every plaque and listening to every interactive exhibit. He breathes life into the very exhibit that is memorializing people’s unnecessary deaths.
Max toured us around the circumference of the exhibit and I learned more from him in one hour than on either of my two previous visits. I was sad to remove him from my ears when it was over. I will be thinking of the stories and re-telling them for a good long time. Grab your group and go to this museum. Sign up for the tour. Ask for Max.
The tour costs $20 on top of the admission price of $24. The museum books 24 people into a tour and it goes off every hour. You can reserve one or all 24 spots. After your one hour tour, plan on allocating more time to visit the historical and memorial exhibits. These exhibits are explained as such on the 9/11 Memorial and Museum’s website:
The historical exhibition has three parts, exploring the day of 9/11, before 9/11 and after 9/11. It tells the story of what happened on 9/11, including the events at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the story of Flight 93. The exhibition explores the background leading up to the events and examines their aftermath and continuing implications.
Please note: The historical exhibition may not be appropriate for visitors younger than 10 years of age. Adults accompanying younger visitors should exercise discretion before entering.
The memorial exhibition, which is named In Memoriam, commemorates the lives of those who perished on September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993, and provides visitors with the opportunity to learn about the men, women and children who died.