Add this to your Bucket List - the 9-11 Museum
If you have any kind of bucket list of things to see and do sometime in your life, make sure you include in there somewhere the 9-11 Memorial and Museum.
Yes, I know it’s in New York City, a mere 1600 miles from San Antonio, which pushes it down the list for many here in South Texas.
It’s also been more than six years since the memorial opened and going on three since the museum opened, so without the media spotlight, it may not be top-of-mind.
But I was in New York with my younger two kids over the Christmas break and we made it a point to take the subway into Lower Manhattan to check it out.
And we all agreed it was definitely worth the trip - even waiting in line for more than an hour in single-digit temperatures to get into the museum.
And it’s the museum, especially, that surprised us – which I’ll get to in a minute.
SO WHAT'S THERE?
But first, I wasn’t sure what to expect at Ground Zero because it’s been several years since I had been here.
It’s also had a kind of confusing history, covered sporadically by the media, as different parts of what have been built in the area have had separate grand openings spread out over a period of years.
Construction work - and even design work - on some of the planned buildings here continue.
And all of it comes after years-long controversies over exactly what should be built here - and how.
Plus there's been a name change - or two.
First of all, the single massive skyscraper which many had referred to as the ‘Freedom Tower’ while it was being planned, is now officially known as One World Trade Center.
The 1776-foot tall needle-like structure is impressive, but surprisingly free of any reminders of what happened on 9-11.
It’s basically just a huge office building run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with an observation deck that allows you great views of the entire area.
It opened in late 2014.
As for the 9-11 Memorial and Museum, it’s run by a separate non-profit group.
And the two main parts of it opened years apart.
The memorial is outdoors and takes up eight of the 16 acres of the World Trade Center site.
It includes those two big recessed pools in the exact spots where the Twin Towers stood before hijacked planes took them down.
The memorial opened to great fanfare September 11, 2011, ten years to the day after the terror attack.
The museum, which is out of sight, literally underground, opened in May of 2014.
And I think it may be least known because the experience of being there is harder for the media to convey – partly because much of it is dark – and just doesn’t photograph particularly well.
Then there’s that word – museum – which can be a buzzkill for a lot of people, who may expect a dull, dry exhibition of old stuff.
The 9-11 museum certainly includes a lot of ‘stuff,’ from huge remnants of the original towers to small, personal mementos of those who worked there.
But it's through that stuff and other media that it does a great job of telling the story of what happened in the 9-11 attacks, who did it, and what kind of reaction it triggered in this country and around the world.
THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT
It also tells the story of the people who were killed here and how it inspired a nation and changed the world.
And many get very emotional seeing it. While we were there, I saw several people tearing up.
I also realized that most of a generation is just too young to remember or they weren’t born yet when the Twin Towers collapsed.
Even though my 12-year-old and 16-year-old had learned about 9-11 in school, I know they didn’t really understand what happened until they walked around the museum.
And even though I’m a news junkie and thought I knew a lot about this sad part of our history, I learned so much. The museum uses audio and video to expertly show you the timeline of what happened that day – and also the planning that led up to it.
And while I’m a longtime photographer and I shot some photos and videos here, I have to admit that I was glad to see that photography is not allowed in a big chunk of the heart of the museum.
I think that helped people focus on the experience itself, and emphasized the seriousness of what happened here.
Even for a guy who works with words and pictures every day, I don't think either can come close to doing justice to the experience you will 'feel' at the museum.
Another thing that struck me at the museum is just why 9-11 inspired so many young Americans to join the military.
A SPECIAL MEANING FOR MANY
And that means San Antonio, often known as Military City, USA, changed because of it.
Thousands of those post 9-11 recruits went through basic training at Lackland or Army medic training at Fort Sam Houston.
And some were seriously injured in the wars after 9-11 and were treated at BAMC.
So whether you have that kind of personal connection, a passing interest, or none at all, I recommend you at least keep in the back of your mind a visit to the 9-11 Memorial and Museum.
Put it on your bucket list. Save up some money to see it.
Even if it is in New York City.