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My first visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum

During the Thanksgiving weekend, my family and I made our first visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.


I had visited the outside memorial on a previous visit to New York City before the museum was open. The website suggests that the museum might be too much for children under the age of 10. My boys range in age from 11 to 14, and had never visited the 9/11 Memorial or Museum.  Just before our family visit, I realized my boys have probably never even seen any video or news coverage of that day. They’ve heard the history, but because we don’t live anywhere near New York City, it might be easy to have some sort of disconnect from the whole event. So our visit was important to me to show the enormity of the tragedy, and honor those people who lost their lives.

Things to do and know before you go:

1) Allow time to visit the Memorial on the outside. The two reflecting pools and the survivor tree are important tributes.

2) Buy your timed entry tickets well before your visit. I bought ours several months ahead of time. During the busiest times of year, the tickets sell out. Don’t be caught empty handed. If you decide to wing it, early morning might give you the best chance to squeeze in the next available time slot.

3) Download the free 9/11 Memorial Museum Audio Guide on iTunes before you get to the museum. The museum is underneath the street level most of the time. So downloading the app inside the museum can be problematic. We made sure it was on each phone or itouch, so that each person had their own. If you forget to bring your own headphones, you can buy them at the front desk for $1.50/pair.

3) Leave the big purse at home. There is airport type security required to enter the museum. So large bags won’t pass through the entrance. They do have a coat and small bag check inside security if you don’t want to carry those things around during your visit. I appreciated not having to carry my heavy coat around.

We got to the memorial about an hour before our timed entry in order to visit the survivor tree and reflecting pools. It doesn’t take that long to view the area, but you can start lining up 30 minutes ahead of time for the museum. The reflecting pools are meant to represent the absence of the towers and the lives lost. Even the names around the pools are etched out of the metal that surrounds them, to continue the absence theme.


A high school classmate of mine was working in one of the towers and lost his life that tragic day. We found his name located on the reflecting pool surround. It’s relatively easy to find a name location online. On a previous summer time visit, a memorial staff member showed me how to pay tribute. If you take your hand and slide it underneath the metal, you’ll feel a shallow pool of water. The idea is to dip your hand in the water, and place your handprint over their name. In the summertime it evaporates quickly, but I think it is nice to feel like you have done something to honor them. If you see a single rose sitting in a name, that means it is that person’s birthday. The staff places them accordingly every morning.

After a short time outside, the entrance to the museum, clearing security and checking our coats went very smoothly. The museum audio tour can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. I think it just depends on how much you read and view separately from the tour. My only complaint was that the first few stopping points on the audio tour, were a little hard to figure out. There was a large crowd at the end of the first ramp that looked over into the main foundation of one of the towers. I kept thinking I was missing one of the audio tour stops, but it was further down at the bottom of the second ramp. Once we got past that initial crowd, the tour was easier to follow.


We went to each audio tour stop as a family, and pressed play when everyone was ready. It was kind of strange to be doing the route together, but with our own phones/headphones we were sort of alone with our own thoughts and very contemplative. The majority of the museum explains the structure of the buildings, what walls and structures underneath held up. The portrait exhibit is definitely powerful. My boys were most moved by the eyewitness accounts that were “extras” in the audio tour.


The tributes to the victims who were killed, as well as the responders were very touching and well done.The last display case contained a brick from Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abottabad, Pakistan. It also contained the shirt of the Navy Seal that killed Osama Bin Laden on the raid of the compound. The photos I’ve included in this post were the things that stuck with me the most. Steel just wasn’t meant to be bent and deformed in those shapes…

IMG_3634Back up on the main level when we were finished, I went to retrieve our things from the coat/bag check. When I returned to a display at the bottom of the escalators, my family was standing alone talking to a docent named Bill. He had asked Hubby where he was on 9/11, and how we learned about the events unfolding. Bill always asks that question to visitors, as he finds it interesting how other parts of the world viewed the events.

It was then that Bill shared his story with us. He was a FDNY first responder at 9/11. He was in the North Tower when it collapsed around him. With dust and debris surrounding him, he tried to get his bearings. A sliver of sunlight guided his way to the survivor stairs (that are still located in the museum) and he was able to get to safety. Even as he exited the structure, he said the dust was so thick it was like walking in 2 or 3 feet of snow. He lost all 11 of his co-workers that day.

I am so thankful for Bill the docent. Not just for his heroism that day. But for his continued effort in the years since. Bill tries to volunteer every Friday. He wasn’t speaking in an auditorium. He had started a conversation with Hubby to make sure we took the time outside, and tried to answer any questions we might have. Our conversation with Bill was the human connection our family needed for our visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. That human connection made everything “click” for my boys. I could see it in their eyes. And I could feel it in my own heart. Thank you Bill.



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