9/11 Museum Worth Cost of Admission, Local Woman Agrees At Last

Expensive? Exhausting? Yup. But Not In A Bad Way

United 93. No, I haven’t seen it.

New York City’s September 11th Memorial Museum opened in May of 2014, and everybody had an opinion about it. My opinion was that it sounded expensive, and also kind of exhausting. A Picasso museum makes sense to me, because Picasso painted his masterpieces before I was born, and how lucky am I to get to pay a fee and see them all gathered together in a space. The Museum of Natural History makes sense to me, even if it is overrun by shrieking children, because most of natural history took place before I was born too and there’s still so much to learn about stars and dinosaurs. (Though there are other exhibits, the best ones are about stars and dinosaurs, both of which once existed gloriously, and died mysteriously, and left lingering traces in our world.) But the 9/11 Museum? A museum that commemorates and, well, reiterates something that happened recently enough that I remember it? Why would I pay $25 to experience that?

Here’s a good reason: because my father-in-law asked me to. It was his birthday. He wanted to mark the occasion with his wife and Ben and me, and this was how he wanted to do it. So Ben and I bought four tickets online, left Babygirl at home, and set off with very low expectations.

Those expectations were exceeded. Although not at first. Lower Manhattan is a tangle of cars and construction and tourists, and vendors hawking things to tourists, and people snapping pictures anytime a plane seemed to fly near the Freedom Tower. We navigated our way through the masses to the museum itself, stopping only to admire the pools. The pools really are something: as meditative and graceful as the surrounding area is nerve-jangling and rough, much like the Vietnam War Memorial in DC. If the museum is half as effective as the pools, we’ll be okay, I thought.

I was afraid it wouldn’t be, though. Indeed there were so many ways the museum could go wrong. It could jingoistic or xenophobic, too loud or too bland. It could get too deeply into geopolitics or ignore them altogether. But from the beginning, the museum soothed: it was sober without being grim, fact-based without being pedantic. It skillfully skirted melodrama, even in the Intense Section, which made me cry a lot, as it was clearly intended to — I’ve never noticed so many tactfully placed boxes of tissues anywhere besides a hospice. Or rather, the well-presented individual stories of victims and survivors made me cry a lot. That’s as it should be.

So it was indeed an expensive and an exhausting afternoon, but one that seemed worth its price tag and not one that left me feeling manipulated. Good job threading that needle, museum folks.

Yesterday, a friend and old colleague who now works at MoMA got me in for free and gave me a guided tour of the Picasso sculpture exhibit. Art as palate cleanser. A comforting reminder that genius, like stars and dinosaurs, in their way, will always be with us.

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