Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum With Kids

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Sort of like the moon landings for a previous generation, I’m sure our generation will remember where they were when the 9/11 attacks occurred.  My husband and I had just returned from an amazing honeymoon.  September 11, 2001 was the first day back at work for us.  Morning in New York City meant we were just returning to our desks after lunch.

When our computer screens flashed up news of a plane crashing in Manhattan, it seemed surreal.  I worked in the London office of a New York law firm. Many of us were native New Yorkers.  We all gathered in the conference room to watch the unfolding horror on the big screen television.  Everyone was equally shocked.  Our office closed early that day.  No one would have been able to return to work after watching the tragic events happening in our home town.

One World Trade Center

We have talked to our children a bit about the events of 9/11 which occurred before they were born.  We have visited friends who lived in downtown Manhattan.  They had a birds eye view of the building of One World Trade Center.

The building designed by starchitect Daniel Libeskind is stunning visually.  Rising triumphantly over the skyline, the blue sky and sun reflect of the glass, a sparkling testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with Kids_photo of One WTC

Now that my kids are 9 years old, I felt they were old enough to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum itself.

The 9/11 Memorial Plaza

The 9/11 Memorial is a plaza with twin reflecting pools.  Each pool is set in the footprint of one of the Twin Towers.  Needless to say, the waterfall pits are massive – about an acre each.

9/11 Memorial reflecting pool

Names of the victims are inscribed onto the sides of the pools.

9/11 memorial reflecting pool inscription

The plaza and other buildings are still a work in progress.

9/11 memorial construction

The 9/11 Museum

The 9/11 Museum is pretty much underground.  The original Twin Towers had foundations with retaining walls that kept the Hudson River from flooding into the building.  Despite the destruction aboveground, the retaining walls remained strong.  (A mercy or otherwise the flooding in Lower Manhattan would have caused even more destruction).    The Museum is housed within these remaining foundations.

9/11 Museum basement foundation

You descend down staircases and ramps into the basement.  The light from the beautiful atrium overlooking Freedom Tower is soon lost as you head down into the heart of darkness/depths of despair etc.  The symbolism is not subtle.

escalator to exhibits at 9/11 museum

Although the museum is sombre, my children did not find it creepy.  Everything is carefully curated so nothing feels overwhelming.  The museum is about 110,000 s.f. so there is definitely plenty of room to spread out.

9/11 museum twin towers foundations

The Virgil quote from The Aeneid is part of an art installation in Memorial Hall.  The letters are cut from steel taken from the fallen Twin Towers.  Someone (not a classicist) thought the quote was appropriate but many people have criticised the quote for being taken out of context.  In the Aeneid, the quote refers to murderous gay lovers who have hacked their enemies to death in their sleep.

Virgil quote 9/11 museum

Artist Spencer Finch created 2983 pages of water-colour for the installation.  The shades of blue represent the artist trying to remember what colour the sky was on that fateful day.  Surrounding the Virgil quote, I’m sure some bright spark thought the art could take attention away from the offending quote itself.  It doesn’t.

The 9/11 Museum Exhibits

You walk past the remains of the ‘Survivor Stairs’ where many people were able to escape the building onto Vesey Street.

9/11 museum vesey steps

The mangled remains of fire trucks, ambulances etc. are on display.  You can clearly see the force of the blast and the power of the heat.  All of it is testament to the courage of the people who did not flinch but ran towards the disaster to help.

9/11 museum fire truck

We looked at some of the portraits of the 3000 people who had died on the day.  They were from all walks of life, young and old. My son was struck by the story of one heroic worker who rescued 18 people but died himself when the building collapsed as he went to rescue another person.

My children were a little perturbed by the missing posters exhibition.  Someone can go into work one day just like any other day but then never come home.  It’s a lot to take on board.

9/11 museum missing posters

The Last Column was the last piece of structural steel to be removed from the Twin Towers in the spring of 2002.

9/11 Museum The Last Column

On this piece of steel, rescue workers and others had attached messages and missing posters.  The Last Column was brought back to the museum as a permanent exhibit.

9/11 Museum The Last Column messages

Personal exhibits are also on display of people who perished on the day.  This motorcycle was a wreck bought by one of the fireman who died. He had intended to restore it. His colleagues from the fire company restored it for him and placed it in memory of him at the museum.

9/11 musem firefighter motorcycle

One exhibition section goes into specific details on the events of the day itself.  It is not recommended for children under the age of 10.  My children insisted on going inside but I did whisk them through some of the materials.

There are eyewitness accounts, television broadcasts and lots of other multimedia materials.  I’m sure the newsreels showed some of the clips of people jumping from the Twin Towers which I did not want my children to see.  I am haunted by those images still to this day.  And, I am not ready to get into a discussion on when murder becomes suicide.

9/11 Museum quilt God Bless America

I’m sure a lot went over my children’s heads but it was a good introduction to the events of the day.  I think what happened on 9/11 is so tragic and overwhelming, it is best consumed in small doses.  I am sure we will return when they are older and we can discuss in more detail what happened.

Helpful Tips For Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum:

The 9/11 Memorial does not require tickets. Both the memorial and museum are open daily.  The Museum is free on Tuesday nights after 5pm.  Otherwise, the museum costs $24 for adults and children from 7 to 17 are $15.  Other discounts apply as well.

You should get tickets for a timed entry to the 9/11 Museum online. There are lines for either the top of the hour or the bottom of the hour where you can wait.  Don’t bother!  You can waltz in a few minutes after your allocated time slot when the lines have cleared.  There’s plenty of room inside and being the last to go inside on your time slot has no impact on your visit to the museum.

Our visit took us a little over 2 hours.  You could easily have spent another 2 hours if you spent more time in the enclosed ‘for older visitors’ only area.

I thought my children at 9 years of age were ready for this museum.  They would not have understood as much if they were younger.  They did not see all of the exhibits because I managed to evade some parts of the museum. Adult discretion is definitely advised.


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