Category Archives: history

The painful choices behing the making of the 9/11 museum

This story will be on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times but you can get an advance view now. I find the comments of readers very interesting, both in terms of their range and the depth of their emotion. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we’ll be running roundtables on some of the thorny questions that museum officials had to deal with and the public will be able to weigh in.

At Museum on 9/11, Talking Through an Identity Crisis

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

In eight years of planning a museum at the National September 11 Memorial, every step has been muddied by contention.

Published: June 2, 2012

“It seemed self-evident at the time: A museum devoted to documenting the events of Sept. 11, 2001, would have to include photographs of the hijackers who turned four passenger jets into missiles. Then two and a half years ago, plans to use the pictures were made public.

New York City’s fire chief protested that such a display would “honor” the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center. A New York Post editorial called the idea “appalling.” Groups representing rescuers, survivors and victims’ families asked how anyone could even think of showing the faces of the men who killed their relatives, colleagues and friends.

The anger took some museum officials by surprise.

“You don’t create a museum about the Holocaust and not say that it was the Nazis who did it,” said Joseph Daniels, chief executive of the memorial and museum foundation.

Such are the exquisite sensitivities that surround every detail in the creation of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, which  is being built on land that many revere as hallowed ground. During eight years of planning, every step has been muddied with contention. There have been bitter fights over the museum’s financing, which have delayed its opening until at least next year, as well as continuing arguments over its location, seven stories below ground; which relics should be exhibited; and where unidentified human remains should rest.

Even the souvenir key chains to be sold in the gift shop have become a focus of rancor.

But nothing has been more fraught than figuring out how to tell the story.

The sunken granite pools that opened last Sept. 11 and that occupy the footprints of the fallen towers were designed as places to mourn and remember the dead. Yet nowhere on the plaza is there even a mention of the terrorist attacks that caused the destruction. The job of documenting and interpreting the history has been left to the museum, and it is an undertaking pockmarked with contradictions.

Alice Greenwald, the director of the new museum, and her team must simultaneously honor the dead and the survivors; preserve an archaeological site and its artifacts; and try to offer a comprehensible explanation of a once inconceivable occurrence. They must speak to vastly different audiences that include witnesses at the scene and around the globe, as well as children born long after the wreckage had been cleared. And many of those listening have long-simmering, deeply felt opinions about how the museum should take shape.

“Whose truth is going to be in that museum?” asked Sally Regenhard, whose son, Christian, a firefighter, died in the north tower.”

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Aw shucks. History News Network review of my book – “the standard on the subject”

Jim Cullen,  a book review editor at HNN — History News Network, for those outside academia — writes about “In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age.” He has a book coming out later this year —  Sensing the Past: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions(Oxford University Press) and blogs at American History Now.

He writes:

“In Our Prime is a serious and useful survey in the subject likely to remain a standard of its kind for some time to come.

In Our Prime has an even tone and intellectual depth that talks frankly about some of the most dismaying aspects of the aging process. But its overall mood is upbeat: mid-life — which Cohen resists defining precisely even as the book ends — is a lengthening time of opportunity. Her message of hope is worth buying, literally and figuratively.”