Last week, I wrote about my emotional visit to the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.  It was a post that I sat on for a long time, not even sure how to begin to put my feelings into words. I realize that even thirteen years later, 9/11 still feels in some way like yesterday and the fear, emotions and horror of that day still remain vivid and raw within my soul. I didn’t lose anyone close to me that day. But many people around the world did. It is a day that we all would rather forget but can’t and should not.

Seeing the newly opened 9/11 Memorial Museum was very hard. It left me numb after walking through the remains of life and civilization within the very foundation where the two Twin Towers once stood. Yet, I will argue that it is a place that everyone should see and also that although the content and stories shared within the museum walls are tragic it also is done with hope, pride and resilience. A remembrance of the thousands of innocent and brave people who lost their lives that day and the ones that still remain alive.

Freedom Tower NYC

1 World Trade Center Tower or “The Freedom Tower” is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere, in July 2013. She looms directly behind the 9/11 Memorial.

Perhaps the most powerful room of all inside the 9/11 Museum is the room called “In Memoriam”. Inside this room hangs photographs and stories of each of the 2,983 people killed in the September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993 attacks. No photos are allowed. It is complete silence. It is a room that I will never forget.

As you descend down the escalator into the atrium where the museum begins, the first thing you see is the stark, metallic Tridents that were part of the original towers. You realize how powerful these buildings once were and what the impact must have been like to make them collapse.

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

As I rode down the escalator I was gripped with the uncomfortable realization that the museum was located inside the actual footprints of where the North and South Tower laid.  Similar to the memorial outside, the museum was held within the foundations of the two towers with a large Memorial Hall connecting the two together.

I became tense wondering what to expect within the walls of the museum.

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

The atrium where you begin your tour. It is dark inside and all you hear are recorded voices describing the emotions during that fateful day.

I see this sign upon the wall and take a deep breath remembering why I am here. To learn. To feel. To heal. And to remember.

“Beyond the compelling need to make this a monument to world peace, the World Trade Center should, because of its importance, become a living representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through this cooperation his ability to find greatness.”

-Minoru Yamasaki, World Trade Center Architect, 1964

I see the first photograph opening the museum and a floodgate of memories and emotions.

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

And I wonder how I’m going to make it through the museum.

Then I saw all of the artifacts that were saved from the wreckage or miraculously left standing like the “Last Column”.  As the recovery at the World Trade Center site neared completion, one piece of steel remained (the last column) and was chosen to mark the occasion symbolically.  After its dedication ceremony, recovery workers, first responders, volunteers and victims’ families signed it leaving messages and tributes.

“The museum attests to the triumph of human dignity over human depravity, and affirms an unwavering commitment to the fundamental value of human life”. – 9/11 Memorial Museum

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

The further you walk through the remains of the North and South Tower, the quieter it gets. Despite the large crowds within the museum, there is silence. Perhaps everyone is just as emotionally numb and raw as me. Or else words seemed to escape the memory.

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

These homemade signs of desperation from lost loves ones broke my heart.

There are signs of hope like the “Survivor Stairs”, the staircase that once connected the northern edge of the World Trade Center’s Austin J. Tobin Plaza to the Vesey Street sidewalk below. On 9/11, the stairs provided an unobstructed exit for hundreds seeking escape. To reach the stairs, many had to cross the Plaza beneath treacherous, unimaginable debris falling from the North Tower.

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

The Survivor Stairs

One wall contains the work of photographer Stephane Sednaoui  who felt compelled to help out in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and entered the “Frozen Zone” – the restricted area below 14th Street in Manhattan – on September 12 joining a grew of volunteers working inside Ground Zero. On three different nights he worked in various locations helping out where needed and documenting the effort on film. His powerful photographs were incredible.

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

Some of Photographer Stephane Sednaoui’s work

The North Tower exhibitions are increasingly difficult to see. All reminders of the lives that were lost in such a horrendous way.

There were some parts of the museum that reminded me of how much love was lost.  I thought this quilt was spectacular and deeply touching.

9/11 Memorial Museum NYC

The most difficult part of the museum lies within the “Historical Exhibition”. There, you walk through a minute by minute run-through of the events that happened on 9/11. No photographs are allowed. No recording. Just respect. Deep sadness and silence.

Hope that we will never live to see a day as horrendous and tragic as 9/11.



  1. I feel this way (even more reluctant, I think) about posting my photos of Auschwitz, which I visited in the summer of 2013. I will do it, but it has to be just right. It feels exploitative and yet it’s important for others to see and know about. In fact, one of the missions of the museum and the tours is to be sure the world knows what happened there. I think the 9/11 site serves a similar “never forget” function. I have been there (before the museum opened) and for me, the hardest part was seeing the name of a college friend engraved in the wall. 🙁 Your photos of the tridents are awesome!

    1. Oh that sounds really hard. Yes, it is a very difficult place. Kind of like the Holocaust Museum in DC. I felt very empty there but it also gave me some strange feeling of peace as well. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I bet writing about Auschwitz would be very hard.

  2. For Auschwitz and 9/11, I do believe that facing events is an important posture. Looking away is avoidance and brings more suffering. I’m a staunch supporter of museums (and a museum employee myself), and I believe that is their greatest work.

    1. Thanks Sue. I’m glad I wrote it. I felt like it was therapeutic in a strange way. Such a traumatic day in history for so many that in some way, going there and then reflecting on it made me feel a bit more peace.

      1. Nicole even though it was not in my country I can so vividly remember that morning and the horror that played out on the TV. So unbelievably tragic.

  3. I remember one day there was a breaking news on TV. Images of the two iconic buildings in NY covered in thick dark smoke left me frozen. “It can’t be real!” I thought. I was stunned, and I was thousands of miles away from where it happened. But I felt the sheer horror, and moments later, the first tower started to collapse. It was so surreal that I hoped I was only dreaming. But I was not.

    But the 9/11 Memorial Museum and the new Freedom Tower show that humanity never fails, even though humans keep letting down the others throughout the course of history. But love, compassion and hope will eventually prevail. I surely wish the same thing for people in conflict zones all over the world.

    What powerful images, Nicole!

    1. Thanks so much Bama for your words. I think no one will ever forget. Those horrid images played over and over again on the screen, for day after day. I had to fly on business the next day but of course all flights were cancelled for days. I ended up driving to Chicago and listening to NPR as they analyzed it all. Cars drove by with American flags and everyone felt numb. It was a hard hard hard time.

  4. Nicole, your photos make the 9/11 tragedy so very real. I felt the same way you did when we visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I almost felt like I was an invader of private memories and I was apprehensive about taking photos…especially when I came to the bridge of shoes. Thank you for taking us on this tragic tour. You are right… remembering ,even when it’s hard , is necessary.

    1. Oh those shoes. I will never forget the shoes at the Holocaust museum. That was very very dark and hard. But like the 9/11 museum it is done exceptionally well and helps people find some kind of peace even in the darkness.

  5. My mother was a flight attendant for Northwest airlines and was in the air when this happened. As a college student at the time, I remember sitting in the cafeteria, watching the news, and desperately tried to call my parents to make sure she was ok. She was fine, but could never fly again without the fear of terrorists. The way 9/11 impacted our country in so many different ways…its just so individual. Thank you for sharing this. You are brave. I don’t know if I could go there.

    1. Wow that must have been very very scary. I can see how she wouldn’t be able to go back to flying. I didn’t mention this in the post but my brother in law is in the military and was one of the fighter jet pilots called up to scramble to the Pentagon. Had the plane not already crashed it is scary to think of what he maybe would of had the responsibility to do. He still flies but yet is haunted by seeing the burning flames

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this here, Nicole. I do intend to visit one day, but I know it will be quite harrowing to see. I was there only two months before it happened, and remember all the friendly people who served us in the restaurant, and also the lift man, as well as the suited business people going to their everyday office jobs, I wonder if they made it out. I really hope so..

    1. Yes I am sure it will be very hard to see. But it made me feel some kind of strange peace. Like I was finally able to deal with it despite its dark absurdity.

  7. I haven’t gone to the museum yet, I went to the memorial and I felt it so deeply. The emotion and energy of being there, you feel the emptiness of the lost of human lives, you feel the emptiness that their family and loved ones feel. It’s very powerful. I have to put myself together and next time go to the museum. I’m not American, but it’s not need to be American to realize that is almost a sacred place.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I believe 9/11 impacted us all no matter where you are from. People from all over the world were killed and it made us realize the horrors that people can do to innocent people. It is a tough place to see.

  8. I don’t know if I could do this, Nicole. There are horrors here that were never seen before this day and we can only hope and pray will never be seen again. A symbol of a deranged world. The image of people jumping from those towers will stay with me for all my days, God love them. I know that it is a testament to survival and a tribute to the innocent but… well, let’s just say I’d never make a newspaper reporter!

    1. Yes Jo. It was so hard. There is one film that actually shows the scene of the jumpers and talks about their desperation. I had to leave. I have to say that seeing the museum left me numb for awhile but it also in some very strange way helped me emotionally deal with 9/11. I hold a lot inside me emotionally and sometimes it takes months for me to realize how things have impacted me like my June trip to Ethiopia.

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