9/11 museum offers sights and sounds of tragedy

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Video report by Jake Tapper, CNN

Posted on May 14, 2014 at 4:43 PM

NEW YORK (AP) -- The museum devoted to the story of Sept. 11 tells it in victims' last voicemails, in photos of people falling from the twin towers, in the scream of sirens, in the dust-covered shoes of those who fled the skyscrapers' collapse, in the wristwatch of one of the airline passengers who confronted the hijackers.

By turns chilling and heartbreaking, a place of both deathly silence and distressing sounds, the National September 11 Memorial Museum opens this week deep beneath ground zero, 12 1/2 years after the terrorist attacks.

The project was marked by construction problems, financial squabbles and disputes over the appropriate way to honor the nearly 3,000 people killed in New York, Washington and the Pennsylvania countryside.

Whatever the challenges in conceiving it, "you won't walk out of this museum without a feeling that you understand humanity in a deeper way," museum President Joe Daniels said Wednesday.

The privately operated museum - built along with the memorial plaza above for $700 million in donations and tax dollars - will be dedicated Thursday with a visit from President Barack Obama and will be open initially to victims' families, survivors and first responders. It will open to the public May 21.

Charles G. Wolf, who lost his wife, Katherine, planned to be at the ceremonial opening.

"I'm looking forward to tomorrow, and I'm dreading tomorrow," he said Wednesday. "It brings everything up."

Visitors start in an airy pavilion where the rusted tops of two of the World Trade Center's trident-shaped columns shoot upward. From there, stairs and ramps lead people on an unsettling journey into 9/11.

First, a dark corridor is filled with the voices of people remembering the day. Then visitors find themselves looking over a cavernous space, 70 feet below ground, at the last steel column removed during the ground zero cleanup - a totem covered with the numbers of police precincts and firehouses and other messages.

Descend farther - past the battered "survivors' staircase" that hundreds used to escape the burning towers - and there are such artifacts as a mangled piece of the antenna from atop the trade center and a fire truck with its cab shorn off.

And then, through a revolving door, visitors are plunged into the chaos of Sept. 11: fragments of planes, a teddy bear left at the impromptu memorials that arose after the attacks, video of the twin towers collapsing and people running from plumes of dust, footage of an astronaut solemnly describing the smoke plume from high above Earth ("I just wanted the folks to know that their city still looks very beautiful from space," Frank Culbertson says), and the sounds of emergency radio transmissions and office workers calling loved ones.

Sprinkled among stories of heroism are snippets about the hijackers, including photos of all 19 on an inconspicuous panel.

"I'm still processing" the impact of seeing the museum, said Anthony Garner, who lost his brother Harvey on 9/11 and visited on Wednesday. He said it will show visitors "that they're in a very sacred place and a very historic place."

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5 things to know about the 9/11 museum

The Sept. 11 museum opens to the public May 21, preceded by a ceremony Thursday that's to include President Barack Obama, families and other officials. Five things to know about the museum:

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ITS MISSION

The exhibits tell the stories of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks and the 1993 trade center bombing, as well as of survivors and first responders. Museum Director Alice Greenwald said the museum is "about understanding our shared humanity," while former mayor Michael Bloomberg called it a reminder "that freedom is not free."

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MUSEUM'S SIZE

The museum occupies 110,000 square feet on the 16-acre trade center site, tracing the foundations of the twin towers 70 feet underground.

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CONSTRUCTION AND FOUNDATION

Below the Sept. 11 memorial plaza, with its two fountains outlining the footprints of the towers, the museum reaches down to bedrock, where the towers' steel columns were anchored. It's bounded by a slurry wall that kept back the Hudson River after the attack.

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COSTS

The plaza and museum together cost $700 million to build, subsidized with $390 million in tax-funded grants; officials hope the $24 museum entrance fee expected to generate about $40 million a year will help cover operating costs, expected to be about $60 million a year. Fundraising will cover the rest, for now.

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SPECIAL ARTIFACT

Among the more than 10,000 artifacts, 23,000 still images and 500 hours of video and film, plus 1,970 oral histories, one special item is what Patricia Reilly looked for among the displays during an earlier tour for families: her sister's picture ID card from the 101st floor office in the south tower where she died.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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