a part of the museum, a cemetery, a forensics lab, or a tomb
May 13, 2014 3:20 PM   Subscribe

How to Honor the Dead We Cannot Name: The problems with the Sept. 11 memorial museum.
posted by davidstandaford (46 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The capacity to identify the dead using DNA analysis is extraordinary, yet it has apparently given us no guidance on how to build a meaningful memorial to the dead we cannot name.

It's a poetic closing passage, but I don't agree. If we want to build a cemetery or mausoleum to individually memorialize the remains of the 1000+ unidentifiable bodies, we are more than capable of doing that.

Resources are not stretched thin, and this is not a time of war. We already spent millions of man-hours working to identify the remains that we could. We are more than capable of building a "traditional" burial ground for the remaining remains, and have the resources to make it open to the public.

Although I already find most efforts to commemorate 9/11 to be deeply unsettling, I'm genuinely shocked that this was not already the plan all along.
posted by schmod at 3:58 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

The whole scene down at Ground Zero is deeply creepy and unsettling to me, what with the massive surveillance and tons of armored up cops and the lines of sweaty people along a wall prevented from keeping non-paying customers from seeing the site.

Really bad disaster Disneyland vibes, and if there's one thing that land didn't need it's more bad vibes...
posted by rollbiz at 4:01 PM on May 13, 2014 [31 favorites]

Well... I can't think of a better way to make the museum truly New York than to charge a ridiculous price for entry, piss off a bunch of people in the process, and set up further "need" for more ridiculous security measures in lower Manhattan. All effectively setting up enough financial and physical roadblocks to ensure the vast majority of actual New Yorkers will only ever set foot in this museum on a field trip.

It reminds me of the guy I saw selling disposable cameras on the Brooklyn promenade for $15 each while the smoke was still swirling that evening.
posted by Debaser626 at 4:11 PM on May 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

I've read about the unidentified dead, and the one point that few mention is that the 'pilots' remains were never identified. It is therefore possible that some of the bad guys' remains were included in this batch of the unidentified dead, and are in the crypt.

Sad all around.
posted by dfm500 at 4:19 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not getting into the issue of whether the remains can or should be identified, but I am happy to say without equivocation that it is fucking disgusting that anyone should be charged $24 to have access to the only public marker for those remains.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:21 PM on May 13, 2014 [50 favorites]

It is entirely plausible that the remains will never be identified by DNA-matching technology, because the victims' families are afraid to come forward. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now has said it better than I can:
"We will never know exactly how many people died on September 11, 2001. Those who were uncounted in life go uncounted in death. Numerous undocumented immigrants who worked in and around the World Trade Center simply vanished. Their families are still afraid to come forward because of what could happen. ... We will never know the names of these missing."
The author of the Slate article suggests consulting with the families of unidentified victims. This is a poor solution if certain families are afraid to come forward.

That there remain uncounted victims of 9/11 is not a radical idea. Thanks to the efforts of one support group, we know that at least 100 undocumented workers were killed. Among those who were not afraid to come forward, the lack of documentation made it difficult to prove not only that their loved ones had died in the attack, but that they had even existed in the first place. The process was complicated by employers who refused to acknowledge that they had hired undocumented immigrants.
posted by compartment at 4:43 PM on May 13, 2014 [13 favorites]

Wait, you have to pay to get into the memorial?
That's kinda messed up.

Is there a "foundation" with overpaid board members somewhere in there?
posted by madajb at 4:50 PM on May 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

My husband's office overlooks the memorial; not his specific office, but his firm's, and he has co-workers that can se the memorial itself from their windows. To me, it's incredibly creepy that they charge admission, especially when so many of us can still conjure up exactly what it looked like to turn the corner onto Sixth Avenue and look south, or what it smelled like on Chambers Street, or what it felt like to have the guys with machine guns all of the sudden appearing at Penn Station. Disgraceful.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:51 PM on May 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

With all that hot sweet grant money they got after 9/11, they better identify speck of human debris they can or give the US taxpayer a refund.

And the memorial should be free entry.
posted by Renoroc at 4:57 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Darlingbri says anything I wanted to say, so I'll just point and say "that".

And sadly, it doesn't surprise me in the fucking slightest that things shook down this way. The aftermath of 9/11 has convinced me that the actual victims and survivors of the city that day are the lowest priority when the rest of the country is deciding How To Handle 9/11 Issues. The actual people who died and the actual New Yorkers and the actual city itself are just abstractions to them, and I think deep down some people wish that the whole city had been obliterated so they could get rid of us New York City librul intellectuals all at once and plow the whole thing over and make a statue of an eagle shedding a tear or something so as to have a convenient backdrop for "look how patriotic I am" selfies.

Argh. Sorry. I think I need to go look at kitten pictures or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:13 PM on May 13, 2014 [9 favorites]

Is there a "foundation" with overpaid board members somewhere in there?

Yes: Salaries soared for staff at 9/11 memorial

In fairness, accredited family members are supposed to be able to get in free through some kind of process. The memorial should be free for everyone however.
posted by zachlipton at 5:16 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

they better identify speck of human debris they can

There's no national database of civilian DNA profiles. To identify remains in a situation like this, you need people to come forward. Maybe a roommate brings in the victim's toothbrush, or a coworker grabs the unwashed coffee mug off their desk. Maybe enough biological relatives provide samples that you can construct a pedigree and be pretty sure whether the remains in question could have come from a person in that family.

Once you subtract the people whose relatives didn't/couldn't come forward (undocumented, estranged, closed adoptions, etc), you still have to deal with the fact that these are not pristine samples. Some of them were never going to give a DNA profile with the methods we have now - too small, too charred, too degraded. Some might have been mixtures of commingled remains, or given a partial DNA profile that matched multiple victims or family groups - who do you give those to?

It was never going to be possible to identify every speck, but the NYC OCME identified a hell of a lot, and are keeping the rest stored in this repository against future technological advances. There are other issues around the memorial, but other than public relations, I don't think this is one of them.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:25 PM on May 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

The memorial is free; the museum is not.
posted by jpe at 5:27 PM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

But don't you need to get into the museum to access the memorial? That's what I thought. It's not like there's a separate entrance if you're just visiting the memorial, you have to get to it by entering through the museum. At least, that's what I gathered.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:33 PM on May 13, 2014

I thought the memorial was the above ground part and the museum was below ground. Dunno, I could be wrong. I just took a glance at the museum site.
posted by jpe at 5:50 PM on May 13, 2014

On Saturday, May 10, a solemn procession marked the transfer of the unidentified human remains of the World Trade Center disaster from the New York City medical examiner’s office to a “remains repository” in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Many Sept. 11 victims’ family members had worked for years, through protest and legal proceedings, to halt the placement of the remains in the underground museum. Nevertheless, after many delays, the museum is set to open on May 21, and when it does tourists will pay $24 each to mill around just yards away from the fragments of those who died on that day.

The first graf is not very clear, but it does seem that the remains will be in the underground museum, access to which will cost $24.
posted by rtha at 5:59 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

$24, not the same as in any other town.
posted by persona at 6:05 PM on May 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I completely agree that the museum/memorial has been mismanaged, but I'm not sure I see how this mismanagement is a vast conspiracy of folks who think New York is full of "libruls." Looking at the musem/memorial's board of directors, I see folks like Mayor Bloomberg, family members of victims, civil servants from NY, NJ, and CT, famous New Yorkers, people from Wall Street, New York business owners...
posted by ChuraChura at 6:10 PM on May 13, 2014

Sorry, that's my own grudge against other and different post-9/11 stuff coming out, like the kerfuffle over the first responders health care and such.

I've seen and heard from a lot of people - mainly politicians - who one minute talk about how much of a tragic thing 9/11 was and how we should never forget, and then the other minute turn around and blow off the survivors and family members of victims for one reason or another. I even got into an argument with someone on Facebook once with a guy who said that something or other was an insult to the people in New York who survived 9/11 - and when I pointed out that I was one such survivor and said I had no problem with it, he literally and actually said "why should I care what some pervert from New York has to say about this," and then added that New York was a cesspool. I kid you not, it was the very next thing he said after his comment about not wanting to offend the victims in New York.

It just made me feel like there is a group that wants to exploit the 9/11 aftermath for their own patriotic or political gains, and when the actual survivors of the event have a wish counter to what is convenient for them, they ignore it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:29 PM on May 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

It just made me feel like there is a group that wants to exploit the 9/11 aftermath for their own patriotic or political gains, and when the actual survivors of the event have a wish counter to what is convenient for them, they ignore it.

Well, that's crazy talk.
posted by thelonius at 6:44 PM on May 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Two days after September 11, 2001, my brother flew to NYC and spent two weeks doing body recovery and identification for a DMORT, the wing of FEMA that deals directly with the dead. In the 13 years since, all he's told me about his time there is that one night they "snuck" into the Empire State Building observation deck while it was still off limits and that he found the bar prices in New York ridiculous, so he bought a case of Jack Daniels and drank every night in his room. He refuses to discuss what he did or saw there. It's a dark, dusty memory that he can't forget.
posted by ColdChef at 7:30 PM on May 13, 2014 [13 favorites]

Coldchef, you've reminded me of a conversation I had a few days after the fact; I was talking with the artistic director of the theater company I worked with a lot then, and learned that one of the actors in the company had been at his day job in the Towers at the time of the attacks. (He escaped, but just barely - he was one of the people who had gotten down the stairs and a couple blocks away when the collapse started, and then had to run like hell.) Shocked, I asked how the actor was doing.

"The only way I can put it," the director said, "is that [Actor] is one of the sweetest, gentlest people I've ever met in my life - and when I talked to him about this, he looked like a sweet, gentle person who'd just seen something he never wanted to ever see again."

I never saw the actor in question ever again myself - he moved to Philadelphia a couple weeks later.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I woke that morning to see to the smoke on the TV right after the first plane went in. I saw the second fireball with my own eyes from my rooftop. So there is that.

I rarely talk about that day. A lot of people died and that sucks….big time. There is little that I can say that makes it better.

But this constant bickering over that acreage is pathetic. Let it go.

A shitty thing happened that day. People are not coming back. It’s over. Honor them with your memories. Some stupid piece of grass is nothing in comparison.

Stop torturing yourselves.

posted by lampshade at 10:56 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

The New York Times Review of the Museum is up. It's very much mixed:
The narrative is not so much wrong as drastically incomplete. It is useful history, not deep history; news, not analysis. This approach is probably inevitable in a museum that is, to an unusual degree, still living the history it is documenting; still working through the bereavement it is memorializing; still attached to the idea that, for better and worse, Sept. 11 “changed everything,” though there is plenty of evidence that, for better and worse, this is not so. The amped-up patriotism set off by the attacks has largely subsided. So has the tender, in-this-together generosity that Americans extended to one another at the time.

Still, within its narrow perspective, maybe because of it, the museum has done something powerful. And, fortunately, it seems to regard itself as a work in progress, involved in investigation, not summation. I hope so. If it stops growing and freezes its narrative, it will become, however affecting, just another Sept. 11 artifact. If it tackles the reality that its story is as much about global politics as about architecture, about a bellicose epoch as much as about a violent event, it could deepen all our thinking about politics, morality and devotion.
posted by zachlipton at 11:02 PM on May 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Like lampshade, I saw the second impact from a rooftop in Brooklyn.

I don't really talk about it now, either.

But the idea of opening a $24 museum that sells "memorial" accoutrements is so horrifying. Even setting aside the entry fee, just the concept of selling t-shirts is abhorrent.
posted by miss tea at 2:58 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

My brother and his family visited New York about 2 years ago. He asked if it would be worth it for them all to go see Ground Zero, or whether it was anything his kids - then only 3 and not-yet-one - would be confused about. I told him they wouldn't really get it - to them it'd just be a construction site, and he nodded and said yeah, he suspected as much.

Then he asked if I'd been myself. I told him no, and I'm not sure he entirely understood when I added that I probably never would, either.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:55 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

NYT: A guided tour of the museum

Well, that is better and more fitting than I thought it would be. I have no problem with a museum and or admission being charged to that museum, and I really have no strong feelings about the museum (though I am sure I will have them when we get to what I imagine is the inevitable, unmentioned souvenir museum shop.)
posted by DarlingBri at 9:57 AM on May 14, 2014

When out of town people visit, and tell me they want to go to Ground Zero and see the "nine eleven" memorial, I'm always a little taken aback.

I knew the museum was $24, and have no plans to ever go there, but jesus christ, look at this shit you can buy.
posted by inertia at 10:35 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't see anything for sale there?
posted by agregoli at 11:01 AM on May 14, 2014

You don't see t-shirts and necklaces and stuff? Because it's an online store, like a lot of other online stores. What do you see?
posted by rtha at 11:20 AM on May 14, 2014

jesus christ, look at this shit you can buy.

posted by DarlingBri at 11:46 AM on May 14, 2014

Maybe its not working on my mobile, but I see the words Museum Store and nothing else. When I tried to go to the full site, couldn't find a link to the store at all.
posted by agregoli at 12:03 PM on May 14, 2014

In the non-mobile site, there's a narrow black banner at the top with a link to the store.
posted by rtha at 12:34 PM on May 14, 2014

New York Magazine also has a review of the museum, including a video tour and slide show (single-page version of the latter). It's reassuring to see that a place was found to exhibit the ash-encrusted display window of Chelsea Jeans.

jesus christ, look at this shit you can buy.

Good grief. So much of this tat somehow makes the wares of the table vendors that cropped up on Broadway the next week seem less in poor taste. At least the museum store is selling DVDs of the Naudet brothers' firsthand documentary of that morning—it remains harrowing but essential viewing.
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:39 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Holy god, even just looking at pictures from the NYT link is giving me a specific quiver in my chest that I haven't felt in 13 years.

There is no way in all the nine hells I am ready to visit the actual thing in person.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:43 PM on May 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

There is no way in all the nine hells I am ready to visit the actual thing in person.


Paying $24, after going through numerous security-theater checkpoints, for a panic attack reliving memories doesn't exactly seem like money well spent.
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:51 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

jesus christ, look at this shit you can buy.

Goddamn, all I can think of is Hunter S. Thompson's "grisly shuck".
posted by Pudhoho at 11:11 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

After looking at the NYT tour of the place, I am actually astonished at how simple, quiet, and contemplative (most of) the space is. That piece tagged by all those fire companies and NYPD detachments actually brought tears to my eyes as soon as I saw the photographs of first responders who obviously gave their lives to try to save others.

So on that point: well done. It seems fitting as a museum for such a terrible event. And the memorial pools also seem fitting... I kind of like the idea that they're almost an exact inversion of the Vietnam memorial in DC; you can't get up close and read the names, there won't be miscellaneous flowers and letters and such (and yes I know how important those are for the people who know any of the names on the Vietnam memorial); it is simply (again) a quiet and contemplative place for people to think.

But $24 to get in is a travesty. Surely a trust fund or charitable foundation could have been set up to cover operating costs. And actually selling that... tacky shit is just grotesque.

Exit Through the Gift Shop, indeed.

Even if I ever go to NYC I won't be going to the museum or the memorial. Seems too much like disaster porn for me.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:41 AM on May 15, 2014

The names of the victims have been carefully arranged on inscribed plaques surrounding the Tower footprints. People infrequently leave a flower or some token for a loved one, though. It is a kind of cemetery, after all.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:34 AM on May 15, 2014

I believe pretty strongly in the value of memorialization. I think it can have great, powerful healing effects, and can be a way to express mass grief and at least attempt to symbolically right wrongs. So the concept of this memorial, I don't have any problem with at all. Maybe it's been poorly executed, though?
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:37 AM on May 15, 2014

The operating costs of the museum are huge, $63 million dollars a year, and it cost $700 million to build.

To me, judging by the photos from the NYT, the museum looks like an art gallery, which horrifies me a little bit. I don't know what it should look like instead, but seeing these objects lit and displayed like priceless artifacts or artwork doesn't sit right with me.

Then again, nothing about this sits right with me. I have my memories, I don't need to ever visit this place.
posted by inertia at 12:03 PM on May 15, 2014

I was just thinking about the feasibilty of a trust, actually, while reading this thread. Taking the numbers that inertia quotes, and assuming that a trust based mostly on Treasury and municipal bonds that pays an annuity of 3% plus inflation can be solvent in perpetuity*, and assuming conservatively that future operating costs can be kept below $100 million/year, then a trust of $3.33 billion should be sufficient to keep the museum running pretty much indefinitely. Add the $700 million construction cost, and one would need to raise about $4 billion to eliminate any need for admission charges, gift shops, or further fundraising.

*Not sure exactly how optimistic this is; if anyone who actually works in finance feels like correcting me with more plausible numbers, that's cool.

When I was a mere freshman starting out at NYU, the university newsletter was touting the administration's successful $1 billion endowment fundraising drive. That's 25% of our goal, achieved by a single private university, to almost no fanfare outside of the university itself. Or, put it another way, the federal government could levy a tax of $4 on every American household every year for the next nine years, and that would be enough to fully fund a museum free and open to the public forever. This seems entirely achievable and, in my opinion, would actually be more New York than charging admission. It would certainly be a more graceful way to honor the dead.
posted by skoosh at 9:14 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

We could barely get the Senate to agree to fund Health care for the First Responders affected in the attacks, I doubt we'd get them to agree to create a public fund to support the Museum.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:26 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Exit Through the Gift Shop, indeed.

posted by madajb at 1:57 PM on May 18, 2014

I went to the memorial for the first time today because one of the links in this thread mentioned that the pools are unfenced and accessible for the first time. I was near NYU and then in Soho on 9/11, so not close, but still a terrible, traumatizing memory. I found the pools incredibly moving. The very much remind me of the Vietnam Memorial--simple and powerful. It was weird and uncomfortable to be there crying while the tourists snapped their pictures, but I can't really think of any way to avoid that with a public memorial. I can't imagine what it's like for a family member or survivor to go there.
posted by Mavri at 2:06 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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