Eleven years later, the 9/11 Museum is still closed

This article can be found in this month's edition TheBlaze Magazine. Every issue of TheBlaze Magazine is full of reporting, investigation and commentary you won’t find for free online because we reserve it for subscribers to the print edition and/or digital version of the magazine. Because of the anniversary of 9/11, TheBlaze has decided to make this issue available for free online.

by TheBlaze's Robyn Wallensky

It’s all buried beneath the ground. And it really bothers me. Eleven years since the morning radical Islamic terrorists took down the Twin Towers, killing thousands of innocent Americans and shattering our sense of security, 9/11 artifacts are still not available for anyone to see.

“It’s all about the Benjamins, it’s all about the Benjamins,” a Port Authority Police officer tells me on a recent trip to Ground Zero. He shakes his head in absolute disgust and asks me rhetorically “Can you believe it’s not open because they claim they don’t have enough money? My friends were killed here.”

More than a decade later, the National September 11 Memorial Museum is still a work in progress.

A year ago, ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at the 9/11 Memorial Visitor Center to reflect on the horrific events of that day and to discuss my charity book “Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11.”

AN EXCLUSIVE TOUR OF THE TOMB OF THOUSANDS

It’s a few hours before the event, I am offered a tour of what someday will be the 9/11 Museum. Walking around the massive 16-acre construction site, I wear the required hard hat, goggles, long-sleeved shirt, pants, work boots and a bright yellow vest. I am escorted past the WTC footprint reflecting pools where the granite is still covered with white cardboard so as to not reveal the names until the 10-year anniversary ceremony.

On this day, the waterfalls are being tested for the very first time. I am thinking about all the people who jumped to their deaths here. The thunderous sound of the fountains interrupts the horrendous tapes being played back in my mind of people jumping from the 110-story buildings. I remember looking up 1,000 feet in the air, thinking at first it was furniture going out the windows with all the white paper that looked like confetti. My brain couldn’t process in those first few seconds that it was actually people jumping from the fire to their deaths. Ten years later I look up and see nothing but the blue sky. No soaring twin buildings; the structures destroyed, plucked from the skyline forever.

The guide escorts me from street level down 70 feet below ground. There is a maze of unstable steps and muddy ramps covered in grey puddles of concrete and dirty water, I keep thinking, “I am walking down into a dark tomb. … Why in the world is this museum being built all the way down here? … This literally feels like being inside a grave.”

The first thing I notice is the exposed slurry wall that keeps the Hudson River out of lower Manhattan. Then I see the WTC cross—the 20-foot steel beams retrieved from the fiery pile of debris. It’s preserved here, way beneath the city. It ought to be in Central Park serving two purposes; a daily reminder of the true evil that attacked us and a daily reminder of God.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE 1993 ATTACK

My guide escorts me to the exact spot where terrorists set off the bomb on Feb. 26,1993 — the first terror attack on the World Trade Center. The tapes in my mind start playing again, and this time I can see the people, scared, covered in soot, and stumbling out in all directions. I was there that horrible February day and night as school kids on a tour were stuck in an elevator on a high floor, and I reported on the attack for months after.

I was in the first pool of reporters allowed back into Tower 1 a week after the bombing. Black soot covered the carpets, and half-filled coffee cups sat exactly where they were left on desks next to open newspapers, a sign of how workers left in a huge hurry. The offices were frozen in time.

The country did not learn its lesson in 1993. President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno classified the bombing as a “crime” not a “terrorist act.” Bill Clinton never came to visit. He never stood on the soot caused by the terrorist bomb. He never promised to go after the people who did this.

So Osama bin Laden laughed in his cave and continued to patiently plot while we sat still as a nation distracted by sex scandals, politics and other nonsense. I covered the federal trial in lower Manhattan of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and Ramzi Yousef. The prosecutor said it was the goal of these two terrorists to “topple the towers.” It never stopped being the goal.

Now, 19 years later, we have a young generation that knows little about 9/11 and even less about the 1993 attack in which six people were killed and hundreds were hurt.

REMEMBRANCES DELAYED AND BURIED

Ironically, right near the marking of the 1993 bombing down in the still-unfinished museum is the last remaining pulverized staircase—the “Survivors’ Stairs”—used by panicked people running from the flames on 9/11 to the smoke-filled streets. Also buried beneath the city in this tomb-like museum sits the remnants of a red New York City fire truck to honor the 343 firefighters who used those same stairs to walk up dozens of flights with pounds of heavy gear but never made it out.

There are walls featuring the faces of the innocent. People who went to work that morning at what was considered the most prestigious office building in the United States. I remember friends from high school and college always so proud to show a business card that read “1 World Trade Center” or “2 World Trade Center” and the floor number. It wasn’t just a building, it was an iconic symbol of America’s might, power and economic success, and that’s why the terrorists were relentless in their goal of toppling it.

The museum will also honor the memory of those killed at the Pentagon and in the field in Shanksville, Pa.—sites that actually have fitting memorials, both of which I’ve had the honor to visit and report on. Yet the long-overdue underground museum in New York City remains closed.

So, what’s the hold up? A spokeswoman for the 9/11 Museum director can’t really give me a solid reason: “The museum will not be opening this September, and we are currently working with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who is the construction manager for the project, to determine the opening date for the museum.

“Donations are going very well, in large part due to the generosity of many Memorial visitors who hail from all 50 states and 150 different countries. We’re pleased to have welcomed more than 3.7 million visitors since opening to the public on Sept. 12, 2011.

“Thanks for checking in about the project and for your continued interest and support.”

POWERFUL MEMORIES AND IMPORTANT LESSONS DESERVE BETTER

As the museum tour ends, I am emotionally spent as I make my way past the construction workers back to the ramps. When I get back up to street level, the dust blows in my face, and I literally feel the remains of the innocent people who were pulverized here, their bodies never found. I sense their spirit in the air, and I break down and burst into tears.

When I speak about 9/11 I always mention the 1993 bombing in the same sentence. I maintain there would be no 9/11 had we learned the lesson and understood the terrorist message from that dark snowy day 19 years ago.

I pray this museum opens someday soon so people from all over the world can come here to pay their respects to innocent Americans and learn an invaluable double history lesson.

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