The 9/11 museum is set to be dedicated Thursday during a solemn ceremony with President Obama and former New York City mayors and governors before it opens to the public next week following years of financing squabbles and construction challenges.
The space, which takes visitors from the memorial plaza at ground zero seven stories below to what was once the World Trade Center basement, displays heart-wrenching artifacts amid the remnants of the the fallen towers' foundations.
Former Mayor Bloomberg said Wednesday at a press preview event that the museum describes how people across the world came together after the attacks. Bloomberg is also the memorial foundation's chairman, and he says the museum "will keep that spirit of unity alive."
Museum planners faced significant challenges, including over the sensitivity of memorializing the dead while honoring survivors and rescuers.
Holocaust and war memorials have confronted some of the same questions. But the 9/11 museum exemplifies the work it takes to "develop a museum program amidst this range of powerful feelings and differing individuals and issues that get raised," said Bruce Altshuler, the director of New York University's museum studies program. He isn't involved in the Sept. 11 museum.
The museum displays both personal possessions and artifacts that became public symbols of survival and loss. There is the battered "survivors' staircase" that hundreds used to escape the burning skyscrapers, the memento-covered last column removed during the ground zero cleanup and the cross-shaped steel beams that became an emblem of remembrance. (An atheists' group has sued, so far unsuccessfully, seeking to stop the display of the cross).
Portraits and profiles describe the nearly 3,000 people killed by the Sept. 11 attacks and the 1993 trade center bombing. Nearly 2,000 oral histories give voice to the memories of survivors, first responders, victims' relatives and others. In one, a mother remembers a birthday dinner at the trade center's Windows on the World restaurant the night before her daughter died at work at the towers.
The museum also looks at the lead-up to Sept. 11 and the emotional months-long cleanup of debris after the attacks.
Members of the museum's interfaith clergy advisory panel raised concerns that it plans to show a documentary film, about al-Qaida, that they said unfairly links Islam and terrorism. The museum has said the documentary is objective and its scholarship solid.
While some Sept. 11 victims' relatives have embraced the museum, others have denounced its $24 general-public ticket price as unseemly and its underground location as disrespectful, particularly because unidentified remains are being stored in a private repository there. Other victims' families see it as a fitting resting place.
The museum and the memorial plaza above it cost a total of $700 million to build. They will cost $60 million a year to run, more than Arlington National Cemetery and more than 15 times as much as the museum that memorializes the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Sept. 11 museum organizers have noted that security alone costs about $10 million a year.