(New York, NY) When does the ordinary — letters, gloves, wallets — become extraordinary?
When the objects tell a story: a stack of personal letters that fell to the ground after a hijacked plane plowed into the World Trade Center; leather gloves worn in the recovery effort; a red wallet belonging to a woman who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald.
Tragedy turns the mundane into memorial. Something as simple as a wallet can evoke the immense sadness of a day like September 11, 2001.
Objects big and small from the greatest terrorist attack on American soil now make up a museum dedicated to that tragedy and the 2,983 people who perished.
It is one of America’s largest and most ambitious memorial museums, almost entirely subterranean and erected in the graveyard of Osama bin Laden’s victims.
A police officer found Genni Gambale’s red wallet on the roof of a Marriott hotel, a few blocks south of the Trade Center, days after the attacks.
In the wallet were a scorched American Express Corporate card, a $115 coupon for Lenscrafters, a Brooklyn Public Library card, pennies, nickels, dimes.
Now under thick Plexiglass, the wallet tells of a life cutshort. Gambale was one of many trapped on the upper floors after American Airlines Flight 11 plowed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. She was 27.
The National September 11 Memorial Museum opens its doors Thursday for the 9/11 community — survivors, families, rescuers.
It will open next Wednesday to the general public.
The place in itself is an artifact, built in the bedrock of tragedy.
Within it are 12,500 objects, 1,995 oral histories and 580 hours of film and video.
“An airplane hangar full of largely bruised, contorted artifacts” formed the basis of the museum, says curator Jan Ramirez.
They are objects that cheated destruction.
They survived the obliteration of the material world and assumed an otherworldly quality.
But they also could inflict pain again.
From the beginning, Ramirez and all those who worked under museum director Alice Greenwald faced a flurry of contradictions and dilemmas over what to show, how much to reveal.
Where the twin towers once soared are now two sunken granite pools, positioned in the footprints of the giant buildings that came crashing down that day.
They are meant to be places of reflection and mourning.
What was the museum’s intent? Was it to illustrate a narrative of what happened on September 11?
Or would it be a repository for the study of an American tragedy?