Can you buy a t-shirt at Auschwitz? How about enjoy a burger or hot dog at the Oklahoma City Federal Building? No and no, but rest assured, you can accomplish both of those things at the newly opened 9/11 Memorial Museum, built on location at the site of the worst mass-slaughter of civilians in American history. I have already written at length at the disgusting commercialization of the September 11th attacks (commemorative gold coins, and more offensive, 9/11 memorial wine), but with the latest outrage hitting the newspapers about the insensitivity of having a gift shop at this place, on the spot of where more than 3,000 innocent people were murdered, just to exploit the tragedy further, I figured I would chime in as well. Plain and simple, this museum is not so much about paying tribute and preserving history as it is about making a buck. If it truly was built for something other than that, then admission would be free, with a pay-what-you-can donation model. They could have left a nice donation bin in the entrance-way and families could drop in whatever amount of money they felt like, or could afford. Instead, admission for adults to see something we all witnessed for free on television with tears in our eyes, up close and in person, is $24 per visitor. For a family of four, it would cost them $96, and that does not include parking/transportation, tax, some souvenirs in the gift shop, and of course, a stop for lunch at the “cafe”. That aspect actually bothers me more than the gift shop; chowing down at a location where thousands of people burned alive and were incinerated, some still to be identified. Hey, at least they aren’t selling cups of commemorative ashes, or are they saving that for the 25th anniversary?
As you may have seen in the New York Post, you can find yourself browsing around in the gift shop looking at $70 pieces of jewelry, along with t-shirts, books, movies, and other trinkets. Like at Auschwitz, the idea of a bookstore does not bother me at all, because the point behind it is to educate, not exploit. But a t-shirt? Is there anyone out there who would be so proud to wear a shirt celebrating their visit to the most insensitive tourist trap ever constructed? There was a quote in a recent article I read that went something like, “The worst day of my life has just become New York City’s hottest tourist attraction.” No doubt spoken by someone who lost a family member, they are absolutely right. Just take a look at the website: it looks more like the Smithsonian than a memorial. The thing that really bothers me (and I mean really) is that if you are a 9/11 family member, you get free admission to the museum. Hooray for that! Your mother, father, sister, brother, husband, or wife were murdered while sitting at a desk at work, but at least you can to come to the museum where you can relive it over and over again for free! Isn’t that great? Somewhere, someone thought that was a good idea—that it was the right thing to do. The right thing would have been free admission for everyone, and any donations collected going to help the families and pay the bills of the first responders who are now all dying of cancer and other related illnesses while this gift shop takes in $39 for a pullover hoodie with a catchy slogan like, “In darkness we shine brightest”. My favorite item happens to be the Matchbox toy FDNY firetrucks, selling for $14.99 a piece. Wow, they really did think of everything! Is this the only cemetery that has a gift shop?
And of course, when such a museum opens, there has to be some kind of appeal to the ultra-wealthy so they can make themselves feel good, which comes in the shape of a museum membership! As if anyone would want to visit the site of this horror more than once in a lifetime, at the most expensive option, which is $2,000, you can get all of the following in return:
- All of the benefits of Family membership
- Recognition on our website
- Invitation to members-only previews, tours and other special events
- Two additional complimentary one-time Museum tickets for guests when accompanied by a member
- One free curator-led Contributor’s tour of the Museum each year, based on availability
- Two free tickets to one public program a year
- Exclusive offers for special Contributor discounts, events and priority access throughout the year
- Reservations are required for Museum tickets for guests and members
- Reservations are subject to availability
There are also five other membership levels which include different variations, including monthly email updates (that irks me for some reason). It is also interesting to note that all levels include a 10% discount in the gift shop and cafe. Nice. I’ll have my burger medium-well. Now, if you think that I and everyone else is overreacting to this, and that the memorial is not really a cemetery, think again. The museum’s own website states the following, in the section about the remains repository that is being constructed on the site:
One of the most deeply personal and important parts of our planning is the return of the unidentified remains of those killed on 9/11 to the sacred ground of the World Trade Center site. We know how profoundly significant and sensitive this matter is to victims’ families, especially those whose loved ones have yet to be identified.
In response to overwhelming feedback received from families beginning in the years following the attacks, the plans for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site include a repository at bedrock on the sacred ground of the site. While the repository will be within the structure of the Museum complex, this facility will be accessed, operated, and maintained solely by the OCME. Situated between the two footprints of the Twin Towers, it will include an adjacent work space for the OCME and a private seating and viewing area for family members only (this private area is in addition to the Family Room, which will be located in the Museum Pavilion). The repository and work space will occupy approximately 2,500 square feet of space, and have been designed by the OCME to provide the highest levels of care and safest environment for the remains.
From the OCME’s perspective, this new repository will provide a dignified and reverential setting for the remains to repose—temporarily or in perpetuity—as identifications continue to be made. No portion of these spaces will be accessible to the public. Since the private family viewing area will be accessed through the Museum, we want to reiterate that whether visiting the Museum or the repository, there is no scenario under which family members will ever be charged any admissions fees. In addition, while the Museum will have formal operating hours, family members who wish to visit outside of those hours will be able to make arrangements to do so, much as what happens at the current OCME facility.
Doesn’t this just churn your stomach? A “dignified and reverential setting” located just feet away from the $95 commemorative silk scarves and $39 heart-shaped rocks. I am not exaggerating: I am literally sick to my stomach upon reading this section of the website. The way they describe this, with private viewing rooms and exclusive areas for family members only, combined with the benefits of membership, makes this museum come across more as a theater VIP circle than a memorial bordering on a hallowed-ground cemetery.
In the end, did we expect anything less of America? Our first step after a tragedy is a quick period of grieving, and step two, shortly to follow, is profit-making: “How can we make money off of this?” 9/11 is a pure gold mine, because it was a time when people were—and still are—vulnerable, and anyone who speaks out against it is seen as uncaring and not patriotic. Well, this is not a matter of patriotism, it is a matter of right and wrong, and the museum has done a lot wrong. Their website is an example of marketing genius and their pages and descriptions are written to pull you into feeling guilty and buying in to what they are selling, literally and figuratively. Simply put, this museum is disgusting. A display of pure Americana. I am absolutely thrilled that such angry writings are filling the newspapers and internet, and even some victim’s families are speaking out. There is still time to right the ship, but will they? No, of course not. When your non-profit organization has a CEO with a $300,000+ salary, you cannot afford to let people in for free, or close down the gift shop selling so many jaw-dropping items. This is America at its finest. No other place in the world would you find such insensitivity. No other place in the world would a mass-murder be celebrated in the name of the Almighty Dollar.