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My Wall Street Journal Article on Conservation at the 9/11 Memorial Museum (with slideshow)

Fragment from Rodin's "The Three Shades" Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Fragment from Rodin’s “The Three Shades”
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

I probably wouldn’t have visited the recently opened 9/11 Memorial Museum, on the site of the destroyed Twin Towers, had I not been asked by my Wall Street Journal editor to do a piece on the preservation and conservation of the battered, mangled objects that were presciently preserved during the cleanup of the Ground Zero. Some 1,000 artifacts, from a collection of about 13,000 (some directly from the site, others donated by individuals) are on display at the museum.

My piece, Restoring the Ruins: Maintaining the Integrity of the Destruction, will be in tomorrow’s WSJ “Leisure & Arts” section. You can read it online now: Click the link.

My memories from that time (as the wife of someone who worked very near the site but, by lucky happenstance, wasn’t there that day) are still too painful and frightening for me to have wanted to revive them, were it not for the assignment. The mood at the museum, as reflected on the faces of nearly all visitors, is somber and grim, very similar to the effect of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where Alice Greenwald, director of the 9/11 Museum, had been associate director.

That said, the 9/11 Museum does a superb, sensitive job in documenting the details of that day and its aftermath .It is not nearly as thorough, however, in exploring the event’s important, long-term ramifications, but that may come in the future.

“I think it would have been incredibly presumptuous of us to try to make ‘meaning’ out of that event at this point in time,” Greenwald told me in an interview. “Our job right now is to be documentary: to say what happened, to be as clear about that as possible, and to pay our respects and pay tribute to the people who were just like us who were killed in this event.”

As I mention in my piece, nearly every visitor will find a touchstone, among the multitude of objects, that speaks directly to him. For me, it was the decapitated Rodin, pictured above, that plummeted from the offices of investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald, the company said to have sustained the largest loss of life on 9/11. It had been owned by collector B. Gerald Cantor‘s foundation.

A former mayor of Scottsdale, whom I happened to encounter during my visit, was riveted by what remained of a large circular seal of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, which had been destroyed in the fire-related collapse of 7 World Trade Center:

Seal from New York City's Office of Emergency Management Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Seal from New York City’s Office of Emergency Management
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

That jagged emblem triggered the memory of a message that came to the Scottsdale mayor on 9/11 (sent before the Twin Towers’ collapse) from New York’s Mayor Giuliani. By eerie coincidence, it was an invitation to a mayors’ meeting about emergency response.

I may have more to say about the museum in a future post. For now, here’s my companion slideshow of objects I mention in my piece:

an ArtsJournal blog