New Yorkers Avoid 9/11 Museum in Droves


By Fletcher6Own work, CC BY 4.0,

May 22, 2016; Wall Street Journal

How many years will need to pass before New Yorkers, as well as other locals from the tri-state area of New Jersey or Connecticut, will seek to visit the September 11 Memorial Museum? Some of these people lived the trauma through their daily lives and daily commutes, faithfully reading the stories of the lives lost which filled the New York Times’ pages for weeks. For many residents, the event was not an international or national news story; it was their local news story, with piercing emotional connections.

Since opening two years ago in May of 2014, only 20 percent of the visitors to the September 11 Memorial Museum are locals from New York City, New Jersey, or Connecticut. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in contrast, welcomes 41 percent of its visitors from the same local area. Fifty percent of the 9/11 museum’s visitors are from outside the tri-state area.

A Wall Street Journal article highlights a recent survey commissioned by the museum that interviewed a sample of tri-state residents who visit at least one museum a year. The survey established that only 16 percent of that group had been to the 9/11 Museum. Almost a third indicated that they did not plan to visit. Their reason was that they don’t want to relive the day. Of the 1/3 who do not plan to visit, 27 percent said they might go in the future. More than half of the sample said they do plan to visit in the future. So the passage of time may prove the answer.

According to Kari Watkins, the executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, “It’s very hard to get people to understand that it’s okay to…relive those emotions…because that’s what makes you stronger.” The Oklahoma Memorial also memorializes a traumatic event, with deep emotional ties for its residents.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center is a nonprofit, with a mission to “bear solemn witness to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993.” It seeks to examine the impact of terrorism on individual lives and on communities.

In order to increase the local audience, there is a marketing campaign currently underway, showing videos of residents in a before-visit and after-visit to the museum. The campaign includes subway advertising, as well.

Even with a lack of local visitors, the museum brought in almost $60 million in ticket sales and tours in 2015, a significant jump from the 2014 figures of $40 million. Family members of 9/11 victims and first responders and recovery workers are allowed free admission. Operating costs for the museum are $72 million/year, which is covered by ticket sales, tours, and memberships. The 10 percent gap between income and expenses is filled by private contributions.

Carl Cricco, Vice President of Marketing for the Memorial, sums it up: “People are hesitant to visit, but once they do, they realize what is here.”

If you are local to New York or its tri-state area, or to Oklahoma City, what is your experience with visiting or not visiting these memorials and museums?—Jeanne Allen

  • MWnyc

    “It’s very hard to get people to understand that it’s okay to…relive those emotions…because that’s what makes you stronger.”

    I think plenty of us New Yorkers feel we’re strong enough as is without paying $24 for the privilege of revisiting a godawful event we already lived through.

  • juenbug

    I have lived and worked here since 1998. On September 11th, I stood on my street corner in Jersey City and watched with my neighbors in stunned horror. Though I travel through the WTC PATH station regularly, I too had actively avoided even the block the museum was on–I didn’t even want to see any signs. In December 2014, a college roommate (who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in England) got tickets to go with her daughter, and asked if I wanted to come. I was incredibly hesitant about going, and only agreed because she was there. It was…is…a beautiful museum, in terms of the design of the space, and the handling of the exhibits. And it was, for me, excruciating to go through it. I either cried, or gritted my teeth so I wouldn’t cry, through the entire experience, starting with the footprint waterfall thing, which I think is stunning. (I’m crying a bit as I write this.) I’m the only person I know who lives here who has been (at least as of the last time I brought it up–I wouldn’t take my experience as representative…though based on your piece, perhaps it is). Nor am I likely to return. Again, I thought it was a beautiful space…but I can’t even see footage on tv without sobbing–I don’t want to experience it (again) any more closely than that. … Thank you for your article, and for the space to tell my story here.

  • I’m from Oklahoma City and visited the museum once. Its something I would do again only if I had visitors in town. They did a
    phenomenal job but once you’ve seen it, I dont see a reason to relive it again.

  • Cloggie

    For one thing, NYers aren’t big on tourists and this is certainly a tourist haven. I think that some people might be uncomfortable reliving that day but others,such as myself, don’t see what we would get from the experience. I know people who were in the Towers, lost family that day, and were first responders so I have done my processing and have my reminders.

    Just like some people need to visit gravesites or some other tangible reminder to process their grief and some don’t. If nothing else, I worry that I’ll go to the Memorial and feel like a jerk for not feeling anything that I “ought” to feel.

  • Philippa Rizopoulos

    I know this will never happen, but I want them to create a “locals only” day for the museum. The first Tuesday of every month — that kind of thing. Otherwise, the thought of going and having to deal with all the tourists gawking at what happened in my home town just makes me shudder.