Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.
This week's question is from a New Yorker who can't decide whether to visit the recently-opened 9/11 Memorial Museum.
Dear Native New Yorker,
My friend offered me an extra ticket she had to visit the September 11th Museum this weekend. I've been to visit the memorial already, and it seemed very appropriate and thoughtful, but I'm not sure about the museum, with the gift shop, restaurant, and gawking tourists. From what I've read, the whole scene seems a little too crass and commercial and inappropriate. But I wasn't here for September 11th, so I am curious about the museum. Are you going to visit?
Ambivalent in DUMBO
A Native New Yorker responds:
I say take the ticket. As long as you are motivated by a compassionate desire to understand what happened at Ground Zero, and not by any desire for cheap voyeurism and vicarious emotional catharsis, there is nothing wrong with visiting the 9/11 Museum, which is by all reports a very moving experience. You must, however, skip the gift shop, as well as the restaurant (though I don't believe it has opened yet.) In New York, we do not eat, drink, or shop at graveyards. That stuff is ghoulish and disrespectful to the dead, and to their friends and family who have come to mourn.
From the roof of Jake's old apartment building
Some of my friends who were here on 9/11 won't go near Ground Zero, under any circumstance, even for the memorial. For some, it's not wanting to relive what happened, and for others, a feeling that the whole area is sacred ground. That's not a figure of speech: human remains (and sometimes airplane parts) are still turning up in the area. Many Jews won't walk on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, because they don't want to accidentally step on the area once occupied by the Temple. For some New Yorkers it's the same thing here. But plenty of people feel like cordoning off the whole area would be "letting the terrorists win", and the consensus, which was not easily reached, was to build the memorial, museum, and surrounding office towers.
Not that I'd be happy with my wife or kids working at 1 WTC. No offense to the Conde Nast workers and others who will soon occupy the building. I just remember watching the towers fall back in 2001, and even though I'm sure no security expense has been spared, working at the top of that building seems like tempting fate. I don't feel that way about the memorial pools— I've visited them a few times now, and they have consistently been beautiful and moving, especially with the sound of the water flowing and all the trees around.
I haven't decided about the museum yet. Like most New Yorkers, I don't need a set of exhibits to remind me of what happened that day. I was 25 then, and it was and remains, of course, the most frightening day of my life. I'm not sure any museum could do justice to the experience. Like Wittgenstein said, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."
Back when I took pictures at 1WTC, the Port Authority tour took us down to the unfinished museum space. It was powerful to go down the steps and stand under the pools. But it was also cold and spooky, and spiritually disquieting, and I felt strongly that it wasn't somewhere I was supposed to be. I feel no desire to return any time soon, especially in the company of tourists making a stop between the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Maybe there should be special visiting hours for the New Yorkers who were here on 9/11, the way there are for the families of survivors.
For you it's probably different. It's important for people who weren't here to learn about what happened. Just please, if you go, treat it with the appropriate gravitas. Keep your cell phone in your pocket the entire time. Do not buy any cheese plates. Eat somewhere else—I believe there is a Shake Shack in Battery Park City now. Eating, drinking, laughing, purchasing, or attending any corporate or social events there—that shit is wrong. So comport yourself as you would in a church.
In this column we've divided New Yorkers into many groups: native and tourist, real and fake, etc. But the most significant division I can think of is those of us who were here for 9/11, and those of us who weren't; if this museum helps you understand what the rest of us experienced, I think that's ultimately a good thing.
N.B.:Some have proposed that the museum replace the gift shop with a "donation center" to raise money for terrorism victims worldwide, or other charities. It's a nice thought, but the Museum, which receives no federal funding and will cost over $60 million to operate, is counting on gift shop revenue to stay afloat.
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