Tears in her eyes, firefighter widow Maureen Fanning emerged Thursday from the new Sept. 11 museum deep beneath ground zero, unable to bring herself to look at all of it.
“I just think it would be a little too overwhelming today,” she said, unsure when she would return. “It’s a lot to digest, to absorb. Not anytime soon.”
Victims’ friends and relatives, rescue workers and survivors of the terrorist attack descended into the subterranean space and revisited the tragedy as the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum was dedicated by President Barack Obama as a symbol that says of America: “Nothing can ever break us.”
The museum’s artifacts range from the monumental, like two of the huge fork-shaped columns from the World Trade Center’s facade, to the intimate: a wedding ring, a victim’s voice mail message.
Some relatives found the exhibits both upsetting and inspiring.
The teenaged Patricia Smith’s visit came down to one small object: the NYPD shield her mother, Moira, was wearing 12 ½ years ago when she died helping to evacuate the twin towers.
Patricia, 14, said she left feeling a new level of connection to her mother. Still, “seeing that, reading the story that goes along with it, even if I already know it, is really upsetting,” she said.
David Greenberg, who lost a dozen colleagues who met for breakfast at the trade center’s Windows on the World restaurant on Sept. 11, called the museum “breathtaking, awe-inspiring and emotional.”
“You have your moments when there can be solitude, moments when there can be happiness and a mixture of emotions through the entire museum,” Greenberg said.
The museum opens to the public next Wednesday, but many of those who were affected most directly by 9/11 were allowed to start exploring it on Thursday.
Victims’ relatives also paid their first visits to a repository that contains unidentified remains from the disaster.
Monika Iken never received her husband’s body. “But he’s here. I know he’s here,” said Iken, a museum board member.
David Beamer reflected on his son’s wristwatch, stopped when a hijacked plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field after Todd Beamer and other passengers stormed the cockpit.
Florence Jones recalled the shoes she shed on her way down the south tower.
“I wanted my nieces and my nephew and every person that asked what happened to see them and, maybe, understand a little bit better what it felt like to be us on that day,” she said.