At 9/11 Museum, crass is cash

A man looks at a picture of the original World Trade Center towers in the windows of the National September 11 Memorial Museum .  Justin Lane/Pool/Getty Images

It was no surprise, really, when the hucksters and street vendors showed up around the site of World Trade Center buildings while the holes in the ground were still smoking in 2001. We don’t expect much in the way of decency when there’s a quick buck to be made.

But the new 9/11 Museum that opened last week is also cashing in on the collapse, to the consternation of family members of those killed.

911totebag“It’s crass commercialism on a literally sacred site,” Kurt Horning, whose son Matthew died on 9/11, said in an interview. “It’s a burial ground. We don’t think there should be those things offered on that spot.”

Horning, you may recall from a 2004 interview I did with him, was one of the leaders of a group of victims’ family members who protested when they had to visit a landfill to pay their respects to the remains of their loved ones. When it comes to decency, these people can’t catch a break.

“Here is essentially our tomb of the unknown. To sell baubles I find quite shocking and repugnant,” said his wife, Diane. “I think it’s a money-making venture to support inflated salaries, and they’re willing to do it over my son’s dead body.”

The New York Post described the trinkets:

•  A black and white “Darkness Hoodie” printed with an image of the Twin Towers. The pullover, like other “Darkness” items, bears the words “In Darkness We Shine Brightest.” Price: $39.
•  Silk scarves printed with 1986 photos by Paula Barr, including a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline. Another depicts “lunchtime on the WTC Plaza.” They go for $95 each.
•  “Survivor Tree” earrings, named after a pear tree that stood in the World Trade Center plaza and survived 9/11. Made of bronze and freshwater pearls, a pair costs $64. A leaf ornament molded from the swamp white oaks at the memorial is said to change from amber to dark brown “and sometimes pink around the time of the 9/11 anniversary.”
•  Heart-shaped rocks inscribed with slogans such as “United in Hope” and “Honor.” One rock bears a quote by Virgil that is emblazoned on a massive blue-tiled wall in the museum: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” It costs $39.

Search-and-rescue dog toy: $19.95

The Hornings never recovered their son. His remains and other debris are now stored on the museum site, though they are not on display.

Mediaite columnist Luke O’Neil isn’t swayed by the families’ concerns, which he calls “pearl clutching.”

Rebuilding on the site in the first place was supposed to reflect how we as Americans see ourselves on our best days, resilient, unbowed, industrious, but it’s important to keep in mind what the towers symbolized in the first place. It’s the reason they were attacked, after all, the vast monoliths of grand American capitalism. What better way to memorialize that than by a store that sells useless, over-priced bobbles to people with too much disposable income, who have no need for, or really any idea why they’d want to buy any of it in the first place? Forget a tower, that right there is the American dream writ large.

The Post pointing out the incongruous nature of the gift shop shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is somewhat cynical. Who’s made more money on 9/11 stories than them? At this point it might be easier to start compiling a list of business and people who haven’t gained professionally or monetarily from 911 in some way, including every politician and publication in the world, not to mention me with this blog post.

It’s hard to remember what 9/11 was supposed to mean before it was turned into just another excuse for us to sell things to one another, but there’s no question now that it’s still great for business for all concerned.There’s nothing so horrifying that we can’t as Americans spin it into a quick buck. The entire damn country is already a 9/11 gift shop, what’s wrong with one more?

  • Ralphy

    Offensive? Crass? I think so too. But I’m also offended by the trinket business/gift shops at Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg the Nottoway Plantation and the President Kennedy assassination museum in Dallas.

  • John

    I’m filing this one in my “water is wet” file.

    People are doing what they do, and other people are upset by it. Both sides are partially in the right. And both sides seem to be displaying America as it is today.