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Visiting 9/11 sites: Memorial, museum, tours

| Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, 6:19 p.m.
FILE - In this Tuesday, May 6, 2014 file photo, One World Trade Center towers over the lower Manhattan skyline in New York. Tourism in sites connected to the events of Sept. 11, 2001 is strong, with millions of people visiting the memorial and hundreds of thousands having already visited the new 9/11 Museum that opened in May.  (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, May 6, 2014 file photo, One World Trade Center towers over the lower Manhattan skyline in New York. Tourism in sites connected to the events of Sept. 11, 2001 is strong, with millions of people visiting the memorial and hundreds of thousands having already visited the new 9/11 Museum that opened in May. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - This May 15, 2014 file photo shows a steel beam from the World Trade Center at the center of Foundation Hall  in New York. More than 700,000 people have visited the museum since it opened in May.  (AP Photo/The Star-Ledger, John Munson, Pool)
FILE - This May 15, 2014 file photo shows a steel beam from the World Trade Center at the center of Foundation Hall in New York. More than 700,000 people have visited the museum since it opened in May. (AP Photo/The Star-Ledger, John Munson, Pool)
FILE - This May 15, 2014 file photo shows patrons visiting the pools at The 9/11 Memorial near the World Trade Center in New York.  President Barack Obama praised the new Sept. 11 museum as 'a sacred place of healing and of hope' that captures both the story and the spirit of heroism that followed the attacks. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin, File)
FILE - This May 15, 2014 file photo shows patrons visiting the pools at The 9/11 Memorial near the World Trade Center in New York. President Barack Obama praised the new Sept. 11 museum as 'a sacred place of healing and of hope' that captures both the story and the spirit of heroism that followed the attacks. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin, File)
FILE - This May 15, 2014 file photo shows a quote from Virgil on a wall of the museum prior to the dedication ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York. More than 700,000 people have visited the 9/11 museum since it opened in May. (AP Photo/The Star-Ledger, John Munson, Pool, File)
FILE - This May 15, 2014 file photo shows a quote from Virgil on a wall of the museum prior to the dedication ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York. More than 700,000 people have visited the 9/11 museum since it opened in May. (AP Photo/The Star-Ledger, John Munson, Pool, File)

Out-of-towners and locals alike have shown enormous interest in sites connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 700,000 people from all 50 states and 131 countries have been to the National Sept. 11 Museum since it opened May 21. More have come from New York than any other state, but the museum also hosts so many international tourists that you can't even identify all the languages being spoken.

In addition, nearly 15 million people have visited the Sept. 11 Memorial since it opened three years ago in the footprints of the twin towers. That's 1 million more a year than visit the Statue of Liberty.

And, yet, the very idea of 9/11 tourism remains controversial to some. Some New Yorkers are still so traumatized, they've avoided the area. Others think 9/11 tourism is unseemly, however respectful the intent. Indeed, the memorial plaza could now be mistaken for a leafy urban park, with visitors taking smiling selfies or leaning on bronze parapets that bear the names of the dead. And yet, one could argue that re-creating a sense of normalcy downtown is part of the 9/11 story, too.

“There's this tension between a nice park where you can come out and have your lunch, but you might be sitting next to a family member paying respects to a loved one,” says Brenda Berkman, a retired fire lieutenant who was there Sept. 11, 2001, and worked on the recovery effort. Berkman leads guided tours from the 9/11 Tribute Center. For those who do want to visit, pay respects or learn more about the events of 13 years ago, here are options.

9/11 memorial

The memorial's waterfalls and twin reflecting pools are set deep in the towers' footprints. The pools are surrounded by panels inscribed with the names of the nearly 3,000 people who perished in the attacks, including those who died at the site, on the planes and at the Pentagon. Also listed are six who died in the 1993 Trade Center bombing.

Hundreds of oak trees line the plaza, but be sure to find a tall, callery pear tree called the Survivor Tree, grown from an 8-foot stump found in the rubble of the fallen towers.

The memorial is free and open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visitor passes and security checks are no longer required. Details: 911memorial.org/visit-911-memorial

9/11 museum

The museum tells the definitive story of the World Trade Center, from construction to destruction to rebirth. Artifacts large and small include tower beams, the Survivors' Stairs used by hundreds to escape, a wrecked firetruck and shoes worn by a photojournalist who was injured that day. You'll hear phone messages left by people trapped in the towers, and if you dare peek behind an exhibit labeled “disturbing,” you'll see photos of those who jumped.

Numerous videos and photos show Lower Manhattan before the attacks, as the planes hit, while the towers burned, and after they fell as enormous debris clouds covered downtown.

Tissue boxes around the galleries testify to the museum's visceral, emotional impact. But some of the simplest exhibits are among the most memorable. Blue squares represent an artist's effort to remember the sky color that day. And a massive wall bears this quote from Virgil: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with the last entry at 7 p.m. through Sept. 21 (after Sept. 21, 7 p.m. closing). Get timed tickets online in advance to avoid long waits. Admission is $24. Details: 911memorial.org

9/11 Tribute Center and tours

In contrast to the large, formal exhibits of the Memorial Museum, the 9/11 Tribute Center is a small, intimate, low-key place. The walls are covered with victims' photos and missing posters; handmade paper cranes — a symbol of peace — hang over a stairwell. It's like looking through someone's scrapbook and sharing memories.

The Tribute Center also offers terrific guided tours of the memorial led by individuals with a connection to Sept. 11 — first responders, survivors, those who lost loved ones. The tours offer personal memories, insights and an informed appreciation of the memorial's design and symbolism.

“We try and bring you to that day based on what we witnessed,” Berkman says.

The Tribute Center at 120 Liberty St. is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, with walking tours at 11 a.m., noon, 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Center admission is $15, tours are $10, combined admission plus tour is $20. Details: tributewtc.org.

One World Trade Center

The observatory at One World Trade Center won't open until next year. But the gleaming skyscraper itself, with its trademark spire and graceful angles, can be seen from all over the city.

Apps

Two free, official apps can help you explore the memorial and museum in person or virtually: the 9/11 Memorial Guide and 9/11 Memorial Audio Guide.

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