NEW YORK — Alone or in groups they emerged from the dark exhibition halls and the even darker subject matter of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, reaching for words like “overwhelming,” “shock” and “gut-wrenching.”
On Wednesday, nearly a week after it was opened to family members of victims and rescue workers, the museum opened to the general public.
As the doors opened at 9 a.m., tourists dressed casually in pink running shoes and Mona Lisa T-shirts lined up alongside somber-faced New Yorkers waiting to pay their respects to friends and neighbors who died in the terrorist attack.
“Gut-wrenching would describe it best,” said Nell Anderson, 29, an interior designer in Brooklyn. “People were very solemn, very quiet. The attacks happened when I was in high school but now I call New York my home, and I went to pay my respects.”
Dr. James Koppel, 62, an anesthesiologist from Manhattan, said: “I’m just in shock. I didn’t think it would be as extensive as it was, and I didn’t think I would be so saddened once again.”
“It had sort of receded a little bit, and coming back here brings it back to life,” Koppel said. He said he was glad that he had visited but added: “I am not sure I would come again. The feelings it stirred up were not pleasant feelings.”
The first day’s allocation of 7,000 tickets were all sold out online, well in advance of the opening day. The museum plans to allow 5,000 to 8,000 visitors per day, although that figure could be adjusted. The admission fee is $24, although relatives of Sept. 11 victims and rescue and recovery workers can enter free.
There were some dissenting voices among the visitors. Todd Fine, an amateur historian and a leader of a grass-roots movement to increase recognition of downtown Manhattan’s Arab-American past, called on the museum to redo the exhibition’s video presentation on the ideological roots of the attacks, which he described as “very problematic.”
“If they are going to get into the history of the ideologies behind al-Qaida, they need to get into the full political context of the Middle East in the 20th century that created these organizations,” he said.
Others said that while they had an overall positive view, they found the idea of a gift shop too crassly commercial, or they cringed at the thought of having to revisit images of airliners crashing into the towers.
“I think we all remember that. Do we have to see it over and over again?” said Lori Strelecki, 50, from Milford, Pennsylvania.
The official opening was preceded by a ceremonial unfurling of what is known as the National 9/11 Flag, a torn and discolored American flag that hung at the World Trade Center site after the attacks and was stitched back together on a journey to all 50 states. Donated by the New York Says Thank You Foundation, it will become part of the museum’s collection.
Children stood alongside a uniformed honor guard holding the flag in a brief opening ceremony, during which Joseph C. Daniels, chief executive of the memorial and museum foundation, said: “That’s why we built this museum, at the end of the day. It is to make sure that our children’s children’s children know what this country went through on 9/11, and equally as important, know how we came together to help one another with absolutely limitless compassion.”