The inconsistency of the 9/11 Museum controversy


WASHINGTON, May 20, 2014 —The controversy over the 9/11 Museum is simply not that controversial, nor is it unique.

If you have ever visited the battlefields of Gettysburg, you have been awestruck by the simultaneous conflicting images of beauty and tragedy. You are struck by the sacrifice laid down by so many, and you are horrified that such an event as the Battle of Gettysburg ever needed to happen at all. And after all this, after you have toured the fields, stood at Little Round Top, seen the High Water Mark of the Confederacy, you head to the gift shop and get yourself an “I Survived the Gettysburg Reenactment” t-shirt, a mug, and some Civil War playing cards, and you go to the nearest bar for lunch.

This dynamic is repeated at historical sites all over the country.

You walk the site or the museum, you tour the grounds, and then you visit the gift shop for books and trinkets.

This is the same dynamic that the new 9/11 Memorial Museum subscribes to, and that apparently has many, many people upset.

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One can understand why they would be upset. After they tour the grounds of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, the building commemorating one of the worst events in American history, they are greeted by the gift shop. Yes, there is a gift shop at the 9/11 Memorial Museum which they call “the Museum Store.”

There have been many people to come out against this store, many people who bash the move to include a bookstore at the end of a tour in a building which includes unidentified human remains, is rather crass, and distasteful.

Unfortunately, however crass and distasteful, however classless, or base one might see this action by the museum, it is a necessary one. They need to make money.

The operating budget for the museum is somewhere around $63,000,000. That includes the maintenance of all of the artifacts, curators, licenses, items the ADA mandates, IT professionals to keep up with data entry, servers for that data, lights, plumbing, air, and quite literally everything else you can imagine. The museum spends money on research, most likely has grants, it acts as a record keeping data base, and it has to employ, as mentioned, a staff for all of their daily operations.

Their budget is substantial. Could they cut it in places, most likely, but they are in New York and everything is more expensive in the Big Apple. Their costs are going to be exorbitant.

They need to find as many ways to offset that cost as possible. They charge admission, they most likely will host events, there are food courts, they will have advertising in their catalogs and on their website, and they will have a museum shop.

They sell t-shirts, they sell mugs, key chains, pens, refrigerator magnets, Christmas ornaments, and “I Love NY” iPhone case covers.

They also sell books.

They sell the stories of those who were there, they sell histories, biographies, memoirs, photo books, and coffee table books. They sell books for children, books about where the President was, books about 9/11 inspired art, and they sell personal stories. They do this all, because the operating budget is $63,000,000.

It is a necessity.

Below is the text from the Museum shop website.

“All net proceeds from our sales are dedicated to developing and sustaining the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Thank you for helping to build a lasting place for remembrance, reflection, and learning for years to come.”

But this isn’t the only thing that has people up in arms. Many are protesting the seemingly extravagant salary of the museum CEO, Joe Daniels. Mr. Daniels makes over $350,000 a year as the chief executive officer of the Museum, a position it seems is developing to be rather thankless.

For those of you who have not been paying attention, Mr. Daniels is responsible for helping the Museum raise the $63,000,000 necessary to maintain the facilities and staff. Through his personal contacts, and through whatever channels he can divine, it is his job to promote the museum, maintain the mission, and raise the money. He and his people are responsible for raising a substantial amount of money. All of that, while having to deal with public relations concerning a Museum placed in the city which bore the brunt of the attack, and filled with people who will always remember, is more than a full time job. Mr. Daniels will have his work cut out for him.

Some of the comments concerning the book store make no sense. One state senator from Brooklyn, martin Golden, said “I honestly don’t think it’s appropriate…selling scarves to commercialize the deaths of 3,000 people…I don’t think it’s right.”

There is a gift shop at Gettysburg, there is a gift shop at Antietam, there is a gift shop at Manassas. There is a gift shop at the National World War II Museum, there is a gift shop at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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There is a gift shop outside of the Tower of London, and the London Dungeons. There are gift shops outside of the Coliseum of Rome, and inside the Irish National Famine Museum.

There is a book store for the USS Arizona.

There is a souvenir shop at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

There is a bookstore inside the National Holocaust Museum.

These monuments and museums which represent the lives of millions upon millions of individuals, all have gift shops to help pay for the ability for their descendants to visit, for historians to study, for the public to learn. The gift shops, which are being decried as classless, allow for survivors and victims to have a place to visit and remember what they lost. These crass displays of commercialism are partially responsible for people to be able to visit the museum in the first place.

If people do not want to see blatant consumerism exploiting tragedy then they are in for a long life in the United States, exploiting tragedy is done on a daily basis. But this is not exploiting anything, no one at the Museum is going to get rich off of “scarves.” What they are going to do is follow the same dynamic every successful museum in the country has done, and they are going to help offset the costs by selling merchandise. If you take away Mr. Daniel’s ability to sell merchandise, and you handicap him and rob him of that fundraising tool, you had better prepare to pay him more than he is making now for the extraordinary extra effort he will have to go to in order to make up those costs.

Of course the argument has been made that with the families of the victims still alive, and with remains interred in the basement of the Museum, that they should have more respect than to sell trinkets in a gift shop.

They have a point.

But if they are complaining about it at the 9/11 Memorial, they should complain about it everywhere. Remains are interred in the fields of Gettysburg, and at Antietam. George Washington, the father of our country, is buried at Mount Vernon, where there is a gift shop.

Without gift shops, these museums would not be here. And while the dynamic described above can be seen as crass, or disrespectful, it is how nearly every major museum in the country operates, and it is how they can all stay open for generation after generation to come and remember and learn, and support the very institution that allows them to do that.

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