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9/11 Tribute Museum expands space for personal stories

NEW YORK – A museum that tells the stories of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks Tuesday in a new space, a little further from the World Trade Center memorial, but with triple the exhibition space of the temporary quarters it occupied for a decade.

The 9/11 Tribute Museum was originally founded in 2006 as a temporary shrine to the victims in the years that the bigger, better well known National September 11 Memorial and Museum was under construction and after it opened in 2011.

The Tribute Museum has daily guided tours of the rebuilt World Trade Center, led by people with good connections to the tragedy, including the attack survivors, rescuers, recovery workers and family members of the dead.

More than 4 million people have visited the museum, originally called the Tribute Center and co-founded by CEO Jennifer Adams-Webb and the September 11th Families’ Association, causing it to outgrow its original home in a space that was previously occupied by a delicatessen.

The new space, a few blocks away, is 36,000 square meters, about half of that space. It is located on the ground floor and the second floor of a high building.

“Originally, when we started, we weren’t sure where we were going,” said Lee Ielpi, whose firefighter son, Jonathan, died in the attacks. “We realized that, as the years went on, that we are making an impact.”

Artifacts exhibited in the museum are “missing persons” posters which are hung in the city in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, when the families still hoping their loved ones would be found alive. Other items on display include a death certificate, a boarding pass for someone who is on one of the flights, and a portion of the window of one of the hijacked planes.

On a tour of the space last week, Ielpi, a retired firefighter, stopped before a display screen that is him in tears: his son’s helmet and fire jacket.

“It is crucial that we pass on the understanding of 9/11 to future generations and the great spirit of resilience and service that arose after the attacks,” said Ielpi, who helped carry his son’s body from the rubble.

Ielpi had nothing but praise for the much larger National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which serves as the country’s most important institution that tells the 9/11 story through interactive technology, archives, and filmed stories. He said that the settings are “complementary,” with the Tribute Museum to really personalize the experience of the day through the volunteer guides.

The new space will cost $8.7 million. Private and public funds for, among other donations from American Express, Zurich, North America and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the Trade Center site.

The museum also offers programs for visiting school students, who were not even alive Sept. 11, 2001.

Lee Skolnick, whose firm designed the lay-out exhibit, said the Tribute Museum the power comes from the survivors, family members and recovery workers who lead the tours and who have agreed to their personal stories.

“The fact that survivors, caregivers and citizens discovered the ‘seeds of service’ to grow from unimaginable tragedy is a proof of the strength of the human spirit and a great life lesson for all of us,” said Skolnick. “What can you do for others, for the world?”

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Associated Press Writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.

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