Throughout the world, there are numerous memorial sites and museums commemorating wars, atrocities, terror attacks, and the dark history of human existence. Common ground in all these hallowed halls is honoring the dead and the situation that resulted in the deaths. They all also have places to purchase books and memorabilia, but they all had the good taste to not think a “gift shop” with tacky tchotchkes was appropriate. Apparently the planners for the new 9/11 Museum in New York City did not talk to their peers, or think, before setting up their Museum Store that actually included “commemorative” kitsch crap (some of which has been removed because of public outcry).
The 9/11 Museum, which just opened last week at the former World Trade Center site, received mostly positive comments on the displays and artifacts, but that was overshadowed by complaints about the gift shop and its merchandise. One tasteless item that drew fevered comments for trivializing the horrors of that day was a cheese plate shaped like the United States with the locations of the attacks marked. Really? Talk about cheesy! Do they have a similar one at the Oklahoma City National Memorial commemorating the 1995 federal building bombing that killed 168 people? After all the criticism, the cheesy plate is no longer available.
The shop contains a lot of NYPD and NYFD paraphernalia, magnets, iPhone cases, clothing, etc. Other items that drew reaction were the “darkness hoodie” – their name for it – that is not bad to look at (a basic shot of the twin towers), but the name? Some family members questioned all the jewelry, scarves, ornaments and other trinkets.
One shopping display that reportedly drew mixed comments were stuffed rescue dogs and various cute dog-related items. They clearly wanted something that would appeal to kids because toy fire trucks and the dog crews were heavily involved in the aftermath, although it is unlikely the children know them as cadaver dogs. (They do have similar stuffed dogs in Oklahoma.) At least the planners had sense not to sell toy planes to the kids!
The initial 42,000 plus visitors to the museum have shown their taste. According to the Wall Street Journal r, the top sellers the first week were a $29.95 book about the museum, a $4.59 memorial rubber wristband, and a $24.95 10th-anniversary flag that lists the names of all who died in the World Trade Center, Pentagon and United flight 93.
The whole concept of a “store” at the 9/11 Museum needs rethinking besides the commemorative kitsch crap. Most memorials do have on-site shops, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Arlington National Cemetery, Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument and the Oklahoma site. However, they are generally called Bookstores, and focus on educational material, or Memorial Stores, with limited merchandise.
With the initial hue and cry, the 9/11 Museum did remove the cheese plate. In addition, the Wall Street Journal reports that the foundation overseeing the memorial and museum will ask families of victims to give input into future site merchandising and shop selections. Presumably, they will agree that any other kitsch crap would be tasteless, and implore upon the planners to stick with commemorative items and literature at the 9/11 Museum.
Opinion by Dyanne Weiss