The tension surrounding the National September 11 Memorial Museum’s position as both a grave site and a moneymaking tourist attraction continued on Wednesday, when it finally opened to the general public. Both the New York Post and the New York Daily News spoke to first-responders and relatives of 9/11 victims who were upset to learn that the museum was the site of a cocktail party attended by Michael Bloomberg and other donors on Tuesday night. Tuesday was the last day for people who were directly affected by the attacks on the Twin Towers to visit the space for free, and some were reportedly turned away from the door as the 60-person, black-tie get-together and preparations for opening day began. The Daily News reports that a group of firefighters who were asked to leave early walked out “in tears.”
“To have a festive occasion on human remains, it’s repulsive, it’s repugnant,” said John Feal, who volunteered at ground zero and advocates for 9/11 first-responders. Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son died in the towers, said that the party was “a prime example” of why the unidentified remains stored in a private repository “must be removed immediately from this building — from this site of commercialism, parties, drinking, catering.” Meanwhile, an anonymous museum employee told the Daily News, “I don’t think alcohol should be allowed in there. It’s a sacred ground and [the partygoers] desecrated it.”
Museum spokesman Michael Frazier responded to the complaints, saying, “The days-long preview included 24-hour operations over that period. We had to close the museum to prepare the space for our historic public opening [Wednesday]. While closed for these preparations, there was a very small and short gathering for donors. Those donors include Conde Nast, which is sponsoring [Wednesday’s] free admission. The small gathering was done respectfully and in recognition of our supporters, who helped to build this important institution.” Still, it seems that it would be best for everyone if Tuesday’s event were the last party the museum had for quite a while.