Profound sanctimony and solemnity also become very expensive when the people in charge of perpetuating it are earning six-figure salaries, and the billionaire shrillionaire named Bloomberg is only lending -- not donating, mind you -- a few million of his own stash to the museum. First responders may have paid with their lives, their blood and their health. But everybody will be paying Hizzoner, with interest.
The profit motive and ticket info were not mentioned in a 60 Minutes puff-piece ("Curating Moments of Terror and Tragedy") that aired last weekend, in which Lesley Stahl got the grand tour of the Grand Guignol. Making horror tasteful, making necrophilia seem like respect.... it's hard out there for people profiting off the mass murder of others. But Alice Greenwald, museum curator, is experienced, having just come to 9/11 from the Holocaust Museum. Here's a maudlin sampling of the transcript:
Alice Greenwald: Welcome to Foundation Hall.
Lesley Stahl:...that takes your breath away.
Alice Greenwald: It's haunting and a little chilling knowing you're in the belly of ground zero. In the place where so many innocent people lost their lives.
Lesley Stahl: So here we are, we're right where the buildings collapsed. We're in it.
Alice Greenwald: Most museums are buildings that house artifacts. We're a museum in an artifact.
Lesley Stahl: Where we are is almost sacred.
Alice Greenwald: I think you are become super conscious of where you're standing. And that's a powerful thing. It's a very powerful thing.
It devolves from there -- trust me. But watch if you must.
Even though Stahl managed to scrounge up a few survivors to shill for the museum, other family members are not so sanguine. Sally Regenhard, mother of a firefighter who died in the attack, calls the for-profit mausoleum a "pay-to-grieve national disgrace". She just penned a scathing New York Daily News op-ed:
None of the 9/11 family members that I have worked with ever wanted a billion-dollar money pit; all we hoped for was a simple, uplifting, honorable and patriotic memorial for all who were lost that terrible September day.
Instead, we have a “money is no object” monstrosity inflicted upon us — a design we did not choose, and which we bear no responsibility for — that was incredibly expensive to build and even more logic-defying to maintain.
How dare they charge visitors to pay respects to those lost on 9/11, including my son, a firefighter and recon Marine sergeant?
If his USMC brothers and friends from all over the country want to pay him respect, they have to pay Bloomberg & Co. $25 first.
What a crime! How many families could afford to pay that?Answer: judging from the ever-increasing income gap between rich and poor in America generally and in New York City particularly, not very many. In the Big Apple, the poverty rate has reached its highest point in more than 10 years. Median earnings for working people fell to $32,210 from $33,287 — much more than the national decline, according to the Census Bureau. The bottom lost ground, while the top gained. That includes Mayor Bloomberg, whose net worth of $25 billion climbed by another $3 billion just in the past year. He wants every penny of that $15 million museum loan repaid, by the way.
The CEO of the 9/11 Museum, who is paid a relatively modest $400,000 a year to decide such things as how much to charge the public, also came under criticism last year when he ditched the ceremony commemorating the 1993 WTC bombing to go on a Colorado ski trip with his tycoon father. Joe Daniels, a former private equity manager, had previously blamed his absence on a personal obligation. But when he was caught out, he just shrugged. "I have one of the best dads in New York," he gushed to a local reporter, adding that the unpaid volunteers had it all under control anyway. You really can't make this stuff up. The rich really are different than you and me. If there is such a thing as a gene for shame, it seems to be sorely lacking from the DNA of the pampered wealthy. The plutes are brutes.
I was curious about other atrocity exhibitions/mausoleum museums and whether they, too, are run by the Grifters of Grief. Some results:
Oklahoma City Memorial: ticket prices range between $10 and $12. I found this surprising.
Holocaust Museum, Washington: free admission.
Auschwitz Holocaust site, Poland: free admission.
Arlington National Cemetery: free admission.
Gettysburg Civil War Battlefield: admission is $12.50 for adults.
Dresden Cathedral museum, site of World War 2 bombing: one low-priced annual ticket gains you admission to all German museums.
Wounded Knee massacre site, South Dakota: adults are charged $5 admission.
Tiananmen Square Massacre museum, temporarily located in Hong Kong: free admission.
Moro Crater in the Philippines, site of the slaughter of more than 500 Muslim civilians by the United States Army under the direction of Gen. Leonard Wood: Admission is free, because no memorial was ever built.
Museum of Chemical Weapons (yeah, there is such a place) and other Army tourist traps at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri: admission is free, but photo ID, vehicle registration and proof of insurance (!) are required. That pretty much leaves out non-drivers and un-Americans. And if you're disabled, forget about going as well, since the exhibits are not wheelchair-accessible. Some parts of the military-industrial complex apparently are exempt from the Americans With Disabilities Act as well as from the Geneva Conventions article against torture.