Congress should help 9/11 museum avoid tacky commercialism

Recovered from the World Trade Center site after Recovered from the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 attacks, these structural steel "tridents" rose from the base of 1 World Trade Center, or the North tower. They are now at the entry of the 9/11 Museum pavilion. (Sept. 6, 2013) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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The price of admission to the recently opened National September 11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero is a steep $24 -- which rightfully has some visitors furious.

The museum should be free, because the experience that it illuminates -- the story of 9/11 -- lies far beyond any rational measure of price.

It concerns lessons learned about heroism and loss, about tolerance and democracy in an angry world, and about our own stark vulnerability in the face of evil.

The museum was conceived and constructed as a place of solemn contemplation -- and an admission fee of 24 bucks a head seems arbitrary and inappropriate.

But unfortunately, it's necessary -- because no matter how ably the museum tells its story, and no matter how strong its emotional pull, someone has to pay the bills to keep the place running.

Right now the museum is looking at an operating budget of $63 million a year -- about 10 percent of which pays for security.

Private donations are making a major difference -- but they're not enough.

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So to end the $24 door charge at Ground Zero, it's time for Congress to step up and help pay some of the expenses.

Washington -- to its credit -- did pony up $250 million in the days after the 9/11 attacks for construction. But without today's pricey entrance fee -- roughly comparable to what the Metropolitan Museum of Art requests of its visitors -- the 9/11 museum would be in the red.

The feds help pay for other museums around the nation. Quite correctly, they spend tens of millions of dollars each year to help the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on the Washington Mall, which has no admission fee. But New York's 9/11 museum had to open a gift shop on its site to help pay the bills. Now a simmering dispute over a restaurant on the site -- one that might be used for private events -- is boiling over.

The museum should remain a solemn place and not a venue for fashionable galas. To avoid the disrespect that can come with commercialism, Congress must show our memorial museum some respect.

We've already paid a high enough price for 9/11.

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