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Thursday, June 11, 2009

9/11 museum will keep the fairytale alive.

The time has come to cross the t’s and dot the i’s.

The development of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center is far enough along that officials are now asking the victims’ next of kin to confirm the accuracy of the names that are to be inscribed around the memorial pools. They are also asking family members to share stories and mementos from the victims’ lives to incorporate into a permanent display.

In doing so, they are showing some preliminary new images — still quite conceptual — of what the museum’s memorial exhibition hall would look like. The north half of the museum is devoted to history. The part that sits under the south memorial pool, within the structural footprint of 2 World Trade Center, is devoted to commemoration.

This exhibition hall, far underground and close to bedrock, would be approached by a small footbridge across a trough with visible remnants of the south tower’s perimeter columns. Visitors would clearly know they were entering the space once occupied by the building.

The overwhelming first impression would be walls filled with a 12-foot-high frieze showing portraits of the 2,982 victims whose memory is to be perpetuated. (They include those who died in the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the trade center, those who died at the Pentagon on 9/11 and those who died in the four hijacked airliners that day.)

“You will literally and physically be surrounded by the victims,” said Alice Greenwald, director of the museum.

Should family members not submit a picture, Ms. Greenwald said the fallback would be the individual portraits entered as exhibits in the federal trial of Zacarias Moussaoui in 2006.

In front of the portrait walls, visitors would find display consoles with tabletop visual interfaces that promise to work somewhat like an iPhone, with fingertip navigation. These displays would permit visitors to delve into an individual victim’s life. The effect would be a kind of expanded, multimedia version of the “Portraits of Grief” series that The New York Times presented after the attacks.

“We have to address the scale of loss,” Ms. Greenwald said. “Three thousand is a number that’s hard to fathom, so you have to personalize it.”

Visitors would then enter an inner chamber, a mini-theater with benches, where audiovisual tributes would be shown of each victim. These presentations would consist principally of recorded recollections — “not overly maudlin, overly sentimentalized or highly depressing,” Ms. Greenwald said, “but like sitting around with your cousins, talking about someone at the Thanksgiving table.”

At the same time, the presentations must illuminate individual lives in a way that would be meaningful to any visitor. “Even if a family member never came, it has to serve to public,” said Joseph C. Daniels, president and chief executive of the memorial and museum.

Family members can learn more about what kind of material the memorial is seeking at the “Memorial Exhibition Archive” Web page.

If each audiovisual presentation lasted only three minutes, a visitor would have to set aside 149 hours (more than six full days) to see them all. They would be shown in a largely random sequence, but adjustments could be made, for instance, to ensure that designated individuals’ tributes would be shown when their relatives were visiting the museum. Another possibility would be to show individuals’ tributes hourly on their birthdays.

The solicitation of personal material is accompanying the request for verification of names from the victims’ relatives: spelling, punctuation (including accent marks), suffixes, first or middle initials, hyphenated or double last names. About 3,200 packets have been sent out. Just tracking down current addresses and authorized next of kin was a two-year odyssey, Mr. Daniels said.

Precedence in authority will be given first to surviving spouses or domestic partners, then to children, then parents, then siblings, said Allison Bailey, the chief of staff at the memorial. Absent any corrections from the next of kin or expressed preference to the contrary, victims’ names will be spelled as they are on their death certificates.

Around the north pool will be the names of those who were working in or visiting 1 World Trade Center, clustered further by the companies or places where they were that day; the crew and passengers of American Airlines Flight 11, which hit the north tower; and the victims of the Feb. 26, 1993, bombing.

Around the south pool will be the names of those who were working in or visiting 2 World Trade Center and other areas of the complex; the crew and passengers of United Airlines Flight 175, which hit the south tower; those who were working in or visiting the Pentagon; the crew and passenger on the flight that hit the Pentagon; those aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania; and the first responders, organized by agency and unit (Fire Department and firehouse, Police Department and precinct, and the like).

Families are also being asked whether they want their relatives’ names inscribed next to one or two other individual victims.

Memorial officials said they would consider, on a case by case basis, instances in which honoring a request to place two individual names close together would result in one or the other name being out of place (spouses or siblings, for example, who worked at different companies or in different towers). The officials said in the mailing they would use “all reasonable efforts to honor the requests” for adjacency.

They said Michael Arad, the lead architect for the memorial itself, has determined that the layout of names on the first responder panels will make it possible to keep family members adjacent who were under different commands; for example, Firefighter John Vigiano and Detective Joseph Vigiano.