Grave Danger: 9/11 Families Fight Plan to Put Remains Seven Stories Underground in Flood Zone A

‘Will my son be washed away?’

What the museum will look like when it opens. Remains will be kept in a special room out of public view. (NS11MM)

What the museum will look like when it opens. Remains will be kept in a special room out of public view. (NS11MM)

Construction for the memorial and the museum—located below the footprint of the towers—began in 2006 following several years of back and forth among families, architects, engineers, community members and other stakeholders. Everything from the admissions price, to the construction start date to the organization of the victims’ names has been contested at pulpits and in courtrooms.

The 110,000-square-foot site will have multimedia displays, archives and narratives commemorating the victims of the attacks. Portraits of the nearly 3,000 men, women and children who died will also be displayed. Visitors will walk down a sloped ramp until they reach the exhibition space at the base of the site, 70 feet below ground level. The museum area will share a wall with the repository, where a quote from Virgil will be displayed: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” Parts of the original foundation of the Twin Towers will also be incorporated into the museum complex.

While the subterranean design was intentionally grave-like, that concept has long been contested by family members who wanted the remains to be stored above ground and entirely separate from the museum’s exhibition space. Flooding was always a concern for these families, Sally Regenhard, one of the museum’s most vocal opponents, told The Observer.

Those fears were heightened by the recent storm, said Ms. Regenhard, who lost her son Christian, a firefighter and former marine.

She and more than a dozen other family members are suing both the memorial and the city for the right to obtain a comprehensive contact list of victims’ relatives. Ms. Regenhard hopes to use the list to mobilize an effort to store remains in something akin to the Tomb of the Unknowns, a monument dedicated to American service members who have died without identification.

Their next court date is scheduled for January 9.

“No one wants their loved ones remains floating down the drain,” she said.

Amid flood fears, yet another concern is the safety of personal artifacts that are being donated to the exhibition, including bloodied watches, handwritten notes and wallets recovered from the site.

“These things are a part of history—we cannot replace them,” Patricia Nilsen, who lost her sister Anne Marie Martino Cramer in the South Tower, said. “What are they doing to protect our items? We need to know what’s going on.”

Mr. Frazier said that it was unlikely that the museum would relinquish any items, owing to “a thorough collection policy” that requires donors to give the museum legal ownership.

Michael Burke donated his late brother’s FDNY badge to the museum, and is now having second thoughts about having signed it over. “When I heard about the flood and saw the photographs, I was shocked,” he said. “I want the story to be told … and he would want the history to be told. It’s not fair.”

Other donors are wondering if they can get those items back.

Mr. Burke said the only silver lining in the years of construction delays and bitter debates surrounding the still-unfinished repository and museum is that their future contents were largely spared by the storm—at least this one.

“If there is one place where we know we can’t predict the future, “ Mr. Burke said, “it’s at Ground Zero.”

eepstein@observer.com