Hundreds of visitors descended the seven stories to the base of the Sept. 11 Memorial Museum on Thursday for the national exhibit's dedication ceremony that centered as much around the lives of those lost 13 years ago as much as it around survivors.
At least 700 individuals were on hand for the commemoration, which began with a children's choir rendition of Steven Sondheim's "Somewhere" that reverberated from the slurry wall within the expansive Foundation Hall.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the first person to address the crowd, which sat in front large concrete slab that showed photos taken on the day of the attack and videos recounting the lives upended thereafter.
The moving images and sounds of voicemails from worried family members left for victims led many in the crowd to wipe tears throughout the hour-long ceremony.
"This museum — built on a site of rubble and ruins — is now filled with the faces, the stories and the memories of our common grief and our common hope," Bloomberg said.
Among the sea of faces in the crowd were survivors, family family members of those lost in the attack, first responders and various political leaders — including President Barack Obama and wife Michelle, former president Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Obama toured the exhibit minutes before approaching the podium, along with the first lady, the Clintons, Bloomberg and his long time partner Diana Taylor.
"To all those who responded with such courage — on behalf of Michelle and myself and the American people, it is an honor for us to join in your memories," the president said. "To remember and to reflect. But above all, to reaffirm the true spirit of 9/11 -- love, compassion, sacrifice — and to enshrine it forever in the heart of our nation."
Obmaa said that the museum would be profound and moving experience to those who visit, and it gives an opportunity for people to see the faces of "3,000 innocent souls" who lost their lives in 2001.
"We can touch their names and hear their voices and glimpse the small items that speak to the beauty of their lives — a wedding ring, a dusty helmet, a shining badge," he added. "Here we tell their story, so that generations yet unborn will never forget."
While introducing the story of 24-year-old equities trader Welles Remy Crowther, who died when the South Tower collapsed after he led survivors down 17 flights of stairs, Obama made a passing reference to the attack's perpetrators.
"Three years ago this month, after our SEALs made sure that justice was done, I came to Ground Zero. And among the families here that day was Alison Crowther," he said before embracing her and Ling Young — one of the people Welles — who until days after the attack was only knows as the man with the red bandana – saved that day.
"It is our greatest hope that when people come here and see Welles' red bandana, they will remember how people helped each other that day, and we hope they will be inspired to do the same in ways both big and small," Alison said. "This is the true legacy of Sept. 11."
Tony Award-winning performer LaChanze also punctuated the stories of resiliency and goodwill with a powerful rendition of "Amazing Grace," dedicated to her late husband Calvin Joseph Gooding, a securities trader who was working in the North Tower.
Ahead of the dedication, Paula Grant Berry, who lost her husband David and co-chairs the memorial foundation's program committee said that the museum will be a safe place for visitors who might not have the same connection to Sept. 11 and its aftermath that those gathered at the museum already do.
"If anything, from my perspective, it's for them. Over time, this exhibition will be open and we won't all be around," she said. "New Yorkers are certainly going to come to this and they're going to bring their own stories. They're going to find their own stories … I think they'll bring something to it, and I hope this museum will help them in that way."
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