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'Commercialized grief'? Public reacts to September 11 Museum's gift shop

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which opened with a ceremony on May 15, has drawn controversy — for having a gift shop. 

The shop sells items like sweatshirts, mugs, umbrellas, tote bags, phone cases, silk scarves with images of the Twin Towers, ornaments of the two buildings and even plush dog toys and designer jewelry. 

WATCH: Matt gets 9/11 museum tour from Michael Bloomberg

But some are saying the shop is commercializing a tragedy.

"I honestly don’t think it’s appropriate — selling scarves to commercialize the deaths of 3,000 people,” Brooklyn state Sen. Martin Golden told The New York Post, which kicked off the conversation Sunday. “I don’t think it's right.”

The museum, which officially opens to the public on Wednesday, relies on the proceeds from the sales to help support its operation. It also charges a $24 admission fee to the museum. 

"The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is a nonprofit that does not yet receive any federal, state or city funding for its operations,'' 9/11 Memorial spokesperson Michael Frazier said in a statement to TODAY.com. "To care for the Memorial and Museum, our organization relies on private fundraising, gracious donations and revenue from ticketing and carefully selected keepsake items for retail. The museum store is open during this free dedication period when guests include 9/11 family members, rescuers, recovery workers, survivors and the residents of the local community. In fact, many of our guests from the 9/11 community have visited the shop and purchased a keepsake from their historic experience." 

"Some of these things are in poor taste, I'll grant you that, but they have done such an incredible job with that memorial,'' Willie Geist said on TODAY Monday. "It's such a beautiful, heartbreaking place. I hope people don't judge it based on what's in the gift shop." 

"I could see selling books that are educational,'' Savannah Guthrie said. "I think people have a problem with ornaments or key chains or that kind of thing." 

Pool via Getty Images / Today
President Barack Obama speaks during the opening ceremony for the National September 11 Memorial Museum at ground zero on Friday.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is drafting a proposal to have the memorial classified as a national park so that it would be run by the National Park Service and receive federal funding to reduce the financial burden. 

"To the point, if they can make it a national monument and take that burden of needing the funds off, that would be a nice compromise,'' Tamron Hall said. 

In a Facebook survey, a majority of TODAY viewers said they would buy something from the gift shop at the 9/11 museum. 

  • Slideshow Photos

    Spencer Platt / Getty Images North America

    Image: New September 11th Memorial Museum Holds Preview For Media

    Inside the 9/11 Museum

    The National September 11 Memorial & Museum tell the stories of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, as well as of survivors and first responders.

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    The entrance to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, center, is located between the two reflecting pools at the World Trade Center in New York.

    The Museum, to open May 21, will include exhibits that tell the stories of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, as well as of survivors and first responders. Museum Director Alice Greenwald said the museum is "about understanding our shared humanity," while former mayor Michael Bloomberg called it a reminder "that freedom is not free."

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    Museum entrance -

    Huge steel tridents, salvaged from the facade of the North Tower of the fallen World Trade Center, lead visitors symbolically into the museum.

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    Remembering -

    People visit the museum on May 14 under a stark sign that communicates a world of meaning by simply denoting a date.

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    Mosaic -

    A quote from Roman poet Virgil adorns a mosaic of nearly 3,000 blue tiles that signify the clear blue sky on the morning of 9/11.

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    Video history -

    Video images are displayed inside the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. There are 500 hours of moving images in the musuem.

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    Escape route -

    The “Survivors’ Stairs” were an escape route from the World Trade Center used by many people on 9/11. At the museum they have been installed alongside the final stretch of the ramp by which visitors make their way down to the exhibition galleries.

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    Faces of the hijackers -

    Portraits of the al-Qaeda hijackers are displayed in the 9/11 Museum. The museum also provides a history lesson about Osama bin Laden and the hijackers who seized the jets on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the attackers who previously bombed the World Trade Center in February 1993.

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    Airplane parts -

    Pictured are fragments of the fuselage of Flight 11, which hit the World Trader Center. In all, 76 passengers and 11 crew members aboard American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767, perished when the jet crashed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. And 51 passengers and nine crew members died when United Airlines Flight 175, also a 767, slammed into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. Both flights had departed that morning from Logan International Airport in Boston and were on their way to Los Angeles when they were hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists.

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    Real reminders -

    Detail of objects found after the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon.

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    Twisted metal -

    Steel from the World Trader Center's North Tower, floors 97 and 98, in the 9/11 Museum.

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    Firefighter gear -

    Helmets worn by New York City Fire Department Firefighter Christian Waugh on September 11, 2001.

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    Ladder 3 -

    The remains of “Ladder 3." On the morning of the attacks, it carried 11 firefighters to the scene. All of them died in the collapse of the towers.

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    Search for Osama -

    A sign tracking the time Osama bin Laden was at large is displayed.

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    WTC signs -

    A pay telephone from the 107th floor South Tower Observation Deck and a signal from the below-ground PATH train station found in the wreckage at Ground Zero.

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    Elevator remains -

    An elevator motor sits near a Ladder Company 3 fire truck that was destroyed when the North Tower collapsed.

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    Frozen in time -

    Curators preserved the interior of Chelsea Jeans, including the ash-covered merchandise that owner David Cohen left undisturbed. The clothing store, which was located a block from the towers on Broadway near Fulton Street, became a makeshift shrine and a place of pilgrimage after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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    Transmission tower -

    The twisted remains of a portion of the television transmission tower from the World Trade Center are displayed.

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    Lost eyeglasses -

    A pair of eyeglasses and its case are reminders of how lives were changed that day.

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    The Pentagon attack -

    A Port Authority of New York and New Jersey worker views a display of the attack on the Pentagon.

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    Fire truck remains -

    The remains of New York City Fire Dept. truck from Engine Company 21.

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    Bikes that survived -

    This salvaged bicycle rack was located on Vesey Street at the northern edge of the World Trade Center complex. It was shielded from the impact of cascading debris by 5 World Trade Center and left damaged but largely intact at the end of the day on September 11, 2001.

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    Recovery artifact -

    A recovery mask used by a burn victim from the attacks.

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    Prayers and mementoes -

    Prayer cards, patches and mementos of would-be rescuers who gave their lives at Ground Zero.

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    Todd Beamer's watch and business card -

    The watch and business card of Todd Beamer, who was on Flight 93.

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    Messages to loved ones -

    A message is seen on the bottom of the "Cross," intersecting steel beams found in the rubble of 6 World Trade Center.

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    After the first strike -

    A video image shows what the Twin Towers looked like after the first plane hit.

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    A photograph of one of the World Trade Center towers collapsing after the September 11, 2001 attack.

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    The Last Column -

    The symbolic “Last Column,” a steel beam from one of the World Trade Center towers, stands near the slurry wall that held back the Hudson River from the site. The slurry walls formed “the bathtub,” a skewed rectangle with sides about 980 by 520 feet and as deep as seven stories. The wall withstood the forces of tons of collapsing debris and held in place, preventing the waters of the Hudson from flooding lower Manhattan and the PATH train tunnels after the attacks.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
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    Before the attacks -

    A photograph of what the World Trade Center twin towers looked like before the attacks.

    AFP - Getty Images / AFP - Getty Images

"I have been to the memorial and the gift shop,'' viewer Rachel Woodall commented on Facebook. "I bought a shirt. I feel when I wear it, it helps to remind people of that day and the selfless acts Americans did to help each other. United We Stand." 

"The Oklahoma City memorial museum has a gift shop, and it is really nice,'' Ellen Harwell wrote. "We don't consider it insensitive. It even carries books on discussing difficult topics with children. People have emotional reactions going to places like this. They want to purchase mementos and know it is going to help support the memorial." 

Others disagreed with selling 9/11-related paraphernalia. 

"Considering that this museum exists because so many people were murdered by terrorists on that horrid day, to me, it would be like going to a cemetery and buying a souvenir on the way out,'' viewer Andrea Gentry wrote. "It just seems disrespectful, even though that is not the intent."

"I don't think grief should be commercialized,'' Melody Parkhurst commented. 


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