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9/11 Museum gift shop nixes cheese plate, changes souvenir vetting process

Looking through the windows of the National September 11 Memorial Museum. (Reuters/Justin Lane)
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After days of controversy, the 9/11 Memorial Foundation is changing the way it vets products for the gift shop at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City.

In response to severe criticism from some 9/11 families and the public, foundation president Joe Daniels offered a mea culpa of sorts in a Wall Street Journal interview“The space matters,” Daniels told the Journal on Wednesday. “This is a good reminder that as much ‘success’ as we’ve had…we have to remember that the sensitivity around 9/11 is so high.”

Sept. 11, 2001, family members who serve on the foundation’s board were already involved in the review process for gift shop merchandise, according to foundation officials. But Daniels said the nonprofit foundation, which operates the museum, is adjusting the process:

Merchandise reviews, he said, will now take place in the museum store itself, allowing the vetters to see the items in the context of what many regard as a sacred space. 

Several items sold in the gift shop — from New York Fire Department doggy vests to jewelry and earrings— were disturbing to some 9/11 family members, who viewed them as tasteless offerings at the place where their loved ones died.

In particular, the Journal reported:

One gift-shop item … has raised hackles: a decorative ceramic platter in the shape of the U.S., with heart symbols marking the spots where the hijacked planes made impact on 9/11. As of Tuesday, it was no longer on display in the museum store.

A foundation official confirmed Thursday that the cheese plates are no longer being sold but wouldn’t comment on whether any other items had been removed.

“Once the public starts coming in, you learn so much,” Daniels told the Journal. “We in no way presume to get everything right. We will accept that criticism, absolutely.”

Foundation officials have said repeatedly that gift shop revenues, along with private donations and ticket sales, are necessary to cover the facility’s operational costs. But some family members have made it clear that they oppose a gift shop — regardless of the organizers’ motivations — on a site that also includes the facility holding the remains of people who died there.

“It’s crass commercialism on a literally sacred site,” Kurt Horning, whose son Matthew died on 9/11,  told The Washington Post last week. “It’s a burial ground. We don’t think there should be those things offered on that spot.

“If you want to do it, do it someplace else,” Horning said, “but not right there.”

Changes to the vetting process address concerns about the wisdom of some of the gift shop selections, but they don’t address the decision to include a gift shop onsite.