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Ground zero museum fight reveals divide

Published: Mon, June 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.

Hundreds of relatives of victims oppose a museum that would focus on mankind's quest for freedom.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Rachel O'Brien has been concentrating on raising her three children since her husband was killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. She hadn't given much thought to what would happen at ground zero.

But when she heard about plans for a museum that would place the attacks in the historical context of mankind's quest for freedom, she got political -- joining more than 900 relatives of victims to sign a petition opposing the plan.

"I have no remains of my husband, and to me that's sacred ground," said O'Brien, 45, whose husband, Michael, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. "That's the last place he was, and I think that the whole area should be all about what happened on that day."

The debate over the International Freedom Center museum is playing out on talk shows, opinion pages and the Web. Victims' relatives protested the museum last week at ground zero, and more than 16,000 people have signed the Internet petition condemning it.

Bitter debate

Critics say the institution is being hijacked by left-wing advisers who blame the United States for the world's wrongs -- and will focus on events with tenuous connection to the terrorist attacks, such as segregation in America and the Holocaust.

Creators of the museum say it will offer inspiring stories of mankind's progress toward liberty, and the controversy will dissolve when people understand the museum's goal of highlighting great moments in the worldwide struggle for freedom.

But interviews with boosters and detractors alike indicate that this month's bitter fight disguises a deeper divide over ground zero.

Museum supporters see the 16 acres where the World Trade Center stood as a bustling future hub of tourism, commerce and culture along with remembrance. With as many as 2 million visitors expected a year, the International Freedom Center will be an engine of the revitalized lower Manhattan when it opens in 2009, they say.

They point out that a separate memorial at ground zero will commemorate the dead.

"The basic idea from the beginning was a memorial place, yes, but not always a sad place, and that's why music and the arts and a museum were always part of this," said Lower Manhattan Development Corp. Director Roland Betts, a business partner of the museum's founder, Tom Bernstein.

That vision bothers many of the victims' relatives, who believe the museum is wrong because it will not focus entirely on the lives lost on Sept. 11.

"I don't think that there should be anything else there but a memorial to those people," said retired New York building inspector Edmund Caviasco, 75, whose daughter, Jean De Palma, died in the trade center collapse.


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