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Tissues, counselors help ease pain at 9/11 museum

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FILE – In this May 15, 2014 file photo, a quote from Virgil fills a wall of the museum prior to the dedication ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York. The museum was designed with the psychological well-being of the public in mind. But behind the wrenching sights and sounds of the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum lies a quiet effort to help visitors handle its potentially traumatic impact, from built-in tissue boxes to a layout designed to let people bypass the most intense exhibits if they choose. (AP Photo/The Star-Ledger, John Munson, Pool)

FILE – In this May 15, 2014 file photo, a quote from Virgil fills a wall of the museum prior to the dedication ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York. The museum was designed with the psychological well-being of the public in mind. But behind the wrenching sights and sounds of the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum lies a quiet effort to help visitors handle its potentially traumatic impact, from built-in tissue boxes to a layout designed to let people bypass the most intense exhibits if they choose. (AP Photo/The Star-Ledger, John Munson, Pool)

FILE- In this May 15, 2014 file photo, a steel beam from the World Trade Center stands at the center of Foundation Hall where the dedication ceremony will take place at the National September 11 Memorial Museum 2014 in New York. With consideration given to psychological well-being of museum patrons, the museum is designed to accurately show the events of September 11, 2001, while giving those patrons who may be too sensitive ample warning to avoid some of the more graphic exhibits. (AP Photo/The Star-Ledger, John Munson, Pool)

FILE- In this May 14, 2014 file photo, steel from the World Trade Center north tower floors 97 and 98, left, is displayed at the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum in New York. The museum was designed to accurately depict the events for September 11, 2001 while not making the presentation intolerable for the public. One designer who helped create the exhibits says “there’s a lot of thought given to the psychological safety of visitors.†(AP Photo)

FILE- In this May 14, 2014 file photo, a sign tracking the time Osama Bin Laden was at large is displayed at the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum in New York. The museum is the latest in a series of memorials-as-museums that seek to honor the dead while presenting a full, fair history of the event that killed them. And the Sept. 11 museum strives to do that at ground zero while the attacks are still raw memories for many. (AP Photo)

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NEW YORK (AP) — There are prominent videos of the twin towers collapsing and photos of people falling from them. Portraits of nearly 3,000 victims and voice mail messages from people in hijacked planes.

But behind the wrenching sights and sounds of the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum lies a quiet effort to help visitors handle its potentially traumatic impact, from silent spaces and built-in tissue boxes to a layout designed to let people bypass the most intense exhibits.

Discreet oak-leaf symbols denote items connected to the dead, and the images of falling victims are in an alcove marked with a warning sign. Designers made sure rooms have ample exits, lest people feel claustrophobic in the underground space. And American Red Cross counseling volunteers were standing by as the museum opened to the public Wednesday.

“There’s a lot of thought given to the psychological safety of visitors,” said Jake Barton, who helped create the exhibits.

During the opening ceremony, the enormous national 9/11 flag was unfurled, refolded and marched into the museum by firefighters. The flag was flying from a building near the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and was later found shredded in the debris of ground zero.

People touched by other disasters and tragedies helped piece the flag back together. Organizers say it now includes a piece of the flag Abraham Lincoln was placed on after he was assassinated.

“It’s something that we’ll never forget,” said Jim Guillard of Fort Myers, Florida, as he headed into the museum with his 17-year-old daughter, Tori.

More than 42,000 9/11 survivors, victims’ relatives, first responders and recovery workers had visited during the past six days, when it was open only to them, according to Executive Director Joe Daniels.

It’s the latest in a series of memorials-as-museums that seek to honor the dead while presenting a full, fair history of the event that killed them. And the Sept. 11 museum strives to do that at ground zero while the attacks are still raw memories for many.

Patricia Smith, 14, found herself looking at her late mother’s police shield while touring the museum last week. She found it inspiring, but also “really upsetting, at points.”

Museum planners realized early on the challenge of trying not to shatter people “while at the same time being true to the authenticity of the event,” said Tom Hennes, founder of exhibit designer Thinc Design.

Trauma specialists told museum leaders that sounds of voices and images of hands and faces could be particularly distressing and that visitors should get to choose what to see.

The goal: “to keep it feeling alive and present without making it so alive and present that it’s unbearable,” says psychologist Billie Pivnick, who worked with Thinc.

To allow visitors an emotional breather, silent spaces with few artifacts surround the densely packed historical exhibit that follows the timeline of 9/11, set off by a revolving door. Elsewhere, a room where visitors can call up recorded recollections about individual victims was designed as a quiet sanctum for feelings, with tissue dispensers embedded in the benches and acoustically padded walls, Hennes said.

The historical exhibit, crafted by another firm, Layman Design, envelops visitors in images, information, objects and sounds, but designers sought to avoid emotional overload.

Ambient sounds of emergency radio transmissions and

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