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New York's Finance Museum Reopens

Financial dealings, investment issues, and money and banking matters often seem complicated and confusing. But the Museum of American Finance, which reopened its doors this week in the heart of Manhattan's financial district, wants to show the public that Wall Street and the international financial world can be better understood, and enjoyed, when armed with the right information. From VOA's New York Bureau, Mona Ghuneim has the story.

After a $9 million makeover and a move to Wall Street, the Museum of American Finance has a new home. The affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute is now in the historic former headquarters of the Bank of New York, located a block away from the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE.

With a residence in the oldest American bank, founded in 1784 by the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, the museum's location is in itself a part of financial history. But the revamped, relocated museum wants to be more than a historical building. It aims to be an entertaining display center, an engaging learning facility and an interactive space where the public can explore the world of finance. And the museum's president Lee Kjelleren says he hopes people will also gain some insight into their own financial choices.

"Our purpose is to help visitors make more effective financial decisions. There's a practical utility in coming here. We're creating public benefit through showcasing the breadth, importance and richness of our financial history," he said.

Kjelleren says the museum serves as an interpreter of current financial issues as well as a guardian of America's collective financial memory. It does the latter through numerous artifacts, including ticker tape from the stock market crash of 1929, a treasury bond signed by President George Washington in 1792, and a 60 pound gold bar prospected during the California Gold Rush and recovered from an 1857 shipwreck.

In addition to objects and original documents, the museum has video installations and audio clips discussing various aspects of finance, such as bonds, stocks and commodities. In one video, former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange John Thain talks about the city and the 217-year-old financial landmark's significance.

"New York City has always been the heart of the US financial system," Thain explained. "It's really where the Exchange has been located since its very beginning and it really is still the capital of not only the US, but the world's financial market place."

Due to increased security, tours at the NYSE were discontinued after the September 11, 2001 attack on the nearby World Trade Center. Museum president Kjelleren says he wants his space down the street to become the Exchange's de facto visitors' center. He says tourists interested in the Exchange now have a place to go and learn more.

Curator and finanical historian Richard Sylla says everyone has something to learn at the museum, even the Wall Street wheelers and dealers. He says he hopes they too will be attracted by the museum's offerings.

"I think Wall Street's going to learn from this museum, the American people are going to learn from this museum, foreigners are going to really visit what is the first financial history museum in the world," he said.

With the US dollar still dropping against the euro, the subprime mortgage and credit crisis headlining business news, and oil prices reaching the 100-dollar mark, maybe we could all benefit from a better understanding of money, and how it makes the world go around.