New Eastern Michigan University 9/11 memorial steel beam stirs emotions at unveiling
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
The memorial features a 14-foot, 6,800-pound steel beam from the World Trade Center displayed on a concrete base in Pease Park, located at the corner of Perrin and Cross streets in the southeastern corner of EMU's campus.
Many who watched the unveiling said they came to pay their respects.
“It’s amazing, and I’m so glad we have something local here,” said Ypsilanti resident Randy Hall, who lives a few blocks away from the memorial. “It just brings all the feelings back.”
Speakers at the event, including U.S. Rep. John Dingell and Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, used the ceremony to reflect on the examples of heroism from the chaotic day and remember how Americans came together in its aftermath.
Dingell said he hopes the memorial serves as a reminder to Americans that they are many and diverse.
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
The beam used in the memorial appears to be from the 74th floor of the South Tower, with the words “South” and “74” written on it from when the building was originally constructed.
“We are not certain, but [if so] it was very near to where the plane hit at the 78th floor,” said Geoff Larcom, executive director of Media Relations at EMU. If so, the beam had fallen roughly 900 feet that day.
The beam is thought to have been about 30 feet long in its original form, and likely to have been a primary structural beam from the center of the building.
The jagged edge at one end indicates where the beam tore apart.
“From the buckling and the way it was cut off at the end, temperatures had to be close to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit,” said John Donegan, head of the EMU physical plant.
He pointed out markings on the beam where debris fell during the tower's destruction and was singed onto it; other markings are believed to be trails of jet fuel.
Donegan says they are trying to determine how to coat the beam to preserve the markings without losing its integrity.
Members of the EMU Department of Public Safety and Ypsilanti Fire Department saluted while a bagpiper circled the memorial playing "Amazing Grace."
There were some tears in the crowd as people lined up and slowly walked past the memorial, touching its grooves and stopping to take pictures. Someone laid flowers on one end of the beam.
Eastern Michigan acquired the artifact from the New York Port Authority earlier this summer as part of a program to distribute items from Ground Zero for memorials and other demonstrations. EMU was selected following a formal request from university President Susan Martin two years ago.
There were 2,000 requests submitted for 1,300 pieces of steel.
“It is an important part of our history and a lot of people — such as my grandchildren who were not even born yet — can learn from that and remember,” said Martin. “I think it is wonderful to have it at a public university.”
Although they can’t be sure, university officials believe this is one of the largest pieces of steel available of the artifacts, which ranged from pieces of the outer buildings to smaller sections of beams.
In early August, Donegan and coworker Kevin Abbasse drove in a flatbed truck to John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the items were being stored.
When they returned with it, university officials formed a committee of faculty, students and administrators to quickly put together a plan to design a simple yet powerful memorial and determine an appropriate site.
A grassy spot was selected in Pease Park framed by a ledge of stones and spotted with trees.
“It is a nice corner of campus where people can experience it in their own individual way,” said Larcom, who explained that due to the strong feelings it may produce, the committee strongly felt the need for a site that gave a certain amount of privacy for visitors.
“It was clear that people needed to be able to touch it and feel the tear in the steel where it was pulled off and where the molten steel had melted the course of the beam,” Larcom said. That's also the reason the beam is faced horizontally and not vertically, he said.
Heavy equipment was needed to lift the beam from the truck and place it on top of a circular platform with steps.
The ground will be configured to build a sidewalk extension in order to be wheelchair accessible and a committee will be formed to determine an inscription to be placed on the memorial.
“There will be room for input from various people and the community, which has been invaluable so far,” said Larcom. “We are very happy that in the space of a month we were able to build a tasteful memorial that everyone is happy with.”