Soothing Suffering With Steel; Remnants of New York's twin towers are reborn as monuments across the U.S.
By Times Staff Writer.
Source: The Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2003
The Nation; COLUMN ONE; Soothing Suffering With Steel; Remnants of
New York's twin towers are reborn as monuments across the U.S.
The Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles, Calif.; Apr. 2, 2003; Cara Mia DiMassa;
(Copyright The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 2003. All
They say there is solace in the steel.
Nineteen months after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Americans
have found comfort in the mangled carcass of the twin towers. Steel remnants, bearing the
wounds of the tragedy, have become cultural touchstones: the symbols of unified grief and
the instruments for collective healing.
"It speaks to your soul," Mark Ross said of the I-beam -- creased down
the middle and puckered along one edge -- that he worked for six months to bring to
Though New Yorkers have publicly, sometimes acrimoniously, debated how
to build memorials to 911 l, people in communities from Fawnskin, Calif., to Franklin,
N.J., quietly have been getting to work. Across the nation, they have incorporated World
Trade Center steel into more than 250 tributes to the dead.
Girders carefully stacked like Lincoln Logs have become the centerpieces
of municipal gardens. Church bell towers display an incongruous mix of battered metal and
smooth stone. Civic reflecting pools shimmer with wavy images of cold, hard steel.
"Sometimes it takes a physical reminder to convey the spiritual feeling
you have for an incident," said Ross, vice mayor of Martinet, a city of 36,000. "You just
need something physical, something more than a plaque."
For some, the scarred steel shards are like the bones of saints,
carefully preserved in gold and silver reliquaries: objects of worship that speak of pain
and sacrifice. For others, the metal is a symbol of the bodies that will never be
recovered, a rare artifact from a day when America was united in horror and mourning.
"There is this need, this compulsion, to share in the pain and sorrow
of New York," said Emory University religion professor Gary Laderman, an expert on how
Americans relate to death. "But there's something even wider going on, something that
has to do with literally finding ways to bind the social body together, to bind the
national community together."
The pieces of steel, he said, "become touchstones for that."
Builders of monuments to the terrorism victims -- many of whom lack any
personal connection to the tragedy -- say they feel a deep sense of patriotism inherent in
their work. It is not necessarily an endorsement of the war in Iraq, or even a call to
arms for those enforcing homeland security -- although both those views have been
expressed. Rather, it is a tribute to the freedoms that so many think were attacked that
At the Counterterrorism Training Center in Corinth, Texas, Ron Reid
underscored this point as he described the "simple, understated" monument he was
building. The 2-foot structural beam, torn almost in two, will sit on a pedestal near the
entrance to the private center, which trains law enforcement officers to respond to
"Anyone who comes in to training will have to walk past it. I want
them to know why they are here."
Not long after the terrorist attacks, a steady stream of letters,
e-mails and faxes began arriving at New York's Office of Emergency Management. It was
almost too much to handle, said Francis E. McCarton, a deputy commissioner. Sent by
cities, churches and civic groups, they asked for chunks of debris: dust, rocks, steel,
In response, the office and the city's Community Assistance Unit quietly
set aside several hundred pieces of steel for monuments and memorials. New York gave away
what it could -- chopping up some girders, leaving others intact, honoring as many requests
as possible -- until late 2002, when the supply was exhausted.
The city rebuffed anyone wishing to profit from the tragedy. One man
who hoped to make violins out of leftover debris was turned down. Besides, there was
little if any wood left from the shattered buildings.
Recipients had to agree never to use their steel for commercial or
financial gain, and to acknowledge that it might contain asbestos and other contaminants.
Last May, two public works employees from Lafayette, La., traveled to
New York to retrieve a charred, l3-foot piece of steel.
The beam, now cut in two, forms a 1/100-scale model of the towers, which
was placed in the city's Parc Sans Souci in September. Just above the Pentagon-shaped
base, a quote from President Bush is translated into Cajun French: "Terrorist attacks can
shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of
In July, Father Andrew Harrison drove a rented Ford Windstar 1,600
miles, from Palos Hills, Ill., to New York City and back. His only cargo on the return
trip was a 2-foot, 200-pound beam that he had carefully draped with an American flag.
That section of steel, now installed in the narthex of St. Luke Orthodox
Church, sits in front of a copper icon of St. Nicholas. (The New York church named after
the saint was destroyed when the buildings fell.) A rectangular box on top of the steel
holds taper candles, always lighted in remembrance of those who died on 9/11.
A month later, as part of his Eagle Scout project, Ben Narodick
persuaded Federal Express to ship for free a 4-foot, 350-pound I- beam to Fountain Valley
in Orange County.
That piece, now mounted atop a concrete base that he designed and built
with his Boy Scout troop, was placed outside the Fountain Valley public library last
October. It took seven members of Fountain Valley High School's varsity football team to
lift the steel into place at the edge of a long, narrow reflecting pool.
"I think the best part about it is the size of it, the fact that it's
intact," Narodick said. "People don't expect it....It brings to mind the first-hand
experience. That's one of the reasons it's so important the pieces get spread out: to
give a firsthand understanding of what happened."
As the beams crossed the country, on their way to presidential libraries
and small-town firehouses, they were greeted with flag festooned parades and poignant
Father James Moore blessed two of the longest beams before they left
New York on a freight truck bound for his church, Sacred Heart in Albuquerque. When they
arrived, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Albuquerque consecrated the beams with sacred
oil. Sacred Heart Church is in Barelas, one of Albuquerque's oldest and poorest
neighborhoods, just south of downtown. Many of the area's buildings have been neglected,
some abandoned altogether.
"Our neighborhood has kind of died," said the neighborhood association
president, Robert Vigil. But by working together to build the belfry that will house the
two World Trade Center beams, the residents of Barelas have become a community again,
Vigil said. They are devoting time and energy to raising the $250,000 the church needs
to complete the bell tower. They have planned that the beams, each almost 30 feet long,
will stand on end, resting against two walls of the tower. So far, about $100,000 has
been raised, most in small bills.
Moore marvels at the power the beams hold over all who see them.
When he just touched the beam, Vigil said, "9/11 came back once again.
I could picture that day. I could picture everything happening. The fact that lives were
Every day, three to 10 people visit Sacred Heart's courtyard, where a
beam is on display until the bell tower is completed. Some visitors lay flowers or
rosaries at the base of the steel. Others leave pictures and poems.
But most simply touch the beam, say a prayer, and walk away.
"The mixture of blood and bodies and steel and everything that was a
part of the twin towers in that moment of horrible devastation ... led to a sacralization
of all that material," Emory professor Laderman said.
These 9/11 memorials have become modern reliquaries: objects that might
have been discarded but are now venerated as carriers of spiritual power.
Traditionally, such relics often became centerpieces for churches and
temples. The small gothic Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, for example, was built by Louis IX to
house what were believed to be the Crown of Thorns and a part of the True Cross.
But though most relics are the artifacts of a lifetime of struggle, the
pieces of World Trade Center steel were imbued with historic relevance in a matter of
In Fawnskin, on a small lot across from the North Shore Cafe, one of
those pieces, a 2-foot length of I-beam, is perched on five large boulders. Nearby, a
five-line poem is posted on a wooden display: "Swift, the unthinkable carnage; / Forever
the fall-out of righteousness.... "
The poem was written by entertainer Marty Ingels, who with his wife,
actress Shirley Jones, received one of the last pieces of steel from New York City for the
park they have donated to Fawnskin, just north of Big Bear Lake.
Ingels said he designed the park to show his support for President
Bush. The New York native plans to install a sign behind the beam that says, "Grief Is Not
In Martinet, Councilman Ross described the journey of his town's steel,
from rubble to resurrection, as "miraculous." The afoot- long, 2-foot-wide beam was the
focal point of the town's 9/11 commemoration.
For now, the piece sits in the most secure site in Martinet's Beaux-Arts
City Hall: a police evidence locker. A committee will decide how, and where, to build a
The memorial, Ross said, will serve as a powerful introduction to
Martinet, which is the birthplace of Joe DiMaggio.
"We are a very diverse community, perhaps as diverse as the World Trade
Center was in its occupants.... We just want people to know that we haven't forgotten.
There's always time to pause and reflect on that moment, and what it means to us -- not
just the past, but where should we go from here."
Caption: PHOTO: SCOUT'S HONOR: Eagle Scout Ben Narodick persuaded
Federal Express to ship for free a 4-foot, 350pound I-beam to Fountain Valley. It's now
mounted atop a concrete base that he designed and built with his Boy Scout troop, outside
the city's public library.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Robert Lachman Los Angeles Times; PHOTO: NEW
LIFE: The Rev. James Moore leans on a steel beam that was part of the World Trade Center
at Sacred Heart Church in Albuquerque. His parish is incorporating two beams in a new
bell tower.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press; PHOTO: BENEFACTOR: Marty Ingels helped
arrange delivery of a World Trade Center remnant to Fawnskin, Calif.; PHOTOGRAPHER:
Robert Gauthier Los Angeles Times
Credit: Times Staff Writer
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