World Trade Center steel to be part of Cedar Rapids 9/11 ceremony

Steel will be part of permanent memorial at new Central Fire Station

Monument made from WTC steel, Clarence Center, N.Y.
Monument made from WTC steel, Clarence Center, N.Y.

In Cedar Rapids and more than 1,000 other communities nationwide, an actual piece of the World Trade Center will be at the center of this weekend's memorial observance.

A section† of WTC steel will be displayed at Sunday's Remember, Reflect and Respect service set for 2 p.m. at Veteranís Memorial Stadium, fire department spokesman Greg Buelow said.

At the same time, a monument with a 20-foot section of† a WTC structural beam will be dedicated in Monticello.

Using pieces of a larger object to create smaller relics is nothing new, although there are few such recent examples, said archaeologist Katina Lillios, who teaches in the University of Iowa Anthropology Department.

"The breaking up and distribution of the WTC beams is really a form of relic-making, and there are many examples of this in history," Lillios wrote in an email.

In the Middle Ages, people exhumed Christian saints to make sacred relics of their bones, and in prehistoric Portugal ans Spain engraved slate plaques that had been buried with the dead were broken up and made into pendants - that also eventually made their way into a burial.

More recently, Lillios noted pieces of the Berlin Wall have made their way to sale on eBay.

"People create and venerate relics to make it possible to have a personal connection with the powerful event or person," she said.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the World Trade Center's owner, began setting aside steel soon after the attack, spokesman Steve Coleman said.

"The primary purpose for collecting it 10 years ago was to have some sort of remnants for a monument at the site," said Coleman. "Back in the early part of 2010, we started accepting applications."

The Port Authority has distributed remnants of the WTC wreckage to about 1,300 communities in all 50 states and seven foreign countries.

"The main guideline is that it be used for a public display or public memorial," Coleman said. The receiving community or agency is responsible for transport and storage.

After fielding about 2,000 requests, "we're pretty much out of steel at this point," Coleman said.

Monticello City Administrator Doug Herman said the monument next to the city's public safety building was paid for through private donations. A Monticello resident brought the Port Authority program to the city's attention after reading an article about it, and Police Chief Britt Smith arranged for transport.

Monticello's beam arrived in June, in time to be displayed at the Great Jones County Fair. Herman said reaction has been genuinely positive.

Cedar Rapids' WTC steel will be incorporated into a monument at the city's new central fire station.

"I think itís even more touching and personal to know it came from the site," said Melanie Abzug. "Iím glad to see it go in such a prominent place. I hope it has an impact and is more than just another plaque."

Abzug, 17, a Kennedy High School senior, called the fire department and City Councilmember Kris Gulick after reading about the Port Authority program about two years ago. Buelow said department officials had already made their application but appreciated Abzug's support.

"She put it upon herself to contact us and get engaged in the idea, so she was a part of it as well," said Gulick.

Abzug, a second grader in Indiana on Sept. 11, 2001, said the monument will be a tangible connection† with history.

ďI was sad, I didnít want to see people dying, but I didnít have any connection," she said. "As Iíve grown older, I think Iíve felt more of a connection. Being able to do something like this, to commemorate those who fought and who died, seemed pretty special."

"Only time will tell whether the WTC beams will become sacred or historical relics, but they will certainly gain in value the longer that people hold on to them," Lillios wrote. 

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