Eastern Michigan University’s 9/11 memorial in Pease Park, located between Pease Auditorium and Cross Street on the southeast end of campus, was erected on the 10-year anniversary of the tragedy that touched so many Americans’ lives, but it wasn’t until over nine months later the memorial offered visitors any written context, with the following message now ingrained in the memorial steps:
“In honor of the many lives lost in the attacks of September 11, 2001, and to recall the courage shown by so many on that day, we solemnly place this memorial here. May we forever remember their lives and their courage. — Eastern Michigan University, September 11, 2011”
The wording of the memorial inscription was written by EMU professor of American history Mark Higbee, who served on the ad-hoc committee that decided the design and location of the memorial last summer. Downplaying his contribution, he said anyone familiar with memorials could have written the text.
“My hope is that the few words I wrote, and that are now carved on the memorial, will serve to explain the memorial’s purpose and do so for years to come,” Higbee said. “My role in writing these words is not important—the loss of the lives memorialized is.”
EMU’s Physical Plant Division Chief of Operations John Donegan, who oversaw construction of the memorial, said two messages were submitted to the ad-hoc committee for consideration, and most if not all of the committee members preferred Higbee’s text.
Donegan said the inscription wasn’t added to the memorial prior to the dedication ceremony because it was recommended the newly poured concrete steps be allowed to cure over the winter, to prevent chipping during the sandblasting process.
The memorial consists of circular cement slabs that form steps up to the 9/11 artifact: a 14-foot steel support beam weighing about 6,800 pounds and believed to be from the 74th floor, just below where the plane crashed into the World Trade Center’s South Tower; the second building struck but the first to fall.
The beam is a rusty maroon and bears pockmarks and dents likely from falling molten metal or burning jet fuel. One end of the beam looks as if it was simply twisted and torn loose from the building.
EMU’s Executive Director of Media Relations Geoff Larcom said the $1,900 cost of sandblasting the lettering into the cement steps of the memorial was drawn from EMU’s Physical Plant Division funds, which is allocated from the university’s general fund. The initial cost of the memorial project was $25,000, which was primarily paid for by donations and in-kind contributions.
Donegan said, in a June 11 press release by Larcom, long-term plans for the memorial might include installing additional seating in Pease Park, and a wheelchair accessible path to the memorial’s platform.
“No seating has been designed, but my guess is that it would be minimal and reflective of what is already installed,” Donegan said.
He said, in the press release, either project would require a “special discussion” to determine what funding could be obtained.
Donegan was also part of the team that originally transported the beam to EMU last August; it was gifted to the university by the New York Port Authority upon receiving an inquiry letter from EMU President Susan Martin.