A new addition to Eastern Michigan University’s campus has produced several strong reactions along its journey from the JFK Airport.
The 6,800-lb., 14-ft. long piece of metal has a story behind it and a future purpose. After serving as a structural support beam in the World Trade Center before falling to ruins, it was transported to Eastern Michigan University where it will become a memorial for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
“Their entire demeanor would change when we told them what it was,” said Kevin Abbasse, a retired fire marshal who drove 15 hours to retrieve the beam. “They’d go from, ‘That’s an awful long trip to make back to Michigan with a hunk of ugly, dusty metal,’ to, ‘Oh my God. It can’t be.’”
“It’s phenomenal what something of that magnitude can bring out in a person,” Abbasse said.
Burns from violent heat damage are evidently noticeable, but the rugged steel, 3 inches thick in diameter, remains sturdy.
“The size of this thing is massive,” Abbasse said. “We don’t have materials even close to this size on campus – not even for our largest buildings.”
According to iron and construction workers who have inspected it occasionally, a column of that size probably would have come from the middle of a building. Traces of the word ‘south’, and the number ‘74,’ prove it was mounted on the 74th floor of the South Tower — the second tower to be hit by a plane and the first to be destroyed.
There are concerns over it being too graphic for campus, according to John Donegan, Chief of Operations at EMU’s Physical Plant.
“I’ve seen people cry over it, pray over it, swear at it…,” said Donegan, who was also present on the trip to New York. “It brings out all kinds of emotions in people. I have no clue what will happen after we put it up.”
Donegan, Abbasse and a dedicated collection of art students, sculptors and physical plant members have spent roughly three weeks thoroughly brainstorming design concepts, a construction process and the location for the finished memorial. The placement is still undecided, but construction was confirmed to begin next Monday.
“We’re putting in what most groups put in after a whole year to accomplish what we want to accomplish,” Abbasse said. “We’re not rushing it either.”
The two biggest challenges are finalizing location and design, according to Donegan.
“We don’t want to take away from it by building a gaudy memorial,” he said. “It deserves something more appropriate than that; for all it represents.”
Originally, President Susan Martin had expressed interest in gathering a piece of the World Trade Center for display at the university after reading an article on the movement of certain parts to the JFK Airport. She wasn’t contacted for an opportunity until a year later.
“We got to Hangar 17 where it was kept and were told to ring the doorbell, tie it down to our truck and leave,” Abbasse said. “We couldn’t even take pictures.”
The task at Hangar 17 was quicker than Abbasse or Danegan had expected, but the feeling of pride lasted the whole way home.
“It was a real honor and privilege,” Donegan said. “I’ll never forget it.”
The steel column has remained in a secure environment and traveled to trade shows within the fire industry as well as various firehouses across southeast Michigan. EMU’s memorial will be unveiled on Sept. 11.