An artifact from the 9/11 tragedy has found a new home at Eastern Michigan University after the university was selected by the New York Port Authority, according to officials.
The 14-foot building column, which weighs almost 6,800 pounds, was a part of the World Trade Center and came into EMU’s possession Wednesday morning.
The Physical Plant’s Chief of Operations John Donegan, who was responsible for transporting the column, said he has already witnessed a wide range of emotions.
“This thing really draws a lot of attention and once people realize what it is, they get flooded with emotion,” Donegan said.
“We’ve had people come up to it and they cried when they saw it. It’s very humbling and it’s just a real somber experience. We’ve had people pray over it and we’ve had people get mad because of the destruction that was caused, but everyone was grateful they saw it.”
Donegan said the university was chosen as the column’s permanent residence after EMU President Susan Martin mailed a letter to the commissioner of the New York Port Authority.
“We were fortunate enough to be selected to be given one of the artifacts from the World Trade Center,” he said.
Walter Kraft, VP of Communications and Public Affairs, said the university has plans for the column, but the details have yet to be finalized.
“As far as what we’re going to do with it, we haven’t quite nailed all of that down,” Kraft said. “We are going to do some type of memorial.”
Donegan said the column will be placed in front of the Halle Library.
“The tenth year anniversary of 9/11 will be happening this year and our hope is to have it installed in a permanent way by that date,” Donegan said.
Kraft said after the port authority decided to give EMU the artifact, they only had one stipulation — EMU had to transport it to Ypsilanti. This turned out to be quite an experience, Donegan said.
“It was kept in Hanger 17 of the John F. Kennedy Airport,” Donegan said. “We weren’t allowed to go into Hanger 17. They brought the piece out to us and we had to be very respectful. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures and we had to get in and get the column and then get it loaded and strapped down and they asked us to leave right away. They didn’t want us to draw a lot of attention to that area apparently.”
Maneuvering the truck and column in New York was not an easy task, Donegan said.
“It’s so big,” he said. “We had to take a special truck to haul it because of its size, and driving and navigating through Manhattan on 34th Street with a truck that large was pretty difficult. It was a real challenge to get through that town.”
Currently, the column is in the front of the Physical Plant, but the university plans to give “cursory tours” to local fire departments in the area.
“They’re the ones that really have a lot of equity in this and so we wanted to give a sneak preview to some of the firefighters and policemen in the area,” Donegan said.
“They’re very grateful that they have a chance to see it and are very appreciative of the fact. They felt the sympathy for their fellow firefighters and policeman that lost their lives. I think a lot of folks were very grateful that they actually had the opportunity to see it and touch it. If you look at it, you would just be amazed at the size. You don’t see steal like that in any of the areas around here.”
For EMU to be given the opportunity to have a piece of 9/11 history is a privilege as well as humbling, Donegan said.
“I think it’s an honor and a privilege to have us be one of the first universities, if not the first university, in the country to have one of these,” he said.
Although the artifact might cause controversy, Donegan believes it will add to the already rich history of the university.
“There’s some folks that have differing opinions on [the artifact]; putting [the column] on campus in a permanent way will create a lot of controversy, but it will also add to the fabric of our campus by getting people to talk about situations like that which occurred on 9/11,” he said.