A steel beam from the World Trade Center acts as an interactive memorial at Pease Park on the southeast corner of Eastern Michigan University's campus.
The steel beam acquired in 2011 is approximately 14 feet long and is 6,800 pounds. EMU’s president at the time, Susan Martin, was reading the New York Times one night and saw a story that artifacts from the World Trade Center would become available to institutions upon request. There were nearly 1,300 artifacts recovered, and EMU received one of them.
The process between requesting the artifact and getting confirmation that they got it lasted months. Acquiring the beam itself took almost a year to receive. EMU was told the beam was theirs if they could come pick it up from the New York Port Authority.
Head of the EMU physical plant at the time, John Donegan, and safety systems manager of the physical plant, Kevin Abbasse, were the two people who went to retrieve the beam. They took a flatbed truck from Ypsilanti to New York, N.Y. to pick up the beam. When arriving, a crane was brought in to retrieve it. They soon made their journey back to campus.
“For everyone it's an emotional thing to remember,” Walter Kraft, Vice President of Division of Communications at EMU, said. “We all knew the horrific circumstances that surround this beam.”
When stopping anywhere on the way back to Ypsilanti, people would approach the drivers about the beam. Many would want to touch the beam and would even cry seeing it. Everyone, including the drivers, were emotionally affected by this artifact.
The steel beam that the university received is from the 74th floor of the south tower, four floors below where the second plane crashed into the tower.
A committee consisting of faculty, staff, and others was created to find the perfect placement for the beam on EMU’s campus, putting a lot of thought and time into how to present this artifact. Originally, the plan was to place the beam outside of the university’s Halle Library. But after the committee was concluded, it was decided that they would build Pease park for the memorial.
The space around the Pease auditorium was quiet and accessible to all, being a major goal for the artifact. Another goal for the placement of the beam was to have it visible to not only the campus community, but to the surrounding community of Ypsilanti, and creating Pease Park was the perfect setting for that.
“We want people to be able to feel it,” Kraft said. “We wanted it to be accessible and touchable.”
When going to the edges of the beam, you can where it's been melted. This shows the force of the building collapsing by how it effected a large steel beam.
“We maintain the grounds, we maintain the pedestal that the beam is placed on, but we intentionally do not do anything to the beam to preserve it,” Kraft said. “It's a steel beam so it will be preserved for as long as it's there, and we want people to see it authentically.”
The pedestal the beam is placed on is engraved with a message about those who lost their lives on Sept. 11.
“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.”
The university plans to hold events in the future for 9/11 on milestone years rather than every year. They plan for an event in 2026 for the 25th anniversary of the attacks.
“I think it's important that we all never forget that day,” Kraft said. “It's a reminder of what happened and how precious freedom is and how precious life is, and is important for us to remember.”