9/11: Colorado's Memorials
After the twin towers fell and recovery operations progressed, the New York and New Jersey Port Authority began storing tons of rusted steel beams from the World Trade Center. After considering thousands of applications for the steel, the Port Authority began shipping the modern artifacts across the country this year—including 15 pieces to Colorado.
These objects—both large and small—are now being transformed into 9/11 memorials.
More than half of Colorado’s Trade Center steel was shipped to fire protection districts across the state. Louisville Deputy Chief Michael Schick says his 116 pound piece of history arrived weeks ago from a UPS deliveryman. Like other recipients, he doesn’t know the details about its previous existence.
“All we know is the size, weight and it does have an id number,” he says. “And you can see some of the marks on it and obvious twist that’s there.”
The steel is three feet by two feet, a size Schick says is “perfect” for Louisville’s memorial to the firefighters and paramedics who died on 9/11—343 total. The twisted, rusted steel will be incorporated into the wall of a redesigned training room. The theme will be “never forget.” And Schick says that’s an important message for all firefighters to keep in mind.
“Hopefully this is another reminder that what we do is dangerous, but we have to work at it to make sure we’re as safe as possible,” he says.
But decades ago, Americans weren’t so quick to memorialize tragic events like terrorist attacks. That’s according to Ken Foote, a Geography professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies memorials.
“If we were to go back a few decades or century, it would have been very unusual to commemorate something like this,” he says.
Foote says it took decades after the bombing of Pearl Harbor for monuments to appear. That’s because many saw the event as an emblem of America’s failures in WWII. Contrast that with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, after which people immediately began planning for a memorial space.
“I think there are gradual changes in people’s attitudes. There’s a greater willingness to see these events as part of our way of life—that it’s not that exceptional,” he says.
That means more memorials are being set up across the country. And that translates into more local interpretations of national events.
Up the road in Windsor, Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Dykstra moves his 75-pound piece of steel on a piece of beige carpet.
“It’s kind of an interesting piece because on top plate it has concrete and steel pins, so it’s not just a hunk of steel,” he says.
He’s in the Windsor-Severance Fire Museum, which will be the object’s long-term home. But Dykstra and other Windsor officials have plans to make this 9/11 artifact even more portable—mounting it on a steel platform with wheels.
“We actually meant for it to be an opportunity to take it… to the other fire stations, as well as other public education events that are going on throughout the city,” he says.
While the memorials across Colorado today are different, one thing that all locations can count on, according to CU Professor Ken Foote, is that the memory of what 9/11 means will change over time.
Pearl Harbor launched America’s involvement in WWII, which ended three-and-a-half years later. But questions tied to 9/11 haven’t been resolved yet.
“There’s this disagreement: Was it useful to invade Iraq or Afghanistan? Is the world safer now than it was 10 years ago? Because many of those questions are still unanswered, I think some of this debate will continue on for a long, long time,” he says.