When the World Trade Center fell nearly 10 years ago, there was little left of its once-majestic towers but scattered bits of steel and a sorrow that blanketed the nation.
Now as the site is rebuilt, that steel is being ferried to communities around the country and the world to commemorate the lives lost that Tuesday.
The tiny town of Clyde, chosen from among 1,500 vying for the honor, is one of the lucky locales to garner hunks of the twisted metal that once framed the towers.
The steel rode into town with a guard of honor last week after being trucked by local firemen from New York’s JFK Airport. A hangar there has become the staging area for World Trade Center artifacts as they await distribution to monuments across the globe.
Mitchell Sellars, chief of the Clyde Volunteer Fire Department and one of the men who went to ferry the steel back down the Eastern seaboard, said the warehouse full of the towers’ remains is an unreal sight.
“There’s a bike rack that has a lot of the bicycles still chained to it that were pretty much destroyed. There was only one of the people who made it back alive,” said Sellars of the charred bikes’ owners.
He said that it was in honor of the days’ victims that the department decided last year to put in an application for some of the steel, after hearing, via the Internet, of the plan to give it out.
Altogether, there were 1,500 applicants who asked the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for remnants of the wreckage. According to Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the port authority, they have about 1,040 pieces to give out and 450 have been distributed already.
The criteria for getting the metal is simple: the applicant must be a non-profit or government organization and have a plan to display the pieces publicly.
The plan for the two pieces Clyde now owns — two six-foot-long I-beams, weighing in at around 1,000 pounds — is not yet solidified. But Sellars said the department is in talks with local architects, trying to work out a design that would be fitting.
The monument will eventually sit in front of the fire department on Carolina Boulevard, commemorating the 2,819 people who died in the WTC bombings, especially, Sellars said, the firefighters.
“We just feel like its something that we can create a memorial, not only for the citizens that lost their lives but mainly the firefighters that lost their lives,” said Sellars. When he and fellow firefighters went to New York to collect the beams, they spent some time visiting other fire departments around the city. The experience, he said, was heart-wrenching, even 10 years later.
“It’s still very close to home for a lot of those guys because they worked with them, beside them every day,” said Sellars. Sellars is hopeful that Clyde’s memorial to the 343 firefighters and paramedics killed in the collapse of the towers will be unveiled by this September 11.
Since the designs are in the planning stages, it’s unclear how much the monument will cost, but the department plans to launch fund drives to help make it a reality.
As for the rest of the steel, Coleman said he’s hopeful that the port authority will have the remaining portions donated to worthy memorials within the year. The pieces are doled out on a first-come, first-served basis to eligible groups, but since the response was so robust, applications aren’t being taken anymore.
“We’re already overloaded with applications,” said Coleman, “but the ones that we did take were from entities that could ensure that it would be in a public display.”
The lion’s share of the steel from the World Trade Center was sold, to be recycled into new and reusable steel. Around 150 pieces were retained for research, while the rest is being kept in JFK’s Hangar 17, waiting for Ground Zero’s memorial and museum to be christened on the tenth anniversary of the attacks.