The Press Newspaper
As the country prepares for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, a remnant of one of the towers that crashed to the ground on that grim morning of September 11, 2001, made a somber appearance in Northwood last month.
Former Northwood Mayor John Donegan and a fire marshal from Michigan went to New York City to pick up a piece of the South Tower, which had collapsed with the North Tower after al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked two commercial jets that slammed into the buildings. They transported the fragment, a steel column weighing thousands of pounds, on a flatbed truck to Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where it will be part of a 9/11 memorial on campus.
“Right now, we still have it on the truck because we’re preparing a memorial location for it,” said Donegan, who works at the university. “Our goal is to have it ready to present to the public in its permanent location by Sept. 11 of this year. Since we just picked it up August 3, we have to figure out what we have here because we didn’t know what we were getting.”
Donegan said he got the idea for a memorial after reading an article in the New York Times two years ago about the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey putting together an artifact program that would allow pieces of the remaining World Trade Center to be distributed among non-profit organizations across the country.
“I wrote a letter, on behalf of the president of Eastern Michigan University, to the commissioner of the Port Authority,” said Donegan. He included in the letter that a memorial at the university would be appropriate because of its diverse population.
“We didn’t hear anything for a while. Then they called us a few months ago to say, `Hey, there’s a piece of steel with your name on it.’”
They drove to John F. Kennedy International Airport in Manhattan to pick up the piece, he said, which turned out to be one of the primary columns from the 74th floor of the South Tower, just four floors from the 78th floor, the point of impact.
“It’s a huge column. It’s 14-feet long and weighs 6,800 lbs. It’s really impressive,” said Donegan. “It’s part of the building structure that failed.”
Seeing the column for the first time was a moving experience, he said.
“It’s hard not to feel emotional when you see this piece,” he said.
The historic cargo drew crowds wherever he went, he said. It nearly emptied out restaurants when he stopped for lunch.
“I’ve had people cry over it, pray over it, swear at it, spit at it. There’s a huge emotional impact. The column is so massive, and so close to the impact site, it’s actually ripped in half,” he said.
At rest stops, small talk with strangers about the weather gave way to awe after Donegan revealed what he was carrying.
“The next thing you know, there is a whole crowd of people following me. Truckers are talking on their CBs. We could hardly get out of the rest stops. People were just gravitating towards it. It was that way all the way to Toledo. One of the first places I stopped was Northwood. I went to the school district, the fire department,” he said. He also stopped in Toledo, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, and Rossford.
“In Rossford, I had a chance meeting with an insurance agent who had an appointment with the school superintendent. When I showed him the markings on the column, he really got emotional. He was in the south tower on 911. He said he had run out of the building and was running down one of the streets of Manhattan, talking to his wife on his cell phone, when the second plane flew over him and hit the second tower. He said he went to 48 funerals in 30 days. He was really shaken,” said Donegan. “That is probably the biggest impact that I had from it.”
Mayor Mark Stoner, who was in Northwood’s municipal building on Wales Road when Donegan dropped by, called the steel column “massive.”
“It’s awe inspiring. It’s a big piece of metal. It’s hard to imagine the thousands of degrees it took to melt that steel,” said Stoner, who said he was at work on that fateful day 10 years ago. The column brought back memories of that dark day.
“I remember seeing one of the planes hitting the World Trade Center. I thought of all the people who lost their lives there, what they went through, how high the heat must have been to have melted part of that steel beam, and what other people lived through,” said Stoner. “Wow. It definitely makes you stop and think.”