By Vicki de Vries
Readers may or may not recall the details surrounding the 9/11 Memorial project, which Inside Chappaqua covered in a 2004 issue. Now is a good time to review a bit of history. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, many citizens thought about the need for a memorial, but not everyone had the determination of Michael Wolfensohn, a Chappaqua resident. In December 2001, he had contacted the City of New York for steel from Ground Zero to build a 9/11 Memorial. Nine months and scores of phone calls later, he was elated to receive two 18-inch eye beams.
A company in New Jersey donated their services to galvanize the metal, which thus would be preserved for at least 75 years. Wolfensohn and several friends then started Steel Beams, Inc., a not-for-profit organization to raise money for a suitable memorial. In February 2003, Wolfensohn met with the Town Board, and after several months of deliberation, the Board voted in favor of building a memorial at Duck Pond.
Sadly, a firestorm ensued when a dozen or so neighbors protested, and by August, sued the Town. Objections varied from if a memorial were built, “it would be as if Osama bin Laden had won.” Duck Pond would become a “tourist trap” or cause annoying traffic jams.
A Rocky Road
“I went through six years of craziness to convince people that building the 9/11 Memorial was a good thing,” Wolfensohn said. To his credit, he took the objections in stride. “I never took things personally,” he said, when people got very emotional and someacted rudely toward him. “You’re entitled to your opinion. I just disagree with it,” he would tell them. Instead of arguing, he tried to build consensus. Studying what other communities had done in building memorials proved helpful in making his case for the local memorial.
Part of the resistance, as Wolfensohn sees it, was based on a lack of understanding about the true purpose of the 9/11 Memorial: “to help people reflect on the day [9/11] and to focus on the warm feelings of community and unity that had surfaced during the days and weeks after the event. People had been more patient and friendly toward each other.” In January 2004, the lawsuit against the Town was dismissed, and a month later, the Town Board reopened the site selection process. For some odd reason, the Board chose Duck Pond as the site once again, but then decided to drop it altogether and search for a new location. In October, the Board began looking for a landscape designer and in February 2005, hired StevenYarbeck of Hudson & Pacific Designs.
A Time To Build
As the weeks and months dragged by, no suitable site for the 9/11 Memorial could be found. Until one day, while stopped in traffic on Route 133 near Gedney Park in Millwood, Town Supervisor Barbara Gar- How The 9/11 Memorial Finally Found its Home Making Michael Wolfensohn’s Dream Come True By Vicki de Vries • Photos by Sylvain Côté September/October 2010 Inside Chappaqua 23 rard “just happened” to glance at the empty caretaker’s house scheduled for demolition. “It struck me that the spot would be ideal since it would resolve the main problems which had plagued the Duck Pond site, including parking.” Things again seemed to be moving in the right direction. The Town Board approved the spot at Gedney Park, and Yarbeck continued working on the design. Then suddenly in December, the Board voted 3 to 2 to build the 9/11 Memorial without using the steel beams. Wolfensohn felt crushed. “I told the Board if they built the Memorial without the steel beams, then Steel Beams, Inc. would not be able to give them the $26,000.”
How could there be a 9/11 Memorial without the authentic steel beams from Ground Zero? Eventually, the Board came around, but precious time already had been lost. After the Groundbreaking Ceremony on September 11, 2007, Wolfensohn spent hours going over every detail of the design with Yarbeck.
The final design included the two eye beams mounted on gray granite platforms, a waterfall, fountain, and benches. Trees, bushes, and flowers would be added to enhance the peaceful setting. The construction was coming along through the dog days of summer. Just before its completion, another resident, Robert G. Coulombe, then chair of the Town Board’s Memorial Committee, suggested adding a plaque with the names of the 179 volunteers who been part of the massive relief effort from New Castle. “Every volunteer organization in New Castle had assembled trucks, blankets, water and other supplies. People had traveled back and forth to the epicenter of the tragedy to provide whatever help they could,” said Barbara Gerrard. Coulombe himself had been one among several residents who had helped to organize the volunteers.
Not surprisingly, the Town Board readily approved the plaque. Wolfensohn said: “It fit in perfectly with the whole purpose of the memorial or to bring to mind the sense of community and unity that had made friends of utterstrangers.” A plaque was also appropriate, said Gerrard, because the effortsof those dedicated people “should never be forgotten.”
A Special Dedication
On September 11, 2008, amid much fanfare and press, close to 400 people attended the Dedication of the newly constructed 9/11 Memorial. Everyone who had worked hard to make the dream a reality must have felt great satisfaction. Especially Michael Wolfenson, who always would remember what can be accomplished when people work together for the common good. Now, if anyone asks whether New Castle has a 9/11 Memorial, residents can point with pride to the one built for the “entire community” in Gedney Park. This year, September 11 falls on a Saturday. Why not plan to visit the beautiful spot and pause for a moment of silence?
[Note: The total cost of the 9/11 Memorial turned out to be exactly $250,060, and is being paid through a bond that will extend until 2014. Steel Beams, Inc., which raised $26,500, gave it to the Town Board to help defray costs.]
Vicki de Vries is a freelance writer/ editor who also teaches writing. The opportunity to write an historical drama for the sesquicentennial of a town in the Midwest has helped her more fully to appreciate the importance of local history and the need to preserve it.