Memorial to honor Philadelphia's 9/11 victims

Posted: September 12, 2012

On Tuesday, as thousands congregate in New York to remember the victims of the World Trade Center attacks, a much smaller group will gather on the banks of the Schuylkill to unveil a new memorial to Philadelphians who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

The work, designed by the local landscape design firm Wells Appel, incorporates a steel I-beam from a floor of one of the towers.

The beam helped the Schuylkill River Development Corp., which oversees Schuylkill River Park, realize two goals: adding artwork to the park's popular recreational path and creating a memorial to those who died on 9/11.

The dedication of the memorial will take place at 1 p.m. at the site, just south of Chestnut Street on the river.

A number of business and civic leaders, including Mayor Nutter, are expected to attend.

Joe Syrnick, president of the Schuylkill River Development Corp., had been hoping to place some kind of art or memorial there since the greenway first opened in 2004.

But paying for it was always a challenge. When Syrnick learned a few years ago that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was giving away pieces of steel from the destroyed World Trade Center towers, a plan began to emerge.

While many cities already had erected memorials to those who died on 9/11, Philadelphia had only a mural on the wall of a West Philadelphia building owned by Elsie Goss-Caldwell, whose son, Kenneth, who lived in Manhattan, died that day. There is a 9/11 memorial in Lower Makefield Township that honors all the victims from Bucks County.

Philadelphia was so close to New York that Syrnick and others decided the banks of the Schuylkill offered a peaceful spot to contemplate the lives lost in the horrific attacks.

Syrnick arranged to haul a World Trade Center I-beam to Philadelphia. Stuart Appel, a principal of Wells Appel, agreed to design the memorial for a reduced fee. Syrnick said his organization was paying for the work. He still is tabulating the cost, which he expects to be as much as $50,000.

Appel said he wanted to keep the memorial simple. He had the steel beam mounted so that it juts out of a black granite square whose dimensions are 9 feet 11 inches. The bolts that had secured the beam to a tower floor protrude from the steel, a helter-skelter reminder of the way the day twisted lives forever. And the beam points toward the old World Trade Center site.

"The juxtaposition of the twisted-steel relic and the reflection of the sky in the stone creates a paradigm between the horror of the 9/11 attack and the reflection of the heavens above," Appel said.

The jarring placement of the steel beam symbolizes how the terrorist attacks forced many Americans to recognize the country's vulnerability, said Appel, whose firm has restored the landscapes of the north garden at Christ Church and Longwood Gardens' main fountain garden.

"Before 9/11, everybody in this country really felt very safe, very defended," Appel said. "With the attacks, that all changed."

As visitors walk around the memorial, they will see the names and birth and death dates of the three people who were living in Philadelphia and died at the World Trade Center: Christopher Robert Clarke, who lived in Rittenhouse Square and worked in Manhattan as a bond trader for Sandler O'Neill & Partners; Kevin Leah Bowser, a Wynnefield resident who worked as a software-applications trainer for Marsh & McLennan; and Jasper Baxter, an employment consultant for Lee Hecht Harrison, a career-services firm.

At the ceremony, organizers plan to read from a letter from the Clarke family. They will attend the New York memorial service, but Philadelphians who attend the Schuylkill dedication can hear about Christopher Clarke, forever known as "Buddha" for the way his belly spilled over his diaper when he was a baby.

With relatively limited space, Schuylkill River Development Corp. officials decided to inscribe the names only of those victims who lived in Philadelphia at the time of the attacks, but Syrnick said the memorial is meant as a much broader tribute.

"This is a memorial to everybody that was affected that day," he said.


Contact Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520 or hillmb@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @miriamhill.

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