It's hard to believe that soon it will be 10 years since terrorists attacked America on a brilliantly blue, late summer morning, Sept. 11, 2001.
On Friday, pieces of the World Trade Center that crumbled and fell after being flown into by hijacked commercial airliners arrived in Oak Lawn. A flatbed semi truck carrying 30,000 pounds of steel beams from the former Twin Towers in New York City were escorted into the village by the Illinois Patriot Guard and a convoy of Oak Lawn police, fire and public works vehicles that met the truck at the I-294 exit at 127th Street.
Until recently, debris from Ground Zero was being held as crime- scene evidence. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey that owned the World Trade Center was granted permission by the courts to make pieces of the wreckage available to communities for 9/11 memorials throughout the nation.
In October, Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann and the village board entered into an agreement with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to bring remnants of the World Trade Center to the village.
"Oak Lawn … is an all-American village that not only takes care of its own issues, it is an integral part of the fine fabric we have as a society," Village Manager Larry Deetjen said.
Civic leaders plan to raise money to construct a memorial to the first responders who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. Footing the costs for transporting the beams from New York and New Jersey are the Oak Lawn Police and Fire Clubs, as well as the International Union of Operation Engineers Local 150.
The Oak Lawn Rotary Club has committed to raising the remainder of the money for the installation of the memorial on the south side of the railroad tracks adjacent to the Oak Lawn Metra Station, as part of its 50th anniversary celebration next year.
Dr. Sandra Bury is confident that the Rotary Club will meet its minimum goal of $20,000 to pay for the sculpture, but the service organization hopes to raise more. No public money is being used to construct the memorial. The Rotary Club also has set up a blog, Monumental Oak Lawn, to track the sculpture's progress and announce future fundraising events.
"The more we can raise, the more special we can make the area," Bury said. "Obviously, just to have the sculpture in place is our main goal, but to make a park-like setting where school kids can come and learn about the World Trade Center with their families has such good synergy. We really want to knock it out of the park and make it something special. It will revitalize our downtown area."
Renowned sculptor Erik Blome, whose works—including the larger-than-life-sized bronze bust of Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable on Michigan Avenue—dot the American landscape, will lead a group of students from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in creating a connecting piece for the two steel beams.
Students will travel to Oak Lawn in the spring to survey the final resting site for the sculpture before heading back to San Francisco. There, the sculptors will work in a lab using bronze and other medium to design and build the final piece that will connect the two steel beams.
Last Thursday, the beams were loaded onto a flatbed truck at JFK International Airport. Witnessing the loading were two village police officers and two village firefighters. The beams proceeded past Ground Zero before embarking on the journey back to Oak Lawn.
Lt. Art Clark, coordinator of emergency communications for the Oak Lawn Police Department, was the inspiration behind building an Oak Lawn memorial to the first responders. Clark first learned of the Port Authority releasing pieces of the World Trade Center for 9/11 memorials from an article in a trade magazine.
Building a memorial in Oak Lawn is particularly poignant for Clark, who was deployed with the Marine Reserves on Sept. 12, 2001. Clark is leaving on his fourth deployment with the Marine Reserves next month to Afghanistan.
Several large and mid-sized U.S. cities have already started work on 9/11 memorials using components of the World Trade Center, including two in Illinois. The Oak Lawn memorial will be the first in Southland.
"I'm very excited to come out and see it today because I won't get to be here to see them building it," Clark said. "It will give me something to look forward to when I come home."
A handful of village officials, Rotarians and residents braved the cold to greet the arrival of the steel beams on Friday. The village police officers and firefighters who had escorted the beams from New York stood at attention as the flatbed pulled into the former Beatty Lumber Company yard next to the Metra Station, where the beams are to be stored.
Afterward, onlookers traced their gloved and mittened hands over the gnarled, jagged beams, as if connecting with the nearly 3,000 souls that were lost on Sept. 11, 2001.