What might have been just an ordinary steel beam drew thoughtful, almost reverent, looks Friday as it sat upon a trailer in downtown Toledo, draped with a U.S. flag.
“I kind of want to touch it. I kind of don’t. It’s just overwhelming,” said onlooker Tricia North, a New Jersey native who remembers passing by the World Trade Center towers in New York for years and remembers the day nearly 10 years ago that they fell to the ground.
The 12-foot beam, salvaged from the Twin Towers’ rubble, was transported in a procession of emergency vehicles through Toledo and on Friday night to the Wauseon Fire Department, where it will be on display until a permanent memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is erected at the Fulton County Fairgrounds.
“It all comes back to everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing that day,” Wauseon Assistant Fire Chief Rick Sluder said. “It changed the way police and fire do business. It changed the security factor of our nation. It changed everyone’s lives.
“Everywhere we go,” he said, “people come up and touch it.”
Monica and Richard Steele came downtown with their three young children to see the procession and the 3,615-pound beam. Mrs. Steele said the reason was simple: “Because it’s part of history, and I’ll never make it to New York.”
Seeing the steel beam Friday brought back the images seared into his memory after a week in New York.
“In the back of my mind, I wonder, did I ever walk on that? Did I ever crawl on that?” Captain Syroka said. “Who knows? The scope of iron and steel that came out of that — so much, so large, so twisted.”
Mr. Meegan, now retired, said the scenes before them and the work of digging for victims was, in a word, “horrible.” The destruction was hard to fathom.
“I remember sitting on a beam with Rick and Jerry and looking around saying, ‘Where are the desks? Where are the chairs? Where are the computers?’?” he said. “All that was left of the building was what we could see above ground.”
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, the city’s former fire chief, said the simple steel beam represents how life can change in an instant.
“For me, it reminds me why we have to constantly remain vigilant, that our world has changed and we definitely have to be aware of our surroundings at all times,” he said.
Some 1,500 communities across the country requested and received artifacts from the World Trade Center to use in Sept. 11 memorials. In Wauseon, Assistant Chief Sluder applied for an artifact from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey more than two years ago.
Once downtown, they were greeted by a canopy created by two ladder trucks holding a giant U.S. flag. Firefighters standing at attention in front of the Michael P. Bell Fire Administration Building lined North Huron Street.
There were no speeches or proclamations, just “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a bugler playing “Taps,” and the familiar sound of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes and drums. The brief ceremony ended with three rings of the fire bell — the last alarm for fallen firefighters.
Retired Toledo Fire Chief Robert Schwanzl said the traditions associated with memorial services for firefighters were appropriate as those gathered paid tribute to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, including more than 300 firefighters.
“The whole thing is dedicated to the idea that the fire service will never forget,” he said. “It’s the brotherhood of firemen.”
Mr. Schwanzl, who is president of the Toledo Firefighters’ Museum, said the museum is trying to get a memento from one of the fire trucks destroyed Sept. 11.
The city of Perrysburg, which sent two police officers to New York to assist in the wake of the terrorist attacks, recently received a smaller piece of the Trade Center wreckage — a bent and rusted, 3-foot, 15-pound piece of a steel door casing.
“It had been crumpled, destroyed, and burned,” said Jon Eckel, Perrysburg’s public service director. “Outwardly you look at it and think it may not look like much, but the symbolic meaning is very deep. … You wonder, where was this, and how many people may or may not have gotten through that door.”
Perrysburg is building a display case to hold the relic, which will be placed in the atrium that connects the police department and the municipal building.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.