Jack Chandler’s dream is to have a World Trade Center Sept. 11 memorial in his town of Milton, Pierce County, population 7,000. One problem, though, for some locals. It features a 36-foot WTC steel column.
MILTON, Pierce County ——
There is no disagreement that it is emotional to touch this large, rusty piece of structural steel.
Parts are twisted, and large bolt holes are ripped apart from the unleashed forces that struck it on 9/11.
It is a long window section that stretched from floors 91 to 94 of the World Trade Center south building of the twin towers, and those floors were very close to the hijacked airliner’s impact zone. It currently sits atop a flatbed in a storage yard, awaiting its final resting place.
Most Read Local Stories
- 'Heat dome' may push Western Washington temperatures into record-breaking territory
- See how many people are fully vaccinated against COVID in your King County neighborhood
- A Seattle Times story called her a homeless meth user. She asked to be seen as more
- Meet Seattle’s 2021 candidates for mayor: a primary election guide
- 'They're always from somewhere else': A Northwest town debates who owns its homelessness crisis
In this town of 7,000 just east of Tacoma, there is a small, but vocal, disagreement about what has been proposed for Artifact No. N-153.
A large “COMING SOON. World Trade Center Memorial” sign has been erected at a prominent location in Milton Community Park, known locally as Triangle Park.
The objection boils down to this: Its size.
The steel column is 36 feet tall and weighs 17,119 pounds.
The height of the monument would be about the equivalent of stacking six Bobby Wagners from the Seahawks on top of each other.
Big, big, big.
Cathy Popp lives right across the street from where the memorial is proposed.
“I walk out the front door, I’m going to see it. I look out the window, I’m going to see it,” she says.
Her daughter, Heather Popp, who also lives there, says, “I don’t want to walk out the front door and see a reminder of people jumping to their deaths. It’s important to remember their lives, but there are other ways to do it. They could have a garden.”
For the past four years, the memorial has been the passion of Jack Chandler, 74, of Milton. He served in the Army in Korea in the early 1960s, went on to the Air Force Reserve, and retired as a University of Washington maintenance supervisor.
He is at the yard where the giant steel column is stored. His eyes well up as Chandler talks about the orangish mammoth.
A volunteer trucked the column from New York to Milton. The nearby city of Fife is storing it for free at its public-works yard.
“The first time I saw it, it was so emotional that I was speechless,” he says. “This is a historic piece of material from an event that changed the world. If I lived across the street from it, I’d be proud to look at it. It’s a symbol of honor. We know we’re not going to let it happen again.”
At first, it might have appeared that the location of the monument was a done deal, with local officials voicing support for the memorial.
An artist’s rendering was done, showing the steel column upright. It would sit near a veterans memorial already at the park. As tall as that memorial gets is a flagpole.
Chandler says that nearly $40,000 of a $100,000 fundraising goal for the 9/11 monument has been raised.
In 2013, the city’s Park Board and then the City Council voted to support the project.
But hold on now, says Milton Mayor Debra Perry.
“That was before we knew it was 36 feet tall, and before we knew that there were citizens who didn’t like it. It’s the city that will have to maintain it for the next 50 years.” she says.
Perry says that when she’s about town, she’s had locals tell her they’re not enthused about the memorial. But they voice their concerns about its size in private, she says.
“Nobody wants to come forward and say they don’t like a Sept. 11 memorial, don’t like apple pie, don’t like baseball,” says Perry.
At the Sept. 8 City Council meeting, four letters in opposition were presented, and one of the residents who spoke was listed as Noah Bershatsky.
He asked if the 36-foot column could be “altered or adjusted in any way.”
One obvious way to do that is cut the column, maybe into a couple of pieces.
No, Chandler says: “It would take away from its integrity.”
At the council meeting, Bershatsky said, “That being the case, it’s gotta go back. It’s huge, it’s gargantuan, it’s not aesthetically pleasing.”
The mayor has suggested that a different location in the nine-acre park might work, but the location wouldn’t have the visibility.
Chandler says that would mean having to put in costly sidewalks and other features to make it comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Perry says the city will take a good long time in making a decision.
The original owner of the steel column — the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — says it’s OK to cut it into smaller pieces.
Says spokesman Steve Coleman, “That’d be fine, as long as the entire collection is put on public display. We’re trying to avoid persons cutting them in quarters to put them in their backyards.”
The agency kept pieces of the twin towers in an 80,000-square-foot hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
It has distributed more than 2,000 chunks to be used in memorials in every state and in nine countries, including Canada, England, China, Brazil and Germany.
There are fewer than 30 pieces left at the hangar, says Coleman, and many of those are spoken for.
Coleman says the pieces ranged from a 46,500-pound beam to nail bunches that weighed less than a pound.
Pieces from the twin towers now are in memorials in 21 Washington cities.
Chandler says that in 2012 the committee got on the waiting list with the Port Authority, along with some 700 other applications. It asked for a 14- to 16-foot piece, he says.
It was offered the 36-footer instead.
The Milton group decided to go ahead and accept it, he says, worried it would otherwise lose out on receiving any item.
After a four-day trip on a truck owned by a volunteer, the column arrived on Aug. 16.
But now, Milton has joined other cities that have greeted 9/11 memorials with a response that was less than enthusiastic.
In 2014, Kirkland said no thanks to a sculpture that used WTC steel and depicted a fireman, a flight attendant, office worker and a member of the military holding hands and looking to the sky.
That sculpture could be described as from the Maudlin School of Art, and received such comments by locals as, “An ugly, depressing reminder of a 13-year-old tragedy that has no unique significance to the area? Fantastic. I’m in.”
The sculpture finally found a home in Cashmere, although there, too, it was greeted with blog comments such as, “I cannot find the words to express how much I hate it … it feels more like a grotesque mockery of those victims.”
Chandler says he believes most Milton residents are behind the memorial.
He says about the naysayers, “It doesn’t hurt my feelings. It just makes me wonder where they get their mindset.”
At the storage yard, Chandler walks around the giant, rusting column.
“It’s got so much character,” he says.