NS. PETERSBURG, Florida. – In the early hours of September 11, 2001, Mark Aeling was waking up to receive a desperate phone call from his family.
“They told me to turn on the television and when I turned on the television I saw the second plane hit the second tower,” recalls Aeling. “It was very intense.”
Within an hour and a half, both towers would be reduced to rubble.
Now, exactly 20 years later to the day, the St. Petersburg artist has reused a significant part of this rubble: the last steel girder of the World Trade Center, which was removed from Ground Zero.
“There are signs of excessive heat on the piece of steel, there are places that look like the one and a half centimeter thick steel plate has been pushed around like soft, wet clay. It has been pushed around with incredible forces,” he said.
The artist was contacted by Scott Neil, a retired Army Special Forces Tampa resident who owns a distillery across from Aeling’s studio.
In 2012, Neil and other Green Berets worked to unveil the America’s Response Monument near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. The memorial shows a soldier from Special Operations in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks and commemorates the first use of horses by US troops since 1942.
“This eventually came to be known as the Horse Soldier Statue,” Neil said on a phone call with FOX 13.
The original location has been scrapped and temporarily moved behind a site fence near the Freedom Tower. Fast forward to 2017 when it was moved to its final location. But during the move, the port authorities discovered something else: a steel beam from the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Neil says it is the last part of the towers salvaged from Ground Zero. The port authorities asked if he would like it and Aeling received a call.
He says Neil had a request.
“They wanted this memorial to be about the day after, about the first responders and how the community was brought together through the experience,” Aeling said.
Although he wanted to keep it as he had received it, the beam had to be cleaned.
“Knock off the rust and loose parts so I can get a coating on top to seal them in,” he said. “It was sealed with a varnish that contains a rust preventive that we can continue to update over time. I wanted to affect it as little as possible, but still give it the opportunity to persist in this Florida environment for as long as possible. ”
In St. Pete’s Warehouse District, the memorial will feature a nine-meter-high copper phoenix wing and a crescent-shaped wall with hundreds of hand-painted tiles. But the beam will be the centerpiece in the hope of mimicking America after 9/11 as a phoenix rising from the ashes.
It’s a feeling that 20 years later still carries its weight.
“Of course it’s still emotionally charged and it’s a real honor to be able to do something like that,” added Aeling.
The unveiling will take place this Saturday, September 11th at 6 p.m. near the corner of 5th Avenue South and 22nd Street South.
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