Destination: The Living 9/11 Memorial

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By Nicole Chalfant

(c) Connecticut Explored, Fall 2011

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On September 11, 2001, an alarming plume of smoke rising from lower Manhattan could be seen from the western-most point of Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. When its cause was revealed, the state immediately designated the park, easily accessible to I-95, close to the New York border and with large, convenient parking areas, as a staging area for materials, communications, and Connecticut responders headed to help out in New York City. It was a fitting starting point, as on a clear day the famous skyline of Manhattan can be seen from the edge of the Long Island Sound in one of Connecticut’s most popular state beach parks.

When the CT Families of 9/11, a group formed through the CT Helps-Office of Family Support (a division of the State of Connecticut Office of Policy and Management), began to search for a location for a memorial to their lost loved ones, the publicly accessible waterfront park seemed the natural choice. Construction for this “living” memorial, featuring ornamental trees, that now-poignant view of lower Manhattan, and the creation of an intimate space, was completed in the summer of 2002 and dedicated that September 5. During the dedication ceremony, 149 names were read aloud, each followed by the chime of a single bell and the placement by family members of a white rose on top of the memorial stone. Each fall, a ceremony is held in the main pavilion near the living memorial.

The memorial was funded in part through the U.S. Forest Service Living Memorials Project grant program, which encouraged the use of live trees as part of the design. Created by Shavaun Towers, landscape architect for Towers/Golde LLC, the design includes decorative trees and plantings that define an evergreen buffer and contain visitors’ views, creating a sense of intimacy and isolation. The design facilitates a private experience in a public location. The central feature of the memorial is a low granite stone engraved with the words: “The citizens of Connecticut dedicate this living memorial to the thousands of innocent lives lost on September 11, 2001 and to the families who loved them.” Surrounding the large granite memorial stone are 153 granite tiles, dedicated in September 2003, with the names of individuals who had ties to Connecticut. Benches have been placed on the island’s point to encourage visitors to take a moment for reflection in this quiet corner of a busy park. When standing at the stone, the visitor faces the location where the World Trade Center towers were once visible, making the view itself part of the monument to that tragic day.

The work of art, a sculptural wall, will be installed in the park’s main pavilion near the living memorial. It will surround a new set of memorial plaques, donated by the CT Families of 9/11, with information about the individuals lost, including each person’s name, age, where they were on September 11, 2001, and how they were connected to Connecticut.

On Thursday, September 8th at 5:30 pm, Governor Dannel Malloy will lead a special 10th Anniversary commemoration event at the Sherwood Island State Park Pavilion.

 

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Sherwood Island State Park, Exit 18 off Interstate-95. The parking fee is waived on September 11 until 2025.

Nicole Chalfant is museum curator and resident curator program manager for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, Division of State Parks and Public Outreach.

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