Rise St. Pete, the town’s memorial to lives lost on September 11, was unveiled in a brief ceremony Sunday afternoon. A crowd of around 100 gathered near the intersection of 22sd Street and 5e Avenue South as the founders of the $ 500,000 project spoke about its beginnings and the process of making it happen. They also discussed the symbolism in the design of the memorial.
Scott Neil, a member of the first special operations force to engage in Afghanistan following 9/11 – the legendary Horse Soldiers – spearheaded Rise St. Pete in 2018. When a section of Ground Zero in New York was being prepared for the installation of a Horse Soldier statue, a nine foot piece of steel and broken concrete was discovered underground.
The two-ton beam, considered one of the last pieces of structural steel in the World Trade Center, was given to Neil and his team, who were then in the process of moving to St. Petersburg with their company, American Freedom Distillery.
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The salvaged beam forms the centerpiece of the memorial, which is located in the Warehouse Arts District. Sculptor Mark Aeling, president of the Warehouse Arts District Association, designed and fabricated the 25-foot-high copper bird wing that rises behind the beam, which is itself mounted on a stone pylon.
Neil and Aeling spoke at Sunday’s opening, with Ron Schlosser, treasurer of the non-profit Rise St. Pete, and St. Petersburg poet laureate Helen Pruitt Wallace, whose poem To augment is carved into the pylon.
The dome-shaped backdrop of the memorial – symbolizing the rising sun of a new day – features a mosaic of blue tiles created by local artists – and children.
“It’s going to take a lot of storytelling here for our kids,” said Neil. “Because they have no emotion and no memory of what we experienced on September 11.
“It’s up to us to come here and tell more stories. And the last project I’d like to see come out of that is a website that has interviews – of citizens, of soldiers, of those people affected by 9/11. Because it will last, with this project.