Visitors to the 9/11 Memorial in Overland Park will find a hands-on experience.
They will be encouraged to run their palms along the pockmarked surface of a 14-foot steel beam from one of the World Trade Center towers, now installed vertically into the earth.
“You can put your hand on that artifact and get a sense of the forces that must have been involved on that day,” said Jason Rhodes, Overland Park Fire Department spokesman.
Visitors also can trace their fingers across almost 3,000 names milled into a new 16-foot bronze victims panel.
Twelve years after the terrorist attacks, the 9/11 narrative continues to become part of the Kansas City area infrastructure, with steel tower artifacts placed behind glass in Lee’s Summit, planned for a roadside memorial park in Sugar Creek and installed to especially dramatic effect in Overland Park.
All three area municipalities applied for and received sections of World Trade Center tower steel from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which began offering the artifacts in 2009.
The Overland Park memorial, with its steel and bronze elements, may offer visitors the most tactile connection.
“The victims panel reminds you of all the individual stories that were part of what happened that day,” said Mike Christianer, principal with SFS Architecture of Kansas City, which designed the memorial.
“You can go though and find (United Airlines Flight 93 passenger) Todd Beamer and other names that may be familiar, but there are many other names no one may know.
“But they are just as important.”
The steel beam arrived in Overland Park in 2011. Fire Department officials had told the port authority of their plans to install it just outside the department’s training center in south Overland Park, at 12401 Hemlock St.
That may explain, Christianer said, the size of the artifact designated for them. Its approximately 5,600-pound weight is significantly larger than the 60-pound and 145-pound steel beams received by Sugar Creek and Lee’s Summit.
“Every firefighter and first responder who uses the training center walks by that memorial every day,” Christianer said. “It’s a reminder to them of what their calling is and what may be expected of them.”
The artifact’s most striking feature, beyond its sheer size, was a squarelike opening at one end.
Staff members at the SFS Architecture perceived that opening as an aperture.
They resolved to install the beam so the morning sun will cast its shadow onto four educational panels standing nearby.
And every year on Sept. 11, the aperture will direct sunlight onto four medallions embedded into a timeline etched into the four panels. The medallions mark the moments that airliners crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pa.
The panels also include a present-tense narrative of all four flights.
“The sentences get shorter as the timeline goes along,” said Buck Heath, an Overland Park Fire Department training officer who helped write the text.
The memorial sits at the north end of a business park cul-de-sac. Signs along Antioch Road mark the memorial’s location, but drivers still must make the conscious decision to drive to it.
And yet it is common, Christianer said, to see couples or small groups at the memorial in the early morning or twilight hours.
“Last Friday night, there was a gentleman who told me he had been at the World Trade Center the week before the attack,” Christianer said.
“He was here that night with his two grandchildren and he was using the panels to explain the story to them.”
Monday morning, Deanna and Charles Morgan of Leawood stopped to inspect the memorial.
“I had driven by many times, but I had never taken the time to pull off the road,” said Charles Morgan. “It’s a lot bigger than I thought it would be.”
“I don’t think our community realizes what we have here,” added Deanna Morgan. “Having something of this magnitude is amazing.”
The Lee’s Summit artifact has been placed on display behind glass on the first floor of Lee’s Summit City Hall at 220 S.E. Green St. Teachers routinely bring students to see it, said a city spokeswoman.
The Sugar Creek artifact will be the centerpiece of a memorial park near the north end of Sterling Avenue, the community’s principal north-south artery. Officials had hoped to dedicate the memorial this week. Road construction delays have pushed that back to later this year or early next year.
The memorial’s design includes four glass panels, each bearing the flight number of one of the airliners. The panels will be lit at night, making for an effect noticeable even to those driving by on Sterling, said Joel Marquardt, an area architect who collaborated on the memorial’s design with Jeff Shawhan, another architect.
“Ideally, the flight numbers will glow so that people will have a continuous cognizance of what happened,” Marquardt said.
Meanwhile, designers of the Overland Park memorial expect it will grow even more dramatic with its third and final element being added next year: a “crying wall” fountain constructed with steel that will have the appearance of being near its molten state, Christianer said.
“We’ve seen the horrific pictures of those who came out of the debris cloud with their faces caked with debris and tears eroding down their faces,” he said.
“We want to bring that same kind of patterning into the metal so that it has this eroded feel to it.”
The Overland Park memorial has been entirely financed by private contributions or in-kind donations. Local representatives from MIQ Logistics volunteered to arrange its transfer from a New York airport hangar to Overland Park, said Rhodes, who estimated that it will take an additional $30,000 to $40,000 to complete the memorial.
Both he and Christianer hesitated to put an overall dollar figure on the memorial so far, given the number of in-kind contributions received.
“It’s priceless because of all the donated help,” Christianer said.Overland Park 9/11 Memorial
Ceremonies dedicating the new victims panel at the Overland Park 9/11 Memorial begin at 7:20 a.m. Wednesday adjacent to the Overland Park Fire Department Training Center, 12401 Hemlock St.
The Arts and Recreation Foundation of Overland Park is accepting donations for the Overland Park 9/11 Memorial. For information, go towww.artsandrec-op.org.