Memorial to have steel from 9/11 site

In 2003, Lauren Rosenzweig and Michael Sweeney visited the Acton Center memorial dedicated to their late spouses. In 2003, Lauren Rosenzweig and Michael Sweeney visited the Acton Center memorial dedicated to their late spouses. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/File)
By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / March 20, 2011

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A group of Acton residents and public safety officials traveled to New York City recently to pick up a 10-foot-long, 518-pound piece of steel recovered from the World Trade Center for a new memorial to the victims of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Acton 9/11 Memorial Fund is one of 1,040 groups chosen to receive a fragment that was recovered and preserved after the twin towers were destroyed by terrorists nearly 10 years ago.

The memorial will be built in front of the town’s public safety building on Main Street, said Tom Matthews, an Acton firefighter and member of the organizing committee. It will honor all who lost their lives in the attacks, including police and firefighters, and two Acton residents, Madeline Amy Sweeney and Philip Rosenzweig, who were aboard American Airlines Flight 11 when it was crashed into the World Trade Center.

“The ability to get that piece of history sparked the idea of building a new memorial,’’ Matthews said while driving to New York on March 9.

Matthews said the new memorial will be done in time to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks this fall.

There is a small memorial in the center of town honoring Sweeney and Rosenzweig, but it isn’t visible from the road and does not acknowledge all who perished, said Mike Sweeney, whose wife, Amy, was a flight attendant on the jetliner.

“You can’t see it unless you get out of the car and walk,’’ said Sweeney, who was among those who traveled to New York. “The new location is right on a main road and more visible for people to see. It’s a great idea. It’s more fitting.’’

The town is planning to move the existing memorial to the public safety building, where it will be incorporated into the new memorial, Matthews said.

In October 2009, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced that it had portions of the World Trade Center that it would make available to community groups. Acton formed a committee and applied for a piece of steel. It received word earlier this year that the request was granted.

Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the port authority, said the steel was collected and preserved following the attacks, and stored at a hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport. He said much of the steel was set aside for the National 9/11 Memorial Foundation, which is building a memorial at the World Trade Center site that is scheduled to be dedicated on this year’s anniversary.

Once the foundation took the steel that it needed, officials decided to give out the remaining pieces. The port authority received 1,500 applications from groups in all 50 states and eight foreign countries.

“The main criteria is that it’s used for a public display, not private use or a backyard display,’’ Coleman said.

The port authority was able to grant pieces to 1,040 groups. The pieces are in all shapes and sizes, ranging in weight from a few hundred to several thousand pounds. Groups were granted a piece or pieces based on what they needed, Coleman said.

He said the distribution process could take up to a year. He said other Massachusetts communities that received steel are Chatham and Westport.

The Acton group was met on its return trip by a State Police escort at the Connecticut state line. A Boxborough fire engine and police cruiser joined the escort at Interstate 495 and Route 111, and the convoy proceeded to the Boxborough Fire Station. At the station, Acton fire and police joined the procession to Acton’s public safety building, where there was a brief ceremony.

Matthews said the committee has a “rough idea’’ of what the memorial will look like, but the design could not be finalized until after the steel fragment was in hand. He hopes to have the design completed within a month. He said the design will incorporate all events that took place on 9/11, including the attack at the Pentagon.

The group has been raising funds for the project, which is expected to cost about $30,000. The committee is accepting donations and also selling bricks for a walkway.

Lauren Rosenzweig Morton, whose husband, Philip, died in the attacks, said she is grateful to the committee for bringing a piece of history to Acton. She said she thinks the memorial will be a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives, not just the two Acton residents but all the public safety officers that responded.

“It’s a little bit of a reminder of the good and of the bad, but mostly of the good of people,’’ she said. “I see this piece of steel as a piece of strength and I’m proud that it will be in our town. We are all trying to be strong and move forward.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at