DEWITT, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Every time Arlene Abend sees a plane overhead, she’s baffled her son can put a machine like that in the air, which is exactly where he was on September 11, 2001.
“He flew the same airline,” she remembers, “the same equipment, and the same route (as) the hijacked plane, and I didn’t know whether it was him or not.”
For two hours, her calls to him weren’t answered. She describes the terror as numbing “until I could contact a relative and find out they didn’t pick his plane.”
Her relief was so powerful, it made what she did lose that day pale in comparison: the bronze artwork she sculpted for a company on the 93rd floor of Tower 2.
“When everyone was making a fuss over my destroyed sculpture, I just shook my head and said ‘who cares,'” she recalled.
Abend already had more ties to 9/11 than anyone would wish, but another still to come was for the better.
Pat Masten, a Town of DeWitt citizen working to build a new flag pole, had a bigger idea: obtain a piece of the fallen World Trade Center.
It was an artifact a lot of communities wanted, but only a few could get. A committee of DeWitt citizens found the funding and got a commitment from New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Arlene Abend, a local artist, was hired to to help design the memorial.
“I was given this 21 foot beam,” she remembers, “that welders had cut from the rest of the debris. I looked at it and I saw a platform. I thought it was a natural place not to obstruct the beam. The beam was the sculpture.”
In early September 2002, just in time for the first anniversary of the attacks, the steel beam was put in place at Ryder Park in front of DeWitt Town Hall. Abend’s statue was placed on top.
The memorial was dedicated on September 11, 2002.
She says her stainless steel sculpture is based on interpretation. Some people could see a flame, others could see two hands in prayer, some might see two shapes symbolizing the Twin Towers.
She said she wanted something “simple and strong.”
20 years since the attacks, “simple and strong” are feelings the memorial still emits.
Arlene drew the first design, but says the piece of art has evolved over the years by the touching additions of small flags, prayer cards and other heirlooms that might only make sense to each person who leaves them.
“When I did it, it was a job. It was mechanical, aesthetic. It was problem solving. Now, it’s a very special place. To be a part of it now seems more important than it was then.”