Rise St. Pete, the city’s memorial to the lives lost on 9/11, was dedicated in a brief ceremony Sunday afternoon. A crowd of approximately 100 gathered near the intersection of 22nd Street and 5th Avenue South as the $500,000 project’s founders talked about its beginnings, and the process of bringing it to fruition. They also discussed the symbolism in the memorial’s design.
Scott Neil, a member of the first Special Operations force to engage in Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 – the legendary Horse Soldiers – spearheaded Rise St. Pete in 2018. When a section of New York’s Ground Zero was being prepped for the installation of a Horse Soldier statue, a nine-foot piece of broken steel and concrete was discovered underground.
The two-ton beam, believed to be one of the last remaining pieces of structural World Trade Center steel, was given to Neil and his team, who were then in the process of relocating to St. Petersburg with their company, American Freedom Distillery.
The recovered beam forms the centerpiece of the memorial, which is in the Warehouse Arts District. Sculptor Mark Aeling, president of the Warehouse Arts District Association, designed and crafted the 25-foot-tall copper bird’s wing that rises behind the beam, which is itself mounted on a stone pylon.
Neil and Aeling spoke during Sunday’s dedication, along with Ron Schlosser, treasurer of the nonprofit Rise St. Pete organization, and St. Petersburg Poet Laureate Helen Pruitt Wallace, whose poem Rise is carved into the pylon.
The memorial’s domed background – symbolizing the rising sun of a new day – features a mosaic of blue tiles created by local artists – and children.
“There’s going to have to be a lot of storytelling here for our children,” Neil said. “Because they have no emotion and no memory of what we experienced on 9-11.
“It’s up to us to come here and tell more stories. And the last project I would like to see come out of this is a website that has interviews – of citizens, of soldiers, of those people affected by 9-11. Because that will endure, along with this project.”