The Right Decision, Even If Almost Too Late

94

A COLUMN

Tom Gasparoli
Tom Gasparoli

So far, Salem officials have made all the right moves as it relates to the soon-to-be-donated 9/11 beams memorial on the former Old Virginia Brick property on W. Main. That is, without having to make any actual moves at all, yet.

At city council discussion Monday, members and the city manager seemed deeply drawn to the idea of having the large and powerful edifice come to the area right around Fire Station No.1 on Market Street. A place where first responders “live” when they are away from home, when they are not out in the city seeking to save lives, give and enhance care, respond to other crises, and, of course, put out real fires.

The latter, such dangerous work. Every firefighter knows this every time he or she climbs on a truck. Every medic knows what’s at stake when they take off toward the EMS vehicle.

These men and women would, I have no doubt, embrace the two beam structure that stands as a bruised, broken reminder of all the firefighters and first responders killed that horrific day almost 14 years ago in New York.

If it goes to such a central and fitting location downtown, it would also serve as a reminder to of all of Salem of all those who were lost in the collapsing towers

Its beauty is in how stark it is, especially when you get up close. It almost hurt to stand under the 14,000 pound monument and absorb it all, as I did a few weeks ago when first reporting on the Old Virginia Brick foreclosure auction news.

The memorial, once covered in ash, was the idea of former brick company head Fletcher Smoak, and he made it happen. The words on its base honor and thank those who died, the messages there emanating from Old Virginia Brick, its directors and all its employees.

I took pictures of the company’s closed site on my first trip there almost a month ago. Being back in Salem proper after so long away, I did not know anything about the memorial. I walked right by it in my rush. I am embarrassed, really.

It was right there, standing solitary, dusty, strong and somewhat forgotten or certainly underappreciated for what it is and what it stands for. By the recent ownership of OldVirginia Brick, by many in Salem, I suspect, and by the folks who put the company into foreclosure.

Remembered, then, by the foreclosure auction company, but not in a way it should have been at first. It was reportedly put out for bid on-line; it appears that process was interrupted and then ceased by the public outcry when word got out.

Who knows what would have happened to the memorial after a quick, quiet auction? Deconstructed in the night, perhaps, and taken where? For what? Would it have been re-sold for profit? The Washington Post reported that the highest bid, when the bidding was terminated, was $4100.

Something Salem should be forever proud of could easily have been…gone. For $4100.

And here’s the thing. How did this decision to donate almost never happen? Why didn’t smart people involved in the company, the foreclosure and/or the financials think sooner, longer and better about preserving the memorial and keeping it in its hometown, where it was developed and dedicated?

Why did it go to the brink, as it appears to have done? It happens far too often. The right thing to do seems to occur only when fierce public pressure is applied.

Sometimes, it’s a tragedy that persuades people in the wrong to think right or do right. See: the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting rampage and the “awakening” now exhibited by some politicians in its aftermath.

People in positions of power or influence claim to see the truth at last, when the truth was so evident for so long.

In the case of the 9/11 beams memorial in Salem, it should have been easy to figure out how to keep it here, and ultimately place it where it belongs. There need not have been the heated and acute public pressure, the hurt felt by 9/11 families.

Credit is due now, though, to all who eventually and clearly saw what the end result should (and should not) be, and helped the memorial stay, with a new life.

I encourage anyone who has not gone to stand under and gaze at that rugged monument at 2500 W. Main to do so, even if you have to stand on public property just off the roadway to do it.

In thirty seconds or less, you’ll know: we are so fortunate it will remain here at home. We are so fortunate it will likely take a path to a place where its power and  its pain can be properly seen and felt.

You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tom.gasparoli@ourvalley.org.