Time to return ‘The Sphere’

MICHAEL BURKE  |  At the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s monthly board meeting in June, Patrick Foye, the agency’s executive director, expressed his support for restoring the Fritz Koenig Sphere to the World Trade Center site and including it in the National Sept. 11 Memorial.

“This is an artifact that survived and was affected by the horrors of 9/11, and placing it on the Memorial Plaza, we think, is entirely appropriate,” Foye said at the meeting.

Community Board 1 chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes has also called for the return of the sphere, saying, “The sphere is the only public work of art to survive the Trade Center attacks, making it a unique symbol of continuity and the endurance of the creative spirit. Finding the right permanent home for the sphere at the World Trade Center site is one of the unfinished tasks of rebuilding.”

More than 7,000 people have signed my online petition, “Save the sphere,” including scores of 9/11 family members, survivors and Ground Zero workers. Hundreds of Downtown residents have signed another petition calling for its return to the W.T.C., including politicians of the likes of NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

“This is the first thing I saw after walking down 99 floors in Tower 2,” one person wrote. “Please preserve this memory.”

“I helped salvage the sphere from Ground Zero and would very much like to see it returned,” wrote another commenter.

“The sphere is a symbol of strength!” wrote yet another petitioner, who referred to herself simply as Mother of Matthew, 23, W.T.C. Tower One, 105th floor. “How can we not return it to its place of glory for all to see our resilience and determination? Those lost on 9/11 walked past it every day — give the rest of the world the opportunity to do so as well.”

Many people called for the return of the sphere all the way back in 2003, when the final eight design choices for the 9/11 Memorial were up for debate. “It’s just sitting down at Battery Park, when it belongs here,” they complained. Their words, however, seemed to be flat-out ignored by all Ground Zero officials, including the jury that selected the memorial’s final design.

In taking note of its neat, crisp lines, some visitors have complained that the plaza is “antiseptic.” This was not 9/11, they’ve asserted.

The memorial, in order to be genuine and lasting, needs to do more than express our grief and offer healing. It needs to speak directly to our memories of the Sept. 11 attacks and teach and convey to future generations what happened here.

Yet, Joe Daniels, president of the 9/11 Memorial Foundation, has declared that returning the sphere cannot be incorporated into the design. This makes no sense.

There is no precedent for banning from a historical site authentic artifacts that speak directly to that history. Imagine if the keepers of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial had banished the U.S.S. Arizona? Or if they did away with the dome remnants from Hiroshima? What if they disposed of the death camp remnants at Auschwitz-Birkenau, or all the battle artifacts at Gettysburg or Normandy? Or, what if we disposed of the hallow remnants at the African Burial Ground National Monument, just a few blocks north?

These gestures would have denied each of those histories, and if anyone should so much as suggest them, the outrage would be immediate, deafening and just.

This logic does not evaporate at Ground Zero.

The Port Authority’s plan for the sphere was to place the artifact in the future Liberty Park, just outside the rebuilt St. Nicholas Church and the Liberty Street Pedestrian bridge — where it never stood.

Placing it there would convey a lie. It would reduce the sphere from its status as a hallow artifact to another pedestrian obstruction — exactly what Downtown does not need.

The sphere could very easily (and perhaps most economically) be restored just outside the museum’s glass pavilion. There, it would not only be steps away from where it stood for 30 years, but it would act as a welcoming icon for the memorial.

Move it back to the site now, and its rededication — with the relighting of the eternal flame of peace before it — could be the centerpiece of this year’s 9/11 anniversary commemoration. It would provide a profound moment of rebirth and triumph and a great moment of national healing. It would also, not incidentally, present a significant fundraising opportunity to the cash-strapped Foundation.

It is inarguable that the sphere’s return to the W.T.C. could only serve to enhance a visitor’s understanding and appreciation of 9/11.

Must everything at Ground Zero be a battle? What’s to come next? ‘Occupy the sphere?’ Shall people who escaped the burning towers, lost their children and witnessed their friends’ deaths chain themselves to the hallow artifact in order to be heard? Democracy was attacked on 9/11; and now at Ground Zero, will people’s repeated, expressed wishes be ignored?

The 9/11 Memorial Foundation’s refusal to incorporate the sphere onto the plaza amounts to little but stonewalling.

Let’s do the right thing by returning the sphere to where it belongs.


Michael Burke is the brother of Captain William F. Burke, Jr., a firefighter with Engine Company 21 who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

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