NORTH ARLINGTON — Like so many in the New York metropolitan area, Bronna Butler experienced personal loss on Sept. 11, 2001, and she turned her grief into something positive to help others cope with their own sadness.
The northern New Jersey-based artist, who lost a close friend in the towers, produced a painting that depicted an angel consoling a man stranded in a window on the upper floors of the World Trade Center. The work was exhibited in New York in the days after the attacks and reproduced on thousands of postcards.
“People really needed to talk then, and I think they still do,” said Butler, who said some recipients of the postcards corresponded with her for years afterward. “I did the painting out of an impulse to find meaning in those final moments and offer some comfort.”
Three years ago, Butler was approached by the Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Newark for ideas on a Sept. 11 memorial planned for Holy Cross Cemetery.
The result — a visually arresting stainless steel representation of the Twin Towers accented by titanium panels containing montages of the attacks and rescue efforts — was installed in a drizzling rain Friday. The memorial also includes a sculpture made of pieces of steel salvaged from the trade center.
Officials hope to have it ready for a preliminary unveiling during a Memorial Day Mass, with the official unveiling planned for Sept. 11.
“Everybody has really done their best to make this something special,” said Andrew Schafer, Catholic Cemeteries’ executive director. “It’s really grabbed people.”
The idea for a memorial dates back nearly eight years, according to Schafer. The original cost estimate of $100,000 eventually grew to more than $225,000 but has been covered largely by fundraising activities and donations, he said.
The two 20-foot towers, which Butler said weigh about 2,000 pounds each, were made to scale and feature gaps to symbolize where the planes struck. Montages culled from images from Sept. 11 and its aftermath hang from the structure’s four sides.
The raw materials for the project have an international flavor: The titanium for the montage panels is from China and the stainless steel enclosures were imported from Scandinavia; granite for visitor benches came from Spain and Portugal, according to Schafer.
The paving stones around the towers came from Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, where Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa once trod.
Bridging the two towers is a stainless-steel-and-stained-glass cross placed at an angle. Butler said she tried not to be too literal with the presentation.
“It only becomes a Christian cross when you’re standing at the entrance. When you get closer it just looks like twisted metal or falling beams,” she said. “I also liked the way the sun illuminated through the stained glass.”
The placement of the memorial in this northern New Jersey town a few miles north of downtown Newark is particularly appropriate.
A road along one edge of the cemetery offers a clear view of the Manhattan skyline and served as a vantage point on Sept. 11 as people got out of their cars and watched from a ridge as the Twin Towers burned and eventually fell.
The soccer complex below the ridge was renamed for James Zadroga, a former North Arlington resident and New York City police officer who died in 2006 at his parents’ home in Little Egg Harbor Township. His supporters say he died from respiratory disease contracted at ground zero, but New York City’s medical examiner said Zadroga’s lung condition was caused by prescription drug abuse. Zadroga’s name adorns a bill in Congress that authorized death benefits for rescue workers.
The skyline is still visible from the site of the memorial, a grassy area at the bottom of a gentle slope in the more than 200-acre cemetery. Across an access road and up a small embankment are the graves of several Sept. 11, victims representing some of the hardest-hit organizations: Cantor Fitzgerald, Marsh and McLennan, Aon and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Though the message of the memorial is one of triumph in the face of tragedy, Schafer’s reaction upon seeing the steel remnants from the trade center this week likely won’t be unique.