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NEW YORK – When someone talks about a moving experience at a memorial, they usually aren’t talking about a stone monument literally heading down the street. And yet that’s what happened here earlier this summer, at the most-famous spot in recent U.S. history.
Early one Friday morning in late June, a flatbed truck headed out of Manhattan carting 20 tons of granite –  pulled from a downtown construction site that will always be known as Ground Zero. The cornerstone for what was touted as the world’s tallest building made the trek back to its fabricator, where it now awaits further orders.
Just two years ago – on July 4, 2004, the cornerstone – the Freedom Stone – made its debut at a dedication ceremony for the Freedom Tower, the Daniel Liebkind-designed skyscraper to be built at the site that once contained World Trade Center Towers I and II. The garnet-flecked Adirondack granite would anchor the 2.6 million ft² 1,776-ft.-high building.
Now, it sits in the stoneyard of Innovative Stone in Hauppauge, N.Y., where workers originally polished, shaped and inscribed the piece. Instead of being surrounded by a world-class structure, it rests peacefully among day lilies and potted evergreens, waiting for another call to duty.
The Freedom Stone’s current state of monument hiatus is certainly no fault of its own, nor of Karen Pearse, Innovative’s founder/CEO. In many ways, the stone is her creation, as she donated the granite, the fabrication and even the name. The monument represents pride, honor, duty and just about every other emotion conjured up when thoughts turn to that bright, sunny Tuesday morning in September.
The saga of the Freedom Stone, though, sounds more like an exemplary tale of good intentions meeting the grind and grime of current politics and opinion-mongering. It’s not the most-inspiring tale as we approach the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The stone, from Barton Quarries in northern New York, received its shaping, polishing and engraving at Innovative, with work done in time for the Independence Day ceremonies two years ago. The event, and the Freedom Stone, received national attention.
Unfortunately, the low-swinging political debate of our times worked its way into the game. Critics claimed that the whole presentation was a large bit of play-acting by major players in the WTC-area reconstruction, such as New York Gov. George Pataki and site developer Larry A. Silverstein. The Freedom Stone, to them, became a rush job to obscure the fact that the controversial Freedom Tower was far behind schedule.
Some went beyond the ceremony to actually pick on the stone. One writer offered the intellectual equivalent of the New York sneer by noting that the material would be more appropriate for a countertop.
After a few days of bantering, the dogs found somewhere else to bark as the political caravan moved on. The Freedom Stone stayed in its place below street level, a 5’-high piece waiting for the other 1,771 feet or so of the Freedom Tower to go on top.
Unfortunately, a review of the tower’s design showed that, to provide adequate security, the footprint of the building on the site would need a major rework. The new corner of the planned superskyscraper would need to move, and so would the Freedom Stone.
At this point, the giant cornerstone stood in the way of other work at the site. And so, instead of scooting 40 feet to line up with a new foundation, the granite traveled 50 miles or so back to Hauppauge. Within the next two years, it should move back, although there’s no firm timetable. (Editor’s note: It’s still, as of August 2009, in Hauppauge.)
The Freedom Stone’s recent move once again cranked up comments comparing the action to the confusion and delays marking the rebuilding of the WTC site. There’s something here, though, that goes much deeper than any foundation of a New York megabuilding.
As incredible as it seems, Sept. 11 seems to be fading away from us. The fifth anniversary of the attacks will likely evoke the usual darts of here we go again, ho-hum. The bickering about the designs of major memorials will continue. There’s even an acceleration of counterfactual denial, in that the Twin Towers came down with controlled explosions and it’s absurd to believe a jetliner hit the Pentagon.
All of this is shameful. Sept. 11, 2001, marked a major turning point in world history, and we all live different lives because of what happened. And yet we still can’t agree on ways to commemorate the thousands of lives lost; we bicker about shapes, sizes and ownership of memorials. The dead are becoming ghosts, slipping away from our national conscience, and the efforts to honor their sacrifice sit on bargaining tables or in a stoneyard of a suburban fabricator.
In the meantime, the Freedom Stone is far away from downtown Manhattan at this point, but it’s still one of the few tangible New York monuments to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
And, when it goes back someday to Manhattan, let’s not put it under everything else. Place it where a cornerstone should be, at ground level, at a place of honor. I don’t care if it offends someone’s design aesthetics or political bent. The message, in stone, needs to be shown to all:
“To Honor And Remember Those Who Lost Their Lives on September 11, 2001, And As A Tribute To The Enduring Spirit Of Freedom.”
Sept. 11 is coming up soon. Find your own way to respect and reflect ... and never, never, never forget.

This article first appeared in the August 2006 print edition of Stone Business. ©2006 Western Business Media Inc.