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Columbus' Freedom Memorial almost didn't happen
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Columbus' Freedom Memorial almost didn't happen

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A plaque is put in place for the Freedom Memorial in remembrance of 9/11.

Monument

The Freedom Memorial located in Pawnee Park in Columbus was constructed using beams from the World Trade Center following 9/11.

Editor's note: In honor of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, The Telegram spoke with the residents who helped bring steel from the World Trade Center to Columbus and created a memorial structure that rests in Pawnee Park.

The Freedom Memorial in Pawnee Park, located on the grounds of Andrew Jackson Higgins Memorial, may not have existed if not for one thing -- luck.

Columbus' Whitey Walgren has been involved with the Higgins project from the beginning and wanted to add something special to it -- an American bald eagle to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He also wanted to incorporate salvaged steel from the former Twin Towers into the structure that supports the eagle.

Walgren and others involved considered going through the congressional delegation route, but Whitey's friend and fellow Columbus resident Dennis Hirschbrunner knew that method wasn't going to be very effective. 

Hirschbrunner just happened to be the senior executive of an engineering firm that worked with the City of New York Department of Sanitation. The department was working out of Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, where all the salvaged steel had been taken. At that time, the steel was being shipped out to be melted down. 

Hirschbrunner reached out to someone working there to see if they had any steel available. Although the steel had originally been thought to be gone, destiny was on Hirschbrunner's side. 

"... He rethought, and he said, ‘There may be a few pieces still out in the back of the landfill in the weeds'," Hirschbrunner recalled. "He went and checked and, lo and behold, there was some steel back there that hadn’t been taken away yet." 

In another stroke of luck, there just happened to be a Behlen Mfg. Co. flatbed truck in the northeastern part of the United States that was able to transport the steel to Columbus.

Jim Hellbusch at Duo Lift took the steel to where the monument is today and welded it together. Hellbusch and volunteers worked for four nights constructing the structure.  Hellbusch came up with the design.

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"If you look at it, the monument itself, it is depicting the several floors of the World Trade Center falling and tumbling down," Hellbusch said. 

Hellbusch also wanted to add a positive aspect to the monument.

When originally asked to design it, it was requested to craft the sculpture so that pieces did not overlap at the top. This was to avoid birds making a nest, which would result in the monument getting dirty. 

Once he completed the structure, there was a small hole still open. Hellbusch thought about attaching a screen to prevent birds from entering, but after looking at it, decided to go in another direction.

"When I got it all done and I looked at it, I said, 'You know. I'm going to leave that opening open,'" he said. "I hope someday a bird will make a nest in there, which means life goes on. Life perpetuates itself. Life goes on...

"I wanted to depict the fact that disaster happens and freedom is not free, but life does move on."  

Columbus artist Fred Hoppe created the bronze "Freedom Eagle," funded by HDR Engineering out of Omaha, which was placed at the top of the structure. 

Hoppe has sculpted many statues around the country and even some overseas. The eagle on top of the Freedom Memorial is especially significant for Hoppe. Not only for what it stands for, but also for the fact it's featured in his hometown. 

"It's an exact copy of a female bald eagle," he said. "It's 7 feet tall. Why we decided on that, is the eagle is a symbol of the country and freedom." 

Everything came together for the project to be completed years ago, but it wasn't easy.  

"We were very fortunate," Hirschbrunner said. "A lot of the relatives of the people that were killed in the Trade Center were very protective of any of the remnants. If we would have tried to go through regular channels, we would have never gotten the steel."  

Peter Huguenin is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at PHuguenin@Columbustelegram.com 

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