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In Anthony, Kansas, a memorial to 9/11

The town of Anthony could be home to the most impressive memorials to September 11, 2001 anywhere in rural America.
Last modified: 10 Sep 2011 22:28
Photo: Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera

In the endless horizon line of wheat fields that make up the United States heartland, there sits a serene little piece of America and it's called Anthony, Kansas - population 2,440.

When people in this part of America want to see and feel the real-life effects of 9/11, they don’t have to go to New York or Washington,  DC, they can simply come to Anthony.

The town of Anthony could be home to the most impressive memorials to September 11, 2001 anywhere in rural America.

The memorial includes three steel beams from the World Trade Center welded together in a triangular form rising from a central circle. It also includes a 250 pound block of limestone from the Pentagon, as well as soil and ashes from the area of the Pennsylvania crash site.

There are several dozen bricks emblazoned with inspirational messages chosen by people who donated to the memorial, including a "hero’s corner" of some names of those killed on 9/11.

And there are bronze plaques with messages reliving the history of that day and the impact on the country. Click here to read the words on the plaques. 

At night, two circular lights beam skyward, meant to symbolise Towers 1 and 2. 

The memorial, which is free and open to the public, has attracted people from all over the region, and increasingly from even farther afield. 

It’s meant to be a "living history" in Middle America to 9/11. Visitors are encouraged to step up on the circular centrepiece and touch the steel beams, and run their fingers over it.  The beams are slightly disfigured, melted from the heat of the fires that day. 

Before the memorial was built, Anthony had zero relation to 9/11.

“There was nobody from Anthony directly affected on 9/11, to the best of my knowledge,” John Schott, the town’s former mayor told me on a recent visit. “There was nobody with any relationship with anybody who was impacted at 9/11 directly. But you realise that we all were very much and still are impacted…the human family was impacted deeply that day.”

Schott said the idea of the memorial is to remember that day, of course, but it's also meant to be a place to celebrate commonality between people.

“There could not be any two places more different than New York and Anthony,” Schott told me. “This is all about humans reaching out to humans and making that connection. Because when you get down to it, whether you are in New York, Anthony, Kansas, or Saudi Arabia, we are all humans and we hold the same core values of love, life, liberty.”

The memorial cost over $80,000, nearly all of it funded by private donations. It’s maintained by donations and closely managed by a local committee of Anthony residents.

The memorial has become a proud centrepiece in town, a place for people to quietly reflect whether it's residents of the town, people passing through off nearby Interstate 35, or those from nearby states like Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska or Missouri who made special trips just to see it.

While the memorial is meant to honour the people who lost their lives on 9/11, Schott said he is also saddened by all the ensuing deaths after 9/11.

“We haven’t had any other days like 9/11 and for that I am very grateful, but I am very sorrowed we have lost more individuals in wars since then than we did on 9/11,” Schott said. “And I am very sorrowed the rest of the world has lost a tremendous amount of people because of 9/11.”

Every anniversary of 9/11, the town hosts a gathering at the memorial to remember. The people of Anthony have "adopted" the family of New York City fireman Joseph Spor, killed on that day trying to save others trapped in the towers.  Anthony started a fund for Spor’s widow and four children. Sometimes the people of Anthony will mail birthday or Christmas gifts to Spor’s kids.

And sometimes, Schott said, they will get calls from New York firemen asking if they can come visit the memorial. The answer, of course, is always yes.

Some firemen come here and tell us that here in Anthony, this is the only place they can just get away from it all and think and be in peace,” Schott said while looking at the memorial.

He then added:

This is what we value, this is the American spirit, this is what Anthony, Kansas is about.”

Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter @elizondogabriel