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Remembering 9/11: A Unique Memorial in Coatesville

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The World Trade Center “trees” will be on display at Lukens National Historic District as part of “Coatesville Remembers: 10th Anniversary World Trade Center Commemoration,” to be held 7:30-10:30 a.m. on Sept. 11. To learn more, visit graystonesociety.org.

Photo by Robert O. WilliamsIn its heyday, Lukens Steel employed almost 7,000 people in the city of Coatesville. What was created there became a part of nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers and freight trains, even New York’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Lukens was also the one responsible for the steel “trees,” or tridents, that made up the soaring lobbies of the World Trade Center. They provided some of the most haunting post-9/11 images, fittingly described as twisted metal fingers reaching up toward God.

On April 14 of last year, Coatesville’s Graystone Society brought 500 tons’ worth of the steel trees home via a convoy of 28 tractor-trailers. More than 1,200 media outlets covered the solemn event. Originally constructed at Lukens Steel in the late 1960s, the trees are the centerpieces of Coatesville’s National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum.

The Graystone Society helps to preserve Coatesville’s historic architecture. It also assists with municipal improvements and economic development through preservation. Its president, Scott G. Huston, is the great-, great-, great-, great-grandson of Rebecca Lukens, one of the founders of Lukens Steel and our nation’s first female industrialist. Her daughter’s marriage forever changed the family name from Lukens to Huston.
 

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After 9/11, Huston worked to bring the steel back to Coatesville so it could become the central artifact for a museum dedicated to both the people who crafted the steel and the victims of the tragedy. At his side was Graystone vice president and treasurer Eugene DiOrio, a former Lukens accountant and now keeper of everything worth knowing about the company. “We knew that this steel belonged here in Coatesville, the city of its birth,” says Huston. “At the time, we worried about last-minute reconsiderations. These pieces could’ve easily been held back by authorities in New York [due to] their iconic nature as the last steel standing from the North Tower façade.”

The tridents are the focal point of a 9/11 remembrance ceremony that takes place annually on the grounds of the Lukens National Historic District in Coatesville, now the site of the largest collection of World Trade Center artifacts outside New York City.

“People go up to the trees and pat them gently—just like you’d touch a coffin, with respect and reverence,” says Huston. “Most come away visibly moved, and many cry. I’ve had 9/11 first-responders tell me that when they first touched the steel, they saw a movie playing in their minds of the days after the fall of the towers. This steel obviously has a big story to tell. And our goal is to give it a voice.”

After 20 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Melinda M. Williams is now the managing partner of the Williams Group, a public relations firm in Exton. Robert O. Williams is a former staff photographer for the Inquirer and author of the book, Hometown Diners. The two recently completed a second book, Wildwood’s Neon Nights & Motel Memories. For more info, visit wildwoodsneonnights.com and thewilliamsgroup.info.