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The fight for the World Trade Center sphere

Unsightly bird poop covers the sphere in recent years
Unsightly bird poop covers the sphere in recent years
Michael Burke

The September 11 Memorial and Museum have been open together for over a month now, but not everyone is happy about it. Besides the much-publicized concerns over the columbarium inside the museum, the high admission fee, and the tactless items for sale in the gift shop, another concern has been voiced about one thing in particular: the Sphere.

Koenig's sphere
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Koenig Sphere is a 25-foot-high artwork of a globe, made of bronze, that had stood sentinel at the World Trade Center site from the Twin Towers’ opening day in 1971 until the September 11 attacks in 2001. Created in Germany by artist Fritz Koenig, and known as the artist’s greatest work, the Sphere was an icon of world trade and peace, originally placed at the center of a ring of fountains that many businessmen and travelers alike marveled at and relaxed by.

On September 11, the Sphere was buried under rubble, but left relatively unscathed. It was pulled from the site, with little cleaning of its scars, and is now placed in Battery Park, buried behind a never-ending length of fencing and construction, and placed somewhere near Castle Clinton, beside an eternal flame in remembrance of the lives lost during the Trade Center attacks.

What’s the main issue? A group of individuals connected to the World Trade Center site believes that the Sphere belongs where it started. It should be placed back on the site, at the memorial between the footprints of the Twin Towers, a visible reminder of what used to be and of the terrors that took place on that final day.

Examiner interviewed the 9/11 family members and advocates to learn more about their efforts to change the fate of the Sphere, and what follows is their plea.

Michael Burke, the leader of the movement Save the Sphere, is the brother of William F. Burke, FDNY captain of Engine Co. 21, who gave his life in the attacks. Burke has strong opinions about the memorial site and the Sphere’s placement, and has lent his voice to numerous articles and posts about the topic (most recently to the Huffington Post).

The “disjointed structure” of the sphere, he says, “represents a working reality rather than a smooth, pretty ideal of world peace. Its bashed, torn structure bears witness to the attacks and of the endurance of the best of humanity triumphing over the worst.”

Thomas Meehan, whose daughter Colleen Bakow was killed at age 26 on September 11, says the sphere is a special work of art: “Prior to September 11th, the sphere was part of the landscape where Colleen worked, I would travel into the city and meet her for lunch, and it was then a symbol of the place she loved to work for. In the aftermath of the tragedy, when the sphere was moved to Battery Park and one could see it up close, it I think became a greater symbol, for it not only represented what existed before the attack,

it now held witness to the lives lost, the sacrifices made, and it encompassed a spirit to survive and to re-build.”

Marilyn Masaryk, who lived downtown during the attacks, also comments on the sphere: “The Koenig Sphere is an historical artifact. It not only survived the 9/11 terrorist attack but it is the only intact remnant of the WTC. It is a little the worse for wear but so are all of us who lived through that day and its aftermath. Moving the Sphere back to the site would give visitors a sense of what was there before the attack and why we should never forget what happened that day. We should respect our history, not run from it.”

There are many criticisms of the layout of the memorial site, from the lack of above-ground artifacts to the overly-simple design. Burke argues that the memorial “eradicates all memory of what happened here, September 11, 2001. [It is], ironically in contrast to the Sphere’s original design,” a sterile place.

In the opening exhibition of the 9/11 Museum, Burke notes thatThese huge photos greet you as you enter the museum and extoll the historical significance of the Sphere: we see the Sphere between the towers, pre-9/11, and beyond it [through the windows] is the plaza today; the two vast voids and between them - nothing. It's bizarre; the museum acknowledges its historical significance but while millions visit Ground Zero, the Sphere sits down in Battery Park, tucked away in a corner, beside a Korean War memorial. This is an affront to truth and memory. Why not simply return the Sphere in between those towers? Gaze at that poster; what was and what is today. It is impossible to say that our memory and understanding of 9/11 and therefore our honor of its victims is enhanced by leaving the Sphere in Battery Park.”

Burke complains that the Sphere has no relevance to its current location. “I, and other family members, for years made it clear to memorial officials – before a shovel was set into the ground to build the memorial – that it should be returned to the WTC and included in the memorial.” Burke and his fellow sphere-supporters have written numerous opinion pieces that were published in the Wall Street Journal, The Daily News, and other papers, and have spoken up at various public forums.

In order to encourage the public to take a stand on the sphere’s location, a petition was formed, written to then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, which eventually gained over 7,000 signatures. When advertising the petition in her downtown neighborhood, Masaryk says there was “about a 99% favorable response-both people living here, working here and tourists. People who knew of the Sphere and who didn't.”

Despite this, officials seem to have simply discredited the appeals. Comments Burke, “The general public widely endorses the return of the Sphere. The ‘authorities’ – that is the Memorial Foundation, flat out ignores the expressed opinion of the people, the families and the artist’s representatives. They ignore the precedent of history and they ignore their duty and common sense. As they ever have.”

Masaryk argues, “It seems to me that [memorial officials] want a clean, neat and orderly memorial-nothing to mar it, nothing unpleasant. But that is just what did NOT happen there that day.”

Margaret Donovan, head of the Twin Towers Alliance, writes “I see the missing Sphere as a microcosm of so many of our problems nationally. The Sphere is something that most people agree on and yet it has never achieved prominence as an issue. What the Sphere represents to me is not only a symbol of our heroic past but is also a perfect example of a wrong that could be easily rectified, if only we the people were fully informed.”

“People who come to the World Trade Center from across the country and around the world will discover at the memorial how massive the towers were and in the museum they will learn what we New Yorkers could never forget. But they will not […] marvel at the dented, heroically beautiful Koenig Sphere that belongs on the memorial grounds, where it triumphed over hell on earth – not across the street in ‘Liberty Park’.”

Says Meehan,

“I would hope that the sphere would be returned to the site, that it become a permanent marker adjacent to the reflecting pools to stand as a silent guardian of the remains seven levels beneath the surface, and stand in tribute to the lives lost, and the sacrifices made by the uniformed services.”

As of this writing, there are no known plans to return the sphere to it's original location. To learn more about the efforts to move the sphere and to sign the petition, visit Save the Sphere on facebook. You can also contact the group at savethesphere@gmail.com.