The twisted mass of metal arrived at Fulton-Montgomery Community College early Tuesday evening, a 32-foot, 36,000-pound reminder of the terror attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
The mangled debris is a portion of the main communications antenna from the North Tower, its fall to the ground wrenching 8-inch-thick steel lattice into S-curves and braiding copper conduits like hair.
“I’m feeling overjoyed and blessed,” said Lou Pabon, a former FMCC student and New York City laborer who was central to bringing the debris to the college, as he stood by the piece Wednesday morning. “We carry on.”
Pabon and Joel Chapin, a professor of fine arts at the college, brought the piece north Tuesday from a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hangar where bigger pieces of debris from the World Trade Center still remain nearly 14 years after the attacks, as they are harder to find a home for.
The antenna was at one point destined for the New York State Museum in Albany, Pabon said, but because of its size that plan was scrapped. Its top portion ended up in a museum in the Hudson Valley.
At FMCC, the debris will be set vertically atop a concrete pylon and surrounded by stanchions with photos telling the story of the World Trade Center, from the attacks all the way through the construction of One World Trade Center once the Lower Manhattan site was cleared.
The antenna will act as a sundial, casting a shadow on an adjacent model of the twin towers at the exact time of the attack each Sept. 11.
“I think it’s going to be a moving monument,” said FMCC President Dustin Swanger.
He said work on the sculpture will likely begin in the spring. It will be the focal point of a sculpture garden near the school’s Vietnam memorial, near the visitors’ parking lot.
For Pabon, the monument will be a reminder of the people he came across, both victims and survivors, when he spent about seven months cleaning up after the attacks as a member of Laborers Local 731 of New York City.
When he was studying at FMCC more recently, he said, he wanted a way to give back to the college, which he felt had given him so much — after his two children graduated, the 63-year-old Johnstown resident decided to enroll himself. He graduated last May.
“I like to do things big,” he said, his New York City roots clear in his accent. “I said, ‘I think we can get a piece of the World Trade Center here.’ ”
He wrote a letter to the Port Authority stating his case and, in cooperation with school officials, drafted plans for the monument.
“And here we are today. We got the piece,” he said Wednesday. “I hope it serves as a learning tool, but also a magnet to the school.”
Pabon remembers the names of the people he helped carry out of the rubble in body bags, and the names of the police officers at the scene. He remembers the survivors who spent days or weeks at the site waiting for the bodies of loved ones to be found, and remembers how touched he was — not by their grief, but by their compassion.
Standing near the antenna Wednesday morning, he recalled helping carry a body out on a wooden board, he and five other laborers forming an ad hoc honor guard, as was common.
“Six years later, I find out he’s Greg Costello,” he said. “He was an elevator operator responsible for saving several thousand lives. He ran back. He had already left and was on his way home.”
Pabon said he was honored to have carried Costello's body out. He teared up at the recollection.
Walking the length of the antenna, wondering at the force it took to warp the steel and copper, he also wondered at the feat of ambition and cooperation that brought it to the college, and imagined what it would look like next year.
He described the day he pitched the idea to Chapin in an art classroom.
“This was just an idea in our heads,” he said.