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Cornelius News

{Never Forget} Unforgettable public art

The 9-11 monument, with a 3000 lb. piece of steel from the World TradeCenter in the center

The 9-11 monument, with a 3000 lb. piece of steel from the World TradeCenter in the center

You might say one of the two designers behind the town’s new “Never Forget” monument has come full circle.



Texan Norman Lee was one of only eight finalists in the Ground Zero Design contest in 2003. Not yet a full-time designer of public art, he visited the “bathtub,” the gaping hole in Lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers stood.

The Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 killed 2,996 people and injured more than 6,000 others. These immediate deaths included 265 on the four planes, 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon.

Lee was driving to work when he heard the news. “I remember it as the longest day of my life,” he says.

There were 5,000 entries for the National Sept. 11 memorial, and Lee’s design was one of the final eight. Fast forward 15 years.



Lee and Shane Allbritton, under the auspices of their public art design firm, RE:site in Houston, won the Cornelius competition which drew 14 competitors from around the country. A 12-member committee chose the winning design after narrowing the field to three finalists.

The centerpiece of the design is a 3,000 pound steel beam from the World Trade Center. The beam stands in the center of two walls of limestone oriented toward New York City. The monument is more than 16 feet tall.

Visitors can touch the beam, which shows heat damage from the conflagration that occurred after the planes hit. There is an an articulated line in a circular inscribed paved plaza that sits on an axis with the World Trade Center site. This line is embedded with the date and location of the attack.

The memorial bench honors the special sacrifice of first responders and the U.S. military who answered the call on 9/11, Lee says. The bench contains interpretive panels that honor the people whose lives were lost on 9/11 and those whose lives were forever impacted.

It’s especially meaningful that the Never Forget monument is on the grounds of Cornelius-Lemley Volunteer Fire Station No. 1. Longtime Cornelius firefighter Ricky Overcash and Town Manager Anthony Roberts drove to New York to pick up the beam.

Lee says the words that are carved into the stone in 44 languages are a “commentary and reference to not only the international victims, and where we are right now as a world…coming together as opposed to being divisive.” The 44 languages include a sampling from every continent.

Lee and Allbritton worked with “a myriad” of academics and linguists to get precisely the right meaning and nuances for each transaltion. “It was a big deal…it’s not a direct translation of ‘never forget’ in every case. It might not be the most poetic or appropriate…some cultures are more pluralistic, some are individualistic. Every language was a case-by-case basis,” Lee says.

He has been a full-time public art designer since 2012. It’s different from being an artist per se.

“A public artist, you are working with a community to develop something to kind of tell their story…we are place-makers: We take stories and information and use physical space to tell a story,” Lee says.

Their monument tells a terrible story with a message we in Cornelius and people everywhere will all benefit from: Coming together, regardless of background.

—By Dave Yochum