Time to return ‘The Sphere’

MICHAEL BURKE  |  At the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s monthly board meeting in June, Patrick Foye, the agency’s executive director, expressed his support for restoring the Fritz Koenig Sphere to the World Trade Center site and including it in the National Sept. 11 Memorial.

“This is an artifact that survived and was affected by the horrors of 9/11, and placing it on the Memorial Plaza, we think, is entirely appropriate,” Foye said at the meeting.

Community Board 1 chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes has also called for the return of the sphere, saying, “The sphere is the only public work of art to survive the Trade Center attacks, making it a unique symbol of continuity and the endurance of the creative spirit. Finding the right permanent home for the sphere at the World Trade Center site is one of the unfinished tasks of rebuilding.”

More than 7,000 people have signed my online petition, “Save the sphere,” including scores of 9/11 family members, survivors and Ground Zero workers. Hundreds of Downtown residents have signed another petition calling for its return to the W.T.C., including politicians of the likes of NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

“This is the first thing I saw after walking down 99 floors in Tower 2,” one person wrote. “Please preserve this memory.”

“I helped salvage the sphere from Ground Zero and would very much like to see it returned,” wrote another commenter.

“The sphere is a symbol of strength!” wrote yet another petitioner, who referred to herself simply as Mother of Matthew, 23, W.T.C. Tower One, 105th floor. “How can we not return it to its place of glory for all to see our resilience and determination? Those lost on 9/11 walked past it every day — give the rest of the world the opportunity to do so as well.”

Many people called for the return of the sphere all the way back in 2003, when the final eight design choices for the 9/11 Memorial were up for debate. “It’s just sitting down at Battery Park, when it belongs here,” they complained. Their words, however, seemed to be flat-out ignored by all Ground Zero officials, including the jury that selected the memorial’s final design.

In taking note of its neat, crisp lines, some visitors have complained that the plaza is “antiseptic.” This was not 9/11, they’ve asserted.

The memorial, in order to be genuine and lasting, needs to do more than express our grief and offer healing. It needs to speak directly to our memories of the Sept. 11 attacks and teach and convey to future generations what happened here.

Yet, Joe Daniels, president of the 9/11 Memorial Foundation, has declared that returning the sphere cannot be incorporated into the design. This makes no sense.

There is no precedent for banning from a historical site authentic artifacts that speak directly to that history. Imagine if the keepers of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial had banished the U.S.S. Arizona? Or if they did away with the dome remnants from Hiroshima? What if they disposed of the death camp remnants at Auschwitz-Birkenau, or all the battle artifacts at Gettysburg or Normandy? Or, what if we disposed of the hallow remnants at the African Burial Ground National Monument, just a few blocks north?

These gestures would have denied each of those histories, and if anyone should so much as suggest them, the outrage would be immediate, deafening and just.

This logic does not evaporate at Ground Zero.

The Port Authority’s plan for the sphere was to place the artifact in the future Liberty Park, just outside the rebuilt St. Nicholas Church and the Liberty Street Pedestrian bridge — where it never stood.

Placing it there would convey a lie. It would reduce the sphere from its status as a hallow artifact to another pedestrian obstruction — exactly what Downtown does not need.

The sphere could very easily (and perhaps most economically) be restored just outside the museum’s glass pavilion. There, it would not only be steps away from where it stood for 30 years, but it would act as a welcoming icon for the memorial.

Move it back to the site now, and its rededication — with the relighting of the eternal flame of peace before it — could be the centerpiece of this year’s 9/11 anniversary commemoration. It would provide a profound moment of rebirth and triumph and a great moment of national healing. It would also, not incidentally, present a significant fundraising opportunity to the cash-strapped Foundation.

It is inarguable that the sphere’s return to the W.T.C. could only serve to enhance a visitor’s understanding and appreciation of 9/11.

Must everything at Ground Zero be a battle? What’s to come next? ‘Occupy the sphere?’ Shall people who escaped the burning towers, lost their children and witnessed their friends’ deaths chain themselves to the hallow artifact in order to be heard? Democracy was attacked on 9/11; and now at Ground Zero, will people’s repeated, expressed wishes be ignored?

The 9/11 Memorial Foundation’s refusal to incorporate the sphere onto the plaza amounts to little but stonewalling.

Let’s do the right thing by returning the sphere to where it belongs.


Michael Burke is the brother of Captain William F. Burke, Jr., a firefighter with Engine Company 21 who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Spread the word:

16 Responses to Time to return ‘The Sphere’

  1. 9/11 Family Member

    Thank you to Mike Burke, who has tirelessly championed this important cause on behalf of us all. Of all the controversies that have attached to these precious sixteen acres over the last nearly 11 years, the issue of returning the Koenig Sphere is the one issue that has united all "stakeholders." The beauty of that unity is that this is exactly what the sphere stands for. The Port Authority has had 11 years to give a damn and make it happen. They should step up and do it. How about this quid pro quo: they send construction workers back to the site to finish the memorial museum (stopped at 85% of core construction completed) if the memorial foundation agrees to bringing back the sphere.

  2. Michael Burke

    Works for me.

  3. In my opinion the Koenig Sphere should be restored to new + 1 step more. The sphere looked magnificent when new but was less impressive as the brass tarnished. I think the restored brass parts should have a gold plated matte finish. This is meaningful quality art that would convey the best of the WTC.

  4. Marie Mitchell

    This is a no-brainer and Michael expressed clearly and eloquently
    what must be done. This is not about aesthetics, it is a matter of the
    Heart. Folks around the country have been going to great lengths
    And much expense to import non-descript hunks of steel from the
    Towers as focal points for memorials in their towns. How could we
    fail to include as powerful and poignant a symbol as the Sphere?!?!
    If my brother hadn't been killed on 9/11, I am certain that he and a
    few of his fellow firefighters would have personally transported that
    awesome Sphere to the WTC where it belongs a long time ago! The
    rest of us are trying to do this politely and cooperatively.
    So, PLEASE, bring the Sphere home!

  5. Richard Coombs

    I completely agree. The Sphere should be returned to it's rightful spot as soon as possible. It belongs back where it was!

  6. Thank you for this piece. I just wrote an email to Gov. Cuomo and to Executive Director Patrick Foye asking whether they can provide more information about where the obstacles are coming from.

    While I am reluctant to ask to move the Fritz Koenig Sphere to the Memorial Plaza unless I know there is broad support for this specifically among family stakeholders, first responders, and survivors, I do feel confident the Memorial would be a better memorial if it included the Sphere – even if its presence had the potential to be emotionally difficult.

    I also doubt that many of the Memorial's three million visitors know what the Sphere is – my guess is that most of them would probably appreciate it, just as they seem to appreciate the Survivor Tree.

  7. If we were anyone of the 2996 victims of 9/11 and we were on the other side all our thoughts would have been may our families never forget us and may they know our love will not end at this moment. Let us never forget and bring that sphere back home. For all of survirors, greiving family members, firefighter who lost their friends, business associates who watched their friends perish and a world of good people who came to lend their hand and provided so much support. That sphere just reflects 2 things to me – as in the Star Spangle Banner – the bombs bursting in air gave proff through the night that our flag was still there – our Sphere was stil there after the attacks on our homeland and Mother Theresa words about world peace" 'if we have had no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other'. She said 'Peace begins with a smile. Smile a hundred times at someone you don't really feel like smiling at. Do it for Peace'.

  8. Margaret Donovan

    The "bombs bursting in air" analogy is perfect. Who could miss that? To have the great Sphere moved to Ground Zero in time for the 11th anniversary of September 11th would be a tremendous blessing for all Americans. We need its witness and its reassurance that sometimes things do go right. As someone who rarely champions the Port Authority, I believe it is a mistake to think their dispute with the Foundation is just about money. If it were, the Sphere would have been in its rightful place years ago. Who do they speak for when they refuse to recognize the Sphere's honored place? Why is the Museum board is so resistant to listening to reason? Why did some families have to endure a three-week overnight sidewalk vigil in the dead of winter to get the the victims' names to the plaza level? Imagine the memorial without the names! There is ample reason to question the way the Memorial is being governed. If taxpayers are going to pledge perpetual support to the site, our Governors are right to question the wisdom of the current Memorial regime.

  9. margaret cawley

    Margaret Cawley
    I only wish this article could have been in every newspaper for all to read. It explains the entire issue in a nutshell except for Joe's Daniel's statement that the Sphere cannot be returned because it does not meet the integrity of the Memorial design! The Sphere should have been in cluded in the design from the beginning as it speaks to the history of that day of devastation. Thank you Michael for a fantastic article.

  10. Yes, this is a no-brainer, but scrapping the memorial design and the entire impractical Libeskind plan was also a no-brainer. Unfortunately doing the right thing with the Sphere won’t solve the major problems on the rest of the site. It will be a mediocre place after a fortune is spent.

  11. Peter Walukiewicz

    It's bad enough they did not rebuild the Twin Towers. But, they can still do SOMETHING right, and put the Sphere where it belongs. At it's exact location in the former Austin J. Tobin Plaza, now the WTC memorial.

  12. The sphere and its vicinity (unlike the memorials) could be open 24/7 with minimal cost.

  13. If Greenwich Street is above ground the Sphere would have to be moved closer to the waterfall memorials, or the Sphere can be in the original location if Greenwich Street is underground. Greenwich Street underground is more sensible anyway.

  14. You could also put the Sphere in the Calatrava or where the Calatrava is.

  15. My last comments: The plaza would be the best place for the Sphere of course. It is quality meaningful art. I think the Sphere should be restored although some could disagree with this. Maybe the Sphere would cause a problem for the official memorial; this sensible economical addition might make some visitors think negatively of the official memorial and less people might want to pay the high admission to the memorial museum. This might not matter anyway as the memorial likely will go bankrupt unless it gets outside funding.

    The memorials are not the only problem. The rest of the project is effectively bankrupt which is why commuters have the huge toll increases. If the project is ever completed after a fortune is spent not only will it be mediocre but also high maintenence. Pataki is primarily responsible for this mess, but also the big names that pushed for this project share responsibility: the NY Times and Daily News editorial boards and Mayor Bloomberg. Possibly one of Bloomberg’s foundations could contribute a few billion dollars to this crummy project to get the ball rolling again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

× 8 = fifty six