DECATUR — Harriet Sadowski of Decatur sharply remembers the moment she was called to assist in relief efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks 17 years ago.
The longtime American Red Cross disaster volunteer was one of several community members and leaders who gathered at the Macon County Courthouse Tuesday and dedicated a time capsule commemorating the efforts that built the 9/11 memorial at Nelson Park one year ago.
"Every so often, something will hit me," Sadowski said. "Whatever it might be, it puts me right back to where I was at that time."
Nearly 3,000 people died in the 2001 attacks, when three airplanes were flown into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth airplane crashed in a rural Pennsylvania field after passengers and crew attempted to retake it from terrorists who had hijacked the flight. The attacks were coordinated by the al-Qaeda terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a May 2011 U.S. military operation.
Sadowski said she spent three weeks in New York City around Ground Zero and later three weeks at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. assisting families affected by the attacks and also acting as a nurse for injured people. The experience was disorienting at first, she said, and the heavy smoke left her with a cough that lasts to this day.
Tuesday's dedication ceremony featured remarks from people who either championed the push to build the Nelson Park memorial or raised funds and support needed to do so — such as Sadowski, Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett, sheriff's Lt. Jon Butts and Corey Kistner, a United States Marine Corps veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan shortly after the attacks.
The capsule is buried on the side of the courthouse that faces East Wood Street. After pilot Darryl Fisher performed a flyover in his Boeing WWII Stearman biplane, each participant shoveled dirt on top of the burial site. A granite marker will later be placed on top of the buried capsule, noting that it should not be unearthed until Sept. 11, 2055.
"(I'm) glad that this chapter of the story is over," said Lauren Axe, who has served as a liaison for the 9/11 memorial throughout the entire process.
The capsule contains artifacts including photos of the memorial being built, fundraiser brochures and tickets, Herald & Review and Decatur Tribune articles that chronicled the memorial's journey and a piece of a salvaged World Trade Center I-beam that was incorporated into the memorial's design.
Standing at nearly 30-feet-tall, the Nelson Park memorial was unveiled to the public on Sept. 11, 2017. The unveiling came about two years after the George A. Mueller Beer Co. led a strong campaign to bring the salvaged steel beam from New York to Decatur, and intended to use it as the centerpiece of a monument.
Through several fundraising efforts, including patriotic tattoos by Oakwood Tattoo and a Mardi Gras donation from St. Patrick's School, the Decatur community helped organizers raise the $70,000 needed to build the memorial.
The Decatur Park District Board later approved the proposed lakefront location for the memorial, adjacent to the Beach House Restaurant, and its construction began last August. While the E.L. Pruitt Co. built the steel Twin Towers that make up a majority of the memorial, more than 70 union workers volunteered to put it all together.
Looking back on everything that led to the memorial's construction, Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said she was proud of the community's hard work.
"We're very blessed in this community to have giant gifts that come to us, but it's the people that get together and do something like this," she said.
Axe said that while this part of the memorial's story is over, she's keeping an open mind about the potential of helping bring more Sept. 11 memorials to the area — specifically one that represents the Pentagon.
Until that day comes, Axe said she's glad the memorial will serve as a reminder for those who remember the attacks and for future generations to learn about them.
Sadowski said she feels the same way, and that she's fortunate to have been a part of making the memorial a reality.
"From when the beam got here, I was there," she said. "Then when we put it up, I was there. Everything that happened, I was there, and I feel so fortunate to have been there for all of it."