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The 9/11 Decade: Hartsdale Wall Pieced Together

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Friday morning, Frank Pescetti, 54, was again working on the People’s Memorial monument at Richard Presser Park, in Hartsdale. He dipped his trowel into a bucket of cement and then smeared the wall, before carefully installing a new tile. It’s a task he has done numerous times in his 30 years as mason. But this time is different.

“It’s not an ordinary job for me,” Pescetti said.

Neither were those merely ordinary tiles. They were painted in 2002 by people from all over Westchester County and placed on the monument’s 120 feet long wall as a mural honoring the victims of the 9/11 attacks. But during 2009, the tiles started falling down, and the town eventually removed them. Now Pescetti, an Irvington resident, is the last in a string of community members working to renovate the monument, just in time for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.    

The 1,830 6-by-6 inch tiles were painted during 25 workshops held in places like the Rye Arts Center, the Clay Arts Center, and the Westchester Arts Council, and then arranged in 10 rows along the wall. We see hearts, rainbows, flowers, the Twin Towers and, of course, many American flags, but only a few texts from those who ignored artist Ron Mineo’s rule that all messages should be visual.

“I didn’t want to make it too personal,” said Mineo, who lives in Katonah and teaches sculpture at the Westchester Community College. 

Completing Mineo’s design, a white block of fiberglass shaped as smoke runs from the left and over the tiles panel and transformed into birds.

“The birds fly off as spirits,” Mineo said. “That represents the spirits of people who died in the attacks.”

Mineo was in Italy when 9/11 happened and flew back a few days later. Crossing the Whitestone Bridge on his way from Kennedy airport, he saw a column of smoke drifting away from the World Trade Center site. He said that this vision inspired his design.

“It really affected me,” he said.

Mineo devised a stripe of lighter tiles that wave along the wall and join the fiberglass smoke. He said that after the tiles were painted, they were laid on an empty theater stage, with people walking over them on socks and using laser to figure out their position.

“We worked for many weeks to separate dark and light tiles,” he said.   

The monument was donated by the Rotary Clubs to the Town of Greenburgh in 2003, with the groundbreaking ceremony happening on Sept. 11 of that year. Luis Del Rosario, a member of the Elmsford Rotary Club and owner of Elmsford Raceway, doesn’t shy away from recognizing his role in proposing the project to the organization.

“I was instrumental in getting it up for the first step,” he said.

Over $61,000 was raised among 15 different rotary clubs and a large number of individuals to build the wall and pay for the artwork, according to a flier released by Rotary International.

In 2005, the town returned the favor by allowing Rotary International to paint the other side of the wall as a celebration of its 100 years. So, the back of People’s Memorial became the Rotary “Centennial Wall.”  

But nobody counted on the tiles falling from the wall.

Pescetti said that most probably the wrong adhesive was used or was applied at the wrong temperature, and that the tiles were not coated on their back, a technique called “buttering.”

Town engineer Michael Lepre was not available for comments as of Sunday evening, but Gerard Byrne, the parks and recreation commissioner, did accept that something went wrong.

“We thought the original application was going to work, but it didn’t,” Byrne said.

Both Del Rosario and Mineo said that they felt frustrated when the tiles came off.

“It’s just like seeing your own baby sick,” Del Rosario said. “It needs to be cured and it needs to be fixed.”

Del Rosario then again used his connections to raise money for the renovation. This time, he managed a $20,000 donation from Sam’s Club, he said, the remainder of it will be passed to the Gift of Life, a charity run through the rotary clubs.

Still, somebody needed to recover the tiles. That task was undertaken by Sarah Bracey White, Greenburgh’s arts and culture director, and the group of 41 volunteers she gathered, among them firefighters, retired teachers and IBM workers, who threw themselves into the tedious duty of removing grout. Even kids helped.

“Some of them were so young that they were not even born when 9/11 occurred,” White said.

Just as Mineo had done on a theater stage, White placed the tiles on the tennis court of the Anthony F. Veteran Park, in Ardsley, in order to reproduce the wave pattern.

“I found out that working on the evenings, when lights began to change, I could see the design,” she said, adding that blank tiles of the same color as the original ones were put on the bottom row to replace the 160 that broke or disappeared.

Pescetti said that he should be done in a week, and that the tiles won’t fall again, for his reputation will be at stake.

This year, residents who attend the event marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11, on Sept. 11 in the park, will again see the wall with all its tiles, 1,670 messages honoring the ones who died.   

Did you create a tile or help remove grout? Tell us about it in comments below, or on Facebook.


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