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Steel beam returns to ground zero

A steel beam, shrouded in white, is lifted by crane to the World Trade Center site Monday.
A steel beam, shrouded in white, is lifted by crane to the World Trade Center site Monday.
Mark Lennihan, Associated Press

NEW YORK — It became a makeshift memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. Now a massive steel column has been returned to ground zero as a symbol of rebirth.

After more than seven years in storage at a hangar at Kennedy International Airport, the 58-ton, 36-foot-tall beam was delivered early Monday to the World Trade Center site.

A crane lifted it upright, hoisted it in the air and placed it gently into its final resting place on the west side of the trade center site, where a museum dedicated to the Sept. 11 attacks is being built.

American flags were affixed to each side of the column, which had a white protective covering.

"It's a proud day," said retired firefighter Lee Ielpi, who watched.

His son, Jonathan, also a firefighter, died in the attack. "I also lost 80 to 100 good friends. I'm proud of all of them," said Ielpi, wiping away a tear.

The column is to be the centerpiece of the planned National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum. Other large artifacts including a damaged fire truck also will be brought to the museum site before the roof is built over them.

Joseph Daniels, president of the 9/11 Memorial Foundation, said artifacts like the column "take on tremendous emblematic meaning. .... The last column represents all the effort by individuals that made this recovery effort unprecedented in American history."

The so-called "Last Column" was the final standing steel column removed from ground zero, and it became a steel canvas for tributes from recovery workers and victims' families.

It was adorned with firehouse patches, police logos and union stickers, and spray-painted with the shorthand messages "PAPD 37," "NYPD 23," and "FDNY 343" in honor of Port Authority and city police officers and firefighters who died in the 2001 attacks.

It was cut down, wrapped in black muslin and an American flag, and taken out as part of a ceremony marking the end of recovery efforts on May 30, 2002.