The events of September 11, 2001 and the 14 victims from Rye, are embodied in a symbolic structure overlooking Blind Brook on Rye’s Village Green and that gazebo has a story of its own.
It has a history that began in 2004 when the Rye 9-11 Memorial Committee, comprised mainly of those families who had lost loved ones at the Twin Towers.
At the outset, it was supposed to be a bridge over Blind Brook just outside the library, a span that would link the Village Green with the Rye YMCA.
The city's bridge approval process was nearly completed just prior to the floods of 2007. When Blind Brook overflowed, the Sept. 11 Memorial Committee reconsidered. Along with then Mayor Steve Otis and other city officials, they decided against the bridge.
Shortly thereafter Sally Wright, an executive with the Rye YMCA and one of the leaders of the Rye Chamber of Commerce, was one of the first to come up with the idea to recreate the gazebo that once stood on the Village Green as a 9-11 Memorial.
The first gazebo was built circa 1909. It stood 16 feet high, set two to three feet off the ground and had a diameter of 20 feet. Sometime in the 1930s, it fell into disrepair and was removed.
Recreating that gazebo as a 9-11 Memorial on the Village Green seemed a way to link Rye’s history while while honoring those who lost their lives during the 2001 terrorist attack.
But that turned out to be easier said than done.
Several Rye organizations objected to the proposed gazebo being re-created on the original gazebo site behind the Square House including the Rye Historical Society, the Board of Architectural Review (BAR), Rye Garden Club and Kurt Hadeler, then director of the Rye Free Reading Room.
Those objections mainly focused on the location. The gazebo re-creation would call for the removal of existing gardens, would be hidden from Boston Post Road and Purchase Street and conflict with the 1730s theme of the Square House.
So the BAR proposed an alternate location on the Village Green across from Haviland Lane and just in front of Blind Brook.
But the project architect Linda Easton and the Landmarks Advisory Committee preferred restoring the gazebo to its original location.
They said if the replica was placed outside its original footprint it would be a false re-creation of history, that sentiment guided by the Secretary of Interior’s standards.
That led to extensive debate within the Rye City Council complicated by the fact that the alternate location was in the flood plain while the original site was 25 feet away.
The pros and cons swirled around the project for what seemed like an eternity. Holly O’Neill-Melville, president of the Rye 9-11 Memorial Committee, widow of Sean O’Neill, spoke out for the families of the victims when she reportedly told the Council:
“All we really want is our memorial to be put up. We’re one of the only towns in Westchester that doesn’t have such a memorial and it’s ridiculous.”
On June 6, 2010– a day reminiscent of another historic day, World War II’s invasion D-Day, the Sixth of June– the city unveiled the re-created and long-awaited gazebo on a day when even the heavens wept.
“When I look at this gazebo, I am reminded that I live in a community that values history,” Holly O’Neill-Melville said. “How lucky we are to live in a place that treasures the memory of the past, that values the story behind it. Our memorial is now another chapter in that story and our community cares about that story. “
Steve Otis who was mayor during the gazebo process said: “In this place and at this time, it is fitting that we bring together part of Rye’s past with this historic gazebo. It is especially meaningful that we join the personal celebration of the lives of our friends with the history of Rye, our past, our present and our future. Today we dedicate this memorial to honor, remember, and express our love for what they mean to us and what they mean to Rye.”
Current Mayor Douglas French then thanked the committee for gifting the memorial to the city “so that this day, these events and these people will always be part of Rye.”
The gazebo features the signatures of each of the 9-11 victims beneath the circular railing in the gazebo interior: Sean O’Neill, Tommy Palazzo, George Morell, Teddy Maloney, Christopher Mello, Ward Haynes, Thomas Crotty, Benjamin Fisher, Yugi Goya, Takashi Kinoshita, Gary Kocheler, Francis McGuinn, Michael Simon and Allan Upton.
This Sunday there will be a 9-11 Memorial Observance at 3 p.m. beginning at the Locust Avenue Firehouse and moving to the Village Green where Holly O’Neill-Melville will read those names in tribute.