A Battered Remnant of September 11
in the Heart of Campus
Situated in the Oak Grove next to Sutton Hall, this piece of a World Trade Center trident is on loan from the Kovalchick family. (Photo by Keith Boyer)
In a corner of the Oak Grove between Sutton Hall and Stapleton Library, there sits an oddly shaped piece of ragged, reddish-brown metal. Occasionally it puzzles passersby. Sometimes it brings to a halt a campus tour. At least once a year, in early September, it is the object of solemn reverence.
For more than 30 years this piece of steel belonged to one of two World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan. Sheathed in aluminum, it was part of a massive steel beam that rose from the base of a building along the outside wall. From the sixth to the ninth floor of each tower, 152 tridents divided the beams into three smaller beams that continued to the 110th floor.
Somewhere along its journey, either before it was put up or after its building fell down, the piece of trident in the Oak Grove acquired a stamped identification: 75C792.
The tridents got their name from their three-pronged tops. The New York Times said they were the “one instantly recognizable flourish to his otherwise Spartan design” that the original architect, Minoru Yamasaki, added to his building design.
Sometimes Yamasaki referred to the trident columns as “trees.” Those who fabricated and welded them, like John Ciangiarulo Jr., of McKees Rocks, called them “forks.”
It turns out the tridents were pure Pennsylvania. Their steel was forged at Lukens Steel in Coatesville. The tridents themselves were fabricated and welded at Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Company on Neville Island near Pittsburgh.
Fifty years ago, as a specialty welder, Ciangiarulo was in charge of other welders; he also checked, tested, and repaired welds. He was union president at Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel, where he put in 37 years.
“We worked on the first nine floors of the Twin Towers,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year. “We made the forks that stayed up. They were 70-ton pieces, the maximum our cranes could lift.”
On Neville Island, the tridents were assembled, blasted clean, painted, and then welded together. They left the island aboard flatbed rail cars—one to a flatcar.
Sheathed in aluminum, the World Trade Center’s tridents were called the “one instantly recognizable flourish” to architect Minoru Yamasaki’s “otherwise Spartan design.” Photo: Ground Zero, 1978, by Luca Terzaroli, creativecommons.org/licenses/BY/2.0
The 200,000 steel components that made up the World Trade Center arrived by freight to a Penn Central rail yard in Jersey City, New Jersey. From there, they traversed deserted early-morning streets through the Holland Tunnel to the construction site. Larger pieces crossed the Hudson by tugboat.
The North Tower was completed at the end of 1970 and the South Tower about seven months later. The Twin Towers stood until the morning of September 11, 2001, when planes piloted by terrorists were intentionally flown into them.
The North Tower was hit first and stood for 102 minutes. The South Tower, struck by the second plane at a point lower in the building, collapsed in less than an hour. Among the 2,606 who died were three IUP alumni: William Moskal ’79, Donald Jones ’80, and William Sugra ’93.
In the monumental debris, as Ciangiarulo proudly asserted, a few huge, jagged slices of the trident façade remained standing. They were about all that was recognizable.
Trucking and barging resumed—this time in reverse. The piles of twisted steel were taken to four salvage yards—three in New Jersey and one on Staten Island—to be cut up and sold for recycling all over the world.
“Our friends in the scrap business were processing this material,” Nathan Kovalchick, chief operating officer of Indiana’s Kovalchick Corporation, said. “I picked out some of the pieces to preserve before they were lost forever.”
The Oak Grove trident is on loan from the Kovalchick family. It made its way—all 18,000 pounds of it—at a crawl across campus in the fall of 2002. On October 4 that year it was formally installed in a ceremony that also included dedication of Professor James Nestor’s September 11 memorial.
“I had close friends from college who were killed that day,” Kovalchick said. “When I acquired the pieces of the World Trade Center, I knew it was only a matter of time before people would no longer have a physical connection to the reality of September 11.
“For my three teenage sons and for all the students who pass this trident every day, many who are too young to recall seeing the events unfold, this is a powerful physical presentation. For others who remember how they felt, I hope viewing this artifact reignites the sense of pride, patriotism, and unity that existed in America at that time.”
In McKees Rocks, John Ciangiarulo is 85 now. He learned only in September that a remnant of one of the Pittsburgh-Des Moines tridents had found its way to IUP. “I’d love to see it,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”
The 9/11 Memorial Museum’s pavilion was built around two tridents recovered from the North Tower’s eastern façade. The seven-story structures were installed in September 2010, more than three years before the museum opened at the World Trade Center site. (Photo at right: Karen Gresh; Photo below: Jin Lee)