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Flight 5191 and September 11 Memorials

Kentucky is home to two artistic memorials to tragedies from the early 2000s. A memorial to the September 11 attacks is located at St. Elizabeth Hospice in Northern Kentucky, and a sculpture honoring the lives lost in the 2006 Flight 5191 crash is on display at the UK Arboretum in Lexington. In this Kentucky Life memory, past host Dave Shuffett gets the story behind both works of art.

St. Elizabeth’s September 11 memorial is made using a steel I-beam salvaged from the rubble of the World Trade Center. The story of how the memorial was created begins with Catherine Smith, a volunteer at the hospice.

“I first read about the opportunity to obtain a piece of steel in September of 2009 in the Sunday New York Times,” Smith remembers. “It was a beautifully written article that [said] the port authority was giving a couple thousand pieces away, and if you were a qualified nonprofit or government agency, you could submit a request for a piece. It immediately struck me that this would be perfect not only as a symbol for hospice awareness but really for the entire Northern Kentucky region.”

Smith served on the board of the University of Kentucky College of Design, and she reached out to them to assist in creating an appropriate monument incorporating the steel. They designed a simple but elegant base made out of concrete in honor of the building’s construction.

“I was pleased with the end result,” says Rives Rash of the UK College of Design. “There were some imperfections. However, due to all the rust and the corrosion that’s already exhibited on the I-beam, it really matched gracefully.”

In August of 2006, Comair Flight 5191 crashed at Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport, killing 49 people on board. The Atlanta-bound flight held many Lexington area residents, and the effects of the disaster rippled across the community.

Douwe Blumberg is a sculptor based in Pendleton County. He was tasked with creating a memorial for the people who died in the crash.

“The concept [of the sculpture] is based on 49 souls that were lost that day, represented by 49 highly stylized birds,” says Blumberg. “They’re flying up from the ground, and they’re all touching each other, which is symbolic. They’re all together, but they’re individuals at the same time. I think that’s something that very often gets lost…The reality is that these were people with futures. These were people who had just gotten married or a couple going to build homes for people…We forget that in the scope of large disasters. I think sometimes the individual gets lost.”

The sculpture was unveiled at the Arboretum, where it remains today.

“I think, in this case, [the memorial] serves other purposes for the families,” says Blumberg. “To give them a place that they can individually come and pray, reflect, meditate, and just be. That, I think in a beautiful and appropriate way, honors the memories of the people that were important to them.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2505, which originally aired on November 2, 2019. Watch the full episode.