Interesting Places to Visit
Russian 'Tear' 9/11 Memorial, 'To the Struggle Against World Terrorism' (Bayonne, New Jersey)
By Richard “Zippy” Grigonis — March 4, 2011
The wind-swept northeast corner of the Bayonne Peninsula in New Jersey—essentially a man-made pier jutting into Upper New York Bay, just across the water from the both the Statue of Liberty and the former World Trade Center—is a foreboding place, the site of a former military base, now near the entrance to a cruise terminal. On this corner of nowhere, surrounded by an almost apocalyptic, post-industrial wasteland of rubble, shipping containers, weeds and asphalt, one can see a 40-foot long, mirror-like, 4-ton nickel-plated stainless steel teardrop daintily hanging from the top of a jagged vertical fissure in a colossal 106-foot tall, 175-ton steel tower clad in softly glowing bronze. With a design evoking the vanquished World Trade Center, it’s a monument—a gift of Russia, its people and the Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, who created it.
if you know where to look In bayonne, New Jersey, you'll be surprised by the giant bronze-sheathed 9/11 memorial entitled, “To the struggle against world terrorism” given to america by the people of russia. in the original design, actual water was to drip from the 40-foot long, nickel-chrome plated teardrop. In other words, the work would have literally shed tears. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
Officially the name of this monument is, “To the Struggle Against World Terrorism.” It’s also known as the “Russian Tear,” “Tear of Grief,” “Teardrop Memorial,” “the Russian Tear Drop Monument” and “The Memorial at Harbor View Park.” It has also been called “the biggest 9/11 memorial you’ve never heard of,” “a ten-story embarrassment,” “a heavy-handed, simplistic cliché,” “an insensitive, self-aggrandizing piece of pompousness by one of the world’s blatant self-promoters,” and “a cross between a scar and a woman’s private parts.” It somehow manages to combine bitter controversy, an almost conspiratorially-imposed obscurity, and majestic high art, all in a neat monolithic sculpture.
The approach to the russian tear memorial is low-key, to say the least. if you didn't see it rising in the distance (at center of photo) you would never suspect that anything like it existed in this part of bayonne, new jersey, way out at the edge of a man-made peninsula. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
The odyssey of how this artistic testament came to be at its current location is a fascinating story. The man at the center of it all is artist Zurab Tsereteli, perhaps Russia’s most famous artist. He knows everyone from Adnan Koshogi to Eunice Kennedy Shriver. He has sculpted busts of former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, crooner Iosif Kobzon and film director Eldar Ryazanov. He's friends with former President Bill Clinton. Indeed, the list of luminaries who have visited his workshop include French actress Catherine Deneuve, former U.S. president George H.W. Bush and Hollywood leading man Robert De Niro, who signed a photo in Tsereteli’s studio thus, “To Zurab: Thank you for your gracious hospitality. Take care, my friend, Bob De Niro.”
The first indication that you may be approaching something interesting is this nondescript sign reading, “this park is made possible in part by funds from” which lists the artist, various civic groups and the mayor of bayonne. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
As the events of the World Center tragedy unfolded on the morning of September 11th, 2001, Tsereteli was in his home in Moscow, preparing for another day of work at the Russian Academy of Arts, where he is president. He saw on his television the World Trade Center tower collapse and was overcome with emotion.
As Tsereteli drove to work on a street taking him past the American Embassy, he could see people gathered outside the building to sympathize and to mourn the loss. Observing the throngs of people in tears, at that moment he had the idea for a great memorial based on the image of a tear. On that day, Tsereteli began to work out in his yellow sketch book various ideas and ‘forms’ for the monument that would convey his emotions invoked by the attack.
entering the parking lot, we can see that this is no ordinary park. the great fissured slab intrigues us as we keep approaching the park. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
Tsereteli recalled that, looking at the World Trade Center at a distance, the towers appeared to him to be a single entity, so he hit upon the idea of a 106-foot tall rectangular block having a rough-edged fissure in the middle, from which would be suspended a 40-foot tear symbolizing not just the world’s outpouring of grief over the loss of life, but also the hope for a terror-free future. Eventually there also came the idea of nine paths leading to an 11-sided granite base or “plinth” upon which would be inscribed the names of the more than 3,000 people killed in both the February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks.
Tsereteli soon traveled to ground zero. The dusty, toxic rubble was still being sifted and carted off. He found the site too chaotic and unsuitable for the memorial. In speaking with friends and colleagues present in New York during the attacks he soon heard stories of New Jersey’s role in the aftermath of the catastrophe. Aside from New Jersey residents staffing the Twin Towers, survivors of the attack had been transported away from the scene to New Jersey by boats and ferries. Thus, Tsereteli investigated sites in New Jersey, with the idea that the proposed monument would be situated on the waterfront with the former World Trade Center and Statue of Liberty as a dramatic backdrop.
continuing our approach to the memorial park, we appear to be the only visitors present to see the russian tear. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
The most obvious location to offer the monument was Jersey City, directly across the Hudson River from ground zero. As it happens, the memorial had a big, ardent supporter in Jersey City in the form of Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham. In 2003, the Jersey City Council gave approval to erecting the memorial at Exchange Place in Jersey City, directly across the river from the World Trade Center’s former site.
Unfortunately, Mayor Cunningham died shortly thereafter, and many residents began complaining that a local artist should have been chosen to design a memorial. Others began questioning Tsereteli’s other sculptures and the aesthetics of the memorial itself, which was now sitting in Tsereteli’s foundry in Russia. Finally, the city declined to designate a site for it, effectively killing the project.
on the fence separating this park from the rest of the peninsula, we finally discover next to the entrance a sign explaining what we are looking at—the harbor view 9/11 memorial park. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
Tsereteli then took command of the situation and looked at a site near the Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne, which eventually became the monument’s home, tormerly known as Military Ocean Terminal (MOTBY). For more than 60 years MOTBY was an immense naval supply center, shipping goods for every major U.S. military operation from World War II to Desert Storm. The military base was decommissioned in 1999 and officially transferred to the City of Bayonne in 2002 for redevelopment as The Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor.
Tsereteli offered his anti-terrorist memorial to Bayonne, which expressed interest.
entering the harbor view 9/11 memorial park, we finally see the memorial in all its glory, as artist Zurab Tsereteli intended. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
“If Bayonne wants it, be my guest,” said Jerramiah T. Healy, the new mayor of Jersey City. ‘‘I’m not an art critic, but what I’ve seen of the thing, it’s too big.”
While plans for the World Trade Center site in New York continued to be a mass of confusion, Zurab Tsereteli boldly shepherded his own project, spending $12 million of his own money to make his vision a reality. (Bayonne only had $40,000 to spend on the project, so, amazingly, Tsereteli took up the financial slack.) The monument was shipped from Russia to the United States in six sections—weighing between 28 and 63 tons each — and assembled by a group of Russian and American artisans. Tsereteli spent several months here in the U.S. overseeing every detail as he supervised teams of Russian and American workmen who assembled the work and prepared the monument’s shiny surface finishes. They even installed the lighting system that now brightly lights up the monument at night, making it highly visible from Battery Park, from the Statue of Liberty, from the Staten Island Ferry, and even from planes approaching Newark Airport.
Former President bill clinton, keynote speaker at the dedication of the russian 9/11 monument in bayonne, New Jersey, september 11, 2006. (freeze-frame from video of the event.)
And, as envisioned, the whole work was placed atop an 11-sided black marble plinth, into which are carved the names of all who died in the 9/11 tragedy, along with those who died in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993.
On September 16, 2005 the little northeast corner of the peninsula in Bayonne was the scene of an impressive ceremony. It was called “A Ceremonial Groundbreaking for the Monument To the Struggle Against World Terrorism,” but in fact none of the dignitaries present had to shovel anything.
the fully-completed harbor view 9/11 Memorial park was dedicated on september 11, 2007, by Bayonne Mayor Joseph V. Doria, Jr. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
Attending the ceremony were former President Bill Clinton, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, Senator Frank Lautenberg, Senator Robert Menendez, Mayor Joseph V. Doria, Jr., family members of World Trade Center victims and other dignitaries. The keynote speaker that day was Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, who reminded the audience that Russia also had experienced the grief of terrorism.
Putin said, “...Four years ago, the terrorists intended to plunge America and the civilized world into chaos, but they have failed. On the contrary, mankind united. We have made an efficient international anti-terrorist coalition. I fully agree with Mr. Mayor. We defeated Nazism and together we will win a victory over terrorism. This monument, in memory of victims of the September 11th attacks, will serve as a symbol of Russian-American unity against world terrorism.”
shown here is the 11-sided granite base or 'plinth' to the memorial, upon which are inscribed the names of those who died in the terror attacks of 1993 and 2001. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
On September 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, the monument To the Struggle Against World Terrorism was dedicated. Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker. The completed park was eventually dedicated by Mayor Doria on September 11, 2007.
What resulted from all this was the 9/11 memorial and Harbor View Park, a two-acre public park situated on the tip of The Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor. Now home to Cape Liberty (a year-round cruise port), The Peninsula is in the midst of redevelopment organized around the construction of residential and commercial districts to eventually create a lively waterfront community.
there was some danger that the memorial would be moved, but quick action by concerned citizens, in particular frank perrucci, chairman of the “september 11th... Bayonne Remembers Committee,” prevented that from happening. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
The Excitement Wasn’t Over—Relocation?
After the many ordeals necessary to raise the memorial, the land on which it stands was sold to The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In early August 2010, newspapers reported that one condition of that sale was that the memorial would have to be moved (to some undetermined location) so that the entire peninsula could be used to handle bigger cargo ships.
Frank Perrucci, the chairman of the “September 11th…Bayonne Remembers Committee,” was upset about this news and jumped into action, lobbying everyone who would listen to him, even Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who in turn notified “others” in Gov. Chris Christie’s office.
The plaque on the side of the work facing the water reminds us that this gift from russia is not just a memorial, but a monument to the continuing struggle against world terrorism. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
The strategy worked. As a result of his efforts and those of his compatriots, Perrucci received a letter on January 20, 2011 from Charles B. McKenna, director of the New Jersey State Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, giving his assurances to Perrucci that the Russian “teardrop” monument will not be moved any time in the near future.
“I have checked with representatives of the Port Authority, and they have assured me that there are no plans to move the Teardrop Monument. Thus, I hope this allays your fears,” McKenna wrote in the letter.
Perrucci said he could have jumped for joy.
although it has generated considerable controversy and is not as large as his other sculptural works, this monument may be Zurab Tsereteli's most distinguished artistic achievement. it's a truly magnificent, inspirational work of art. (Photo by mike doherty © richard grigonis)
As philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist George Santayana famously said in his 1906 book, The Life of Reason, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”