Wentworth Park: Lansing's Downtown Memorial Park
The World Trade Center and Kerns Hotel Fire Memorials: Differences and Similarities
With the seventeenth anniversary of 9/11 coming in September, it gives us pause to again reflect on that unforgettable day. In a small park in Lansing there is a Remembrance Memorial to the events of that time, complementing similar monuments in Mason (the Ingham County seat) and Jackson to the south of Lansing. In the same park, there is also a state historic marker erected to recall the infamous Kerns Hotel fire of December 1934, which although not as well known, was a traumatic event for Lansing and the mid-Michigan community, and occurred on the site of this park. It is appropriate, therefore, to examine the park and the events of those times respectively and together.
The 9//11 Remembrance Memorial
As is widely known, on the morning of September 11, 2001 terrorists hijacked four domestic airliners and crashed them into major ground targets in the eastern United States. One of those targets was the World Trade Center in New York, which was utterly destroyed in that attack. In Wentworth Park there exists a memorial to that event that at first might be mistaken for a large abstract sculpture. It is, in fact, a twisted and scorched steel beam from the wreckage of what would come to be known as "Ground Zero." Salvaged shortly after the disaster, it complements other monuments of that time that today are also found in Mason and Jackson to the south of Lansing. Around the base of the pedestal are inscribed the names of New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the three states impacted that fateful day. Some ten feet tall and weighing approximately 980 pounds, it serves as a solemn reminder of the destructive power of such a strike and the events that unfolded that day and ever since.
The Kerns Hotel Fire of 1934
Another feature of Wentworth Park is the state historic marker that marks the site of the Kerns Hotel fire of December 1934. The hotel had opened in 1909 and was a favorite downtown destination for legislators and the general public, as would befit a state capital city. It was four stories tall, built of red brick with a wooden interior. The proximate cause of the blaze was a carelessly discarded cigarette, early in the morning, an all too familiar story in fires even today! The hotel's interior proved a deathtrap for the guests and it rapidly spread. After the conflagration, 34 were killed, including seven legislators. The adjacent three story Wentworth Hotel survived, but has since been demolished. It was one of the worst fires in local and state history, and the only consolation from the disaster is the modern high rise brick Radisson Hotel across the street, soaring like a phoenix from the ashes of the past.
Rotary International Steam Clock
Not all the news from Wentworth Park is relentlessly grim. It is centrally situated with a fine view across the Grand River to the glassy façade of the Lansing Center, a kind of gathering place for political events and career fairs, among other uses. It also houses the Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame, with a rich selection of sports photographs and memorabilia through the years. At the southwest corner of Wentworth Park is also located the Rotary International Steam Clock, a gift of the Rotarians, who in addition gave us the walk by the Ledges of Grand Ledge recently discussed in these pages. This clock must rank as one of the oddest and most whimsical timepieces anywhere. Thirty-one feet in height, it contains an intricate system of gauges, pulleys, valves and an obligatory whistle that not only keeps accurate time but plays musical notes as well! It adds an almost comical touch to an otherwise solemn urban park experience.
The Significance of the Two Memorials
No words can adequately convey the solemnity or memories of 9/11. To a generation of Americans who lived through that day, the memory will last forever, like Pearl Harbor Day or the Kennedy assassination. To local inhabitants of mid-Michigan, the Kerns fire was an equally traumatic shock, although it has worn off with the passage of the years. Wentworth Park serves to capture the essence of the two disasters, although it must not be thought of as an unrelentingly sad place. It conveys a slightly upbeat mood, especially on a fine spring, summer or fall day. It encases the memory of the two disasters, but it is not imprisoned by them. It will continue to serve as a beacon of hope for the people of Lansing.