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Originally published June 15, 2014 at 5:31 PM | Page modified June 15, 2014 at 7:20 PM

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9/11 sculpture can’t carve out a home in Kirkland

Is it politically incorrect to object to the installation of a sculpture memorializing Sept. 11? Many Kirkland residents don’t think so.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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First, the state rejected the 9/11 sculpture for Heritage Park on the Capitol campus in Olympia.

Steel from the World Trade Center and stone from the Pentagon rest beneath four bronze figures holding hands and looking to the sky: a fireman, a flight attendant, an office worker and a member of the military.

State officials said the work, designed by Washington welder John Jackson, didn’t fit with the park’s other memorial statues because 9/11 happened on the East Coast and didn’t take a large toll on the state of Washington.

Jackson said the rejection was a big blow after more than a decade of volunteering and fundraising for the “Spirit of America” sculpture, which cost more than $80,000 to build.

“I knew from the beginning it was going to be at least a 10-year journey — this kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight,” said Jackson. But he didn’t think it would take much longer than that.

Now Kirkland has also said no to the Spirit of America Foundation, a Stevens County-based nonprofit trying to find a safe, permanent location for the sculpture.

This time, hundreds of opponents argued so vehemently against its installation that the ordeal has left the woman who tried to bring it to her city confused about how an artwork meant to memorialize victims and encourage people to overcome catastrophe could inspire such a negative public outcry.

The idea took a pounding on community blogs, and about 80 percent of more than 600 people the city of Kirkland surveyed online last month balked against installing the work at Juanita Beach Park. They objected to the cost, the location and the logic of recognizing in their city a tragedy that took place on the East Coast.

It’s a reaction Kirkland resident Maureen Baskin, 56, never imagined when the sculpture first grabbed her attention at a Veterans Day event in Leavenworth, Chelan County, last fall. What amazed her even more was that a sculpture like that was being carted around Washington state in a flatbed truck.

“I was just filled with awe when I saw it and asked, ‘What is this all about?’ ” said Baskin, a marketing director and single mother of two teenagers. “They told me, ‘We’re trying to find a home for it.’ ”

Baskin, who often organizes and helps with events for veterans in town, wanted to do everything she could to bring the artwork to Kirkland. It would cost the city $6,000 to buy and up to $7,500 more for installation — maybe less if the Spirit of America Foundation collected more donations.

Baskin received enough support from the city’s art commission and park board for her proposal to be reviewed by the City Council last month, but that’s when momentum dried up.

“An ugly, depressing reminder of a 13-year-old tragedy that has no unique significance to the area? Fantastic. I’m in,” said one of many critical comments on a community-news blog. “Anything that makes the park a bummer is fine in my book, but if it can be visually unappealing as well, we’ve really got something.”

The immediate wave of negative comments shocked Baskin. She withdrew her proposal earlier in the month, before the Kirkland City Council had a chance to vote on it this week.

“There were comments that were so painful, I could not even read them twice,” Baskin said. “I don’t know what it is — our time, or the way digital communication works — but it was very disappointing. I told myself I just can’t do this anymore.”

Not all opponents were rude, though.

Kirkland City Councilmember Toby Nixon said he knew he was going out on a limb when he first expressed skepticism toward installing the work. He complained on the Kirkland Views blog that, more than a decade after the attacks, “it’s still not politically correct to vote against anything to do with 9/11.”

Nixon said it would be better if the sculpture went to a city with a memorial park.

“I think it’s kind of disrespectful to put that where people walk their dogs, play and go to the farmers market,” said Nixon. “If it becomes routine to see it, is that really the way something like this should be treated? Just part of the landscape and ignored?”

In the city’s survey, many objected to what they described as over-memorialization of 9/11.

The Spirit of America artwork is an original piece designed by Jackson and crafted by Washington sculptor Jim Demetro, but it follows the tradition of several memorials across the country that have incorporated pieces of steel, stone and concrete taken from 9/11 attack sites.

In Bremerton, the Kitsap 9/11 Memorial project displays pieces of the World Trade Center. A 1-ton piece of steel from the World Trade Center is awaiting incorporation into a memorial site in Edmonds that has not received enough funding yet.

The Spirit of America sculpture was also rejected by the city of Issaquah this month, in part because there wasn’t enough time to consider it before a June 18 application deadline with the foundation, said city spokeswoman Autumn Monahan. Spirit of America Foundation says Wenatchee, Cashmere and Chewelah, in Stevens County, and several other Eastern Washington cities are interested.

“I’m sure it’ll end up in a small town in Eastern Washington where they’ll cherish it,” said Jackson, who still wishes the piece could go in a more safeguarded location like the state Capitol campus or a museum. “But I feel like I’ve gone as far as I could go to see this memorial happen.”

Baskin says she’ll attend the dedication of the work wherever it finally rests.

“The sculpture looks up. It’s not a downer,” Baskin said. “It’s very powerful and it would have been wonderful if they would have been able to bring it here.”

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.

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