In January, 1776, Henry Knox and his civilian teamsters passed through Egremont, Massachusetts on their way through the Berkshires with a train of cannon and other war supplies destined for Boston. In September, 2001, hijacked passenger airliners were deliberately crashed into the heart of New York's financial district, the Pentagon, and (after passenger intervention) a field in Pennsylvania. As is evident from the photograph at left, these two separate events are now commemorated together in North Egremont.
The vertical marker is one of the 30 granite and bronze monuments placed in 1927 to commemorate the Knox expedition by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts during the Sesquicentennial of the American Revolution. The route taken by Knox is poorly documented by primary sources, and in 1975 this marker was moved from its original location along Rte 23 in South Egremont to its present site in North Egremont to reflect a different theory of where Knox crossed the Taconics into the Berkshires. The monument itself remains the property of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the small patch of open space on which it is situated is owned by the municipality.
The nearly horizontal plaque and its stone and cement base were physically integrated with the Knox memorial in 2002. The North Egremont 9/11 memorial reads as follows:
"This monument is dedicated to the thousands of men, women and children killed by terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania on September 11th, 2001. They died for our country and our freedom. We shall not forget. Dedicated on September 11, 2002 North Egremont, Massachusetts"
As a war memorial with the fresh association of 9/11, these conjoined monuments have attracted both a small American flag and someone's personal offering of a conch shell. Visually, as a piece of public art, the Knox memorial is now the headstone, casting its shadow on the graves of 9/11.
In many ways, these memorials seem more dissimilar than alike, reflecting a great deal both about the events they commemorate and the values and attitudes of those who erected them and how we remember today. There is something very intentional about the union of these two monuments, with one the visible extension and successor to the other. There is a very clear message that those died in the terrorist attacks were as patriotic as those who dragged the cannons to Boston. The North Egremont memorial was an expression of fresh grief and resolve to give meaning to terrible losses. Whereas the Knox commemoration was an expression of state pride in the accomplishments of a favorite son and role that Boston, and the cannons brought from Ticonderoga, played in our Nation's founding.
People in 1927 could look to recent victory in Europe - "Lafayette, we are here! - as the coming of age of that nation which their Revolutionary ancestors helped to establish. These monuments, which along with their counterparts in New York represent one of the earliest "heritage trails" established in America, gave a local connection to larger events. That connection is precisely what this September 11th memorial is all about. There is a strong cultural connection in this part of western New England to New York City which is home to many of our part-time residents. Many of us lost love ones there, or are close to others who did.
Local commemorations, however, often reflect individual sensibilities and the need to make the personal very public. I do not know who was behind the North Egremont memorial, or the decision to physically integrate it with the Knox monument. I can contrast it with a private effort by her friends to plant a native American Elm cultivar with a stone plaque in the memory of a Salisbury, Connecticut resident who died that day. I can also compare it to the current controversy in Kent, Connecticut over a grieving father's insistence that the wording of a public 9/11 public memorial to his son include the phrase "murdered by Moslem extremists." The complete wording as proposed is as follows:
February 3, 1978
A gentleman and a gentle man
Lifelong resident of Kent
Murdered by Moslem extremists
September 11, 2001
In recent days, what previously had divided a small town is now a conservative cause celeb thanks to national exposure. I will note, as an aside, that "Muslim" and "Moslem" are not interchangeable, with the latter word an older transliteration that less accurately reflects the Arabic pronunciation /mʊslɪm/. Some Muslims, I understand, find the older word offensive, analogous, perhaps, to calling Beijing "Peking". I rather doubt that changing from one self referential word to the other would address the controversy, but thought it worth considering that "Moslem" is the word proposed for the memorial.
What is written in stone is meant to be gospel. What we cast in bronze we intend to endure beyond our span of years. What we chose to record, and how we record it, is what we want others to remember. Yet time and the distance from living memory can make some public monuments lose their meaning, especially when demographics change and the old surnames on the war memorials are no longer represented in the community. Three of the Knox monuments in New York have simply vanished, and others have been moved about in response to development. "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!".
Imbuing the Knox memorial in North Egremont (which was moved to its current site just a few decades ago) with the meaning of 9/11 may have rescued it from obscurity, even if for the benefit of modern interpretation of the more recent event. As an historian I find the pairing troubling, but I also know that the object is not the event, but rather an artifact of its own time. It is therefore subject to reinterpretation by subsequent generations, revealing much about what we remember, and how we recast the past to give meaning to the present.