Conover City Manager Donald Duncan was leading a group of investors on a tour of Conover Station in 2011 when he received a call.
“I don’t know who the hell you are but you’re going to get a piece of the World Trade Center,” Duncan recalled the woman on the other end of the line saying.
The call was one leaders in Conover were glad to get but it was not necessarily one they were sure would come.
Lee Moritz, the city’s mayor, had been on an airplane earlier that year when he read an article about communities receiving sections from the towers destroyed on 9/11.
“I thought that would be something that would be an honor to have,” Moritz said.
The city applied for a piece, but supplies were limited and highly sought.
It turned out Moritz had a connection that would prove helpful in securing one of the historic artifacts.
Thomas Bosco, an official in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who was involved with the program distributing the pieces, was a friend of Moritz from their time in the U.S. Army.
Moritz appealed to Bosco. Bosco said he would see what he could do.
A few weeks after that conversation, the word came down.
“It was the grace of God and an old friend connection,” Moritz said.
A small delegation from the city went to retrieve the piece: a chunk of concrete and steel that formed part of the foundation of the North Tower, the first building struck in the attacks.
Duncan was part of that group that made the trip shortly before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, as was then-Conover Police Chief Steve Brewer.
For Brewer, it was a bittersweet experience.
“I was glad that we were going to get a part to bring back for our citizens, but then to think that that day 3,000 people died in that building,” Brewer said. “And you think back about it, how could this happen?”
Even though the backdrop for the trip was solemn, Duncan said there was also an element of joy.
“It’s odd to say that you were having a good time about something that was so tragic … about the nation as a whole,” Duncan said. “You didn’t want to be morose about it. You wanted to say, ‘Hey, you know, America’s still here. We’re still going, and we’re better than we were.’”
The piece was only a small part of the World Trade Center but it’s heavy — heavy enough to nearly break a pallet jack designed to lift 3,000 pounds, Duncan said.
Duncan recalled the interest the piece drew when it came to the city. One moment stood out.
There was a man who came from Salisbury to attend the ceremony where the piece was displayed. He sat there sobbing.
The man’s girlfriend said his brother was a 9/11 victim. The man had never been to the site of the attacks, but felt compelled to come out when he heard about the piece in Conover.
“He sat there almost all night trying to mourn the loss of his brother,” Duncan said. “For me that was one of the first things that we realized, that the impact it had was that it was a way for people to release some of their grief.”
The piece is displayed openly on the first floor of Conover Station.
There is no protective glass, just a railing that serves primarily to keep the object stable.
That’s intentional on the city’s part.
“We want people to touch it,” Moritz said. “We want people to feel it. I personally touch it every time I go in that building just as a reminder to me of that day.”
Kevin Griffin is the city of Hickory reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.