Wentworth Park in downtown Lansing is both a park and an outdoor museum. Within its borders lie the functions of a typical urban park but also a memorial aspect. The park, located at the corner of Grand Avenue and the Michigan Avenue Bridge, is bordered by the Grand River and the downtown skyline, which may at first seem to be an incongruous pairing. But it is what is inside that really counts. Here are two memorials commemorating discrete events that still haunt the community to this day. One was a local fire and the other was a national and even international disaster.
The September 11, 2001 memorial
As is widely known, on September 11, 2001 terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and crashed them into key ground targets in the eastern United States. One of those targets was the World Trade Center in New York, which was totally destroyed in the attack. An unusual memento of that dark day has found its way to Lansing. A twisted piece of a beam from the wreckage was recovered afterward and was brought to Lansing to be on permanent display in the downtown area, not just as a memorial for public ceremonies every September 11, but throughout the year. One may walk around this monument, which at first might be mistaken for a piece of modern abstract sculpture. On three sides of the pedestal are the names of New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the three states impacted that day. In its somber way, it obviously continues to remind us of the loss and also to exercise due diligence as a nation against a future similar tragedy.
The Kerns Hotel Fire marker
Closer to home for Lansing, but no less significant for area residents, another memorial marks a serious event that took many lives. This was the notorious Kerns Hotel fire, which takes its place along with other major conflagrations such as Boston’s Coconut Grove nightclub blaze of 1942 as a holocaust in one spot. Early on the morning of December 11, 1934 a major fire engulfed the four story brick Kerns Hotel, which stood on this site. The blaze took at least thirty-two lives and injured scores more, including firefighters. The wooden interior proved to be a deathtrap, and many were fortunate to escape with their lives. Today, an interesting counterpoint to the tragedy is provided by the modern Radisson Hotel across the street, which has risen phoenix-like from the ashes of this local disaster.
The Rotary Club clock
Not everything associated with Wentworth Park is so grim. On the contrary, an interesting landmark on the corner of Michigan and Grand Avenues provides an entertainng and whimsical alternative to such solemnity. This is the thirty-one foot high steam clock donated by the Rotary Club in 1997. This amazing device is powered by steam provided by Lansing’s Board of Water and Light. It contains elaborate gears, weights and pipes. The steam provided not only keeps accurate time, but also blows the whistle and even produces harp bell music by sounding assorted musical notes! The Rotarians are indeed to be thanked for this civic treasure, in some ways recalling the Ledges walk in Grand Ledge covered by the author in a previous article at foamcage.com. With fine river views, benches and an excellent location, Wentworth Park is another great park cum museum.