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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Southern California

Former O.C. Firefighter Turns Front Lawn Into 9/11 Memorial

The firefighter hand-painted a cross for each of the 343 firefighters killed on 9/11.

Fullerton local Scott Townley hand-built more than 400 crosses to honor the fallen heroes during the Sept. 11 attack.
Fullerton local Scott Townley hand-built more than 400 crosses to honor the fallen heroes during the Sept. 11 attack.
It happened 10 years ago, and more than 3,000 miles away in New York City. But Fullerton local Scott Townley said he really wanted something West coast people could memorialize.

So, Townley began hand-building crosses, one by one— 417 of them to be exact.

Now, his front lawn serves as a memorial site for locals to visit and pay tribute to the victims of Sept. 11.

"The reason why I hand-crafted these crosses is for sentimental reasons. I was a firefighter so I can connect with the 343 guys who lost their lives that day,” Townley said.

The former firefighter has been making these memorials ever since the incident, but on a much smaller scale. However, with the 10th year anniversary of Sept. 11, Townley said he thought the west coast could really use something to commemorate everyone who died that day.

Townley started hand-painting each cross one by one with a single paint brush from the beginning to the end. He also designed each name on a computer program and painted the letters on for hours.

"What was really important to me, was building the cross from point A to point B. It was really important that I finished it all the way to the end," he said.

Heather Jewell heard about Townley’s memorial site through Facebook, and drove down from Long Beach to pay her respects.

She has two sons who are now serving in the Navy, and said every year is an emotional experience.

“I couldn’t believe it was happening to us here on our own turf— just shocking really.” Jewell said. “That was the biggest thing. I just couldn’t believe it was here. It hit too close to home.”

Currently, one of Jewell’s sons is out at sea while the other is preparing to go to Afghanistan in March.

In addition to the 417 individual crosses that stand on Townley’s front lawn, there are three other eight-foot-tall crosses that have the department names of the firefighters, police officers, and additional people who lost their lives on Sept. 11.

"These crosses represent heroism," Townley said. "It was a national tragedy that I have never experienced in my life. During the short period of time those towers came down, it was just devastating to watch."

Fullerton local Mary Noelle Pepys brought her two great nieces to the memorial site in hopes to send an important message for them later on.

“Unfortunately, I think they’re still too young to understand what this means today, but I hope in the future, they recognize the sacrifice people have made on their behalf,” Pepys said.

As an international rule of law attorney who worked in Afghanistan for two years, Pepys said she feels great pain for all the loss of lives.

“I think it was unbelievable and so I didn’t have much of a reaction on the day it happened,” she said. “It’s only since then that I can really feel the depth of it because 9/11 has had a great impact on me.”

Townley said he did quite a bit of research on the Internet to get the list of names. In the past five days, he's received emotional reactions and made new relationships with locals on a personal level.

"I'm glad that I got to meet and see people be able to find the names of their loved ones on these crosses. Other times, it's a sad experience. I've had people come to the site for half-an-hour just stroking the names on the cross and crying."

Pepys said the most captivating characteristic of Townley’s memorial site is simplicity.
“Just about the site, this is beautifully simple, but that’s what makes it so moving. It represents the great loss of life,” she said.

The memorial will be up until tomorrow morning. Then, the crosses will be stored away until next year, when he’ll ground them in his front lawn again.

 

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COMMENTS

[...] hurt you or your faith if it isn’t up there? Fill your house with them, wear the jewelry, or cover your front lawn with them for all I care. But you are not allowed to put them anywhere that tax payer money is [...]

I think it's important to understand the depth of Scott's commitment to this memorial. He had friends and family offer to help him construct and prepare the crosses for this memorial. He politely said he needed to do this so he could connect with each of the individuals who lost their life that day. This was by far one of the most moving displays of any self made kind I have ever seen...

Hey Scott! A retired FDNY member thanks you for all your work and dedication to remember our guys lost on 9/11/2001. Durrell Pearsall
was a great friend of mine and help me along my way during my probie years. I was a first responder that day and wish I could have done more. Such loss.

Be safe and thanks again!
Robin L Hudler
Long Beach, NY 11561

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