On the green grass that fronts the State Capitol, religious and political leaders will gather with hip-hop artists and everyday families. In Willmar, eight churches will merge their Sunday services to worship together for the first time.
There will be bagpipes, candles and a parade in Marshall and bells will toll in suburban Mound as Minnesotans commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that scarred the nation a decade ago.
Similar events will unfold across the country, as President Obama visits the sites of the 9/11 attacks and the memorial at ground zero formally opens in lower Manhattan, allowing victims' families to see the names of their loved ones etched around the rims of two roaring fountains imbedded in the ground where the Twin Towers once stood. A memorial plaza was dedicated Saturday at the Pennsylvania hemlock grove where Flight 93 crashed after a passenger revolt. A ceremony is also planned at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial.
Enormous effort has gone into organizing the myriad events. No place may exemplify the spirit behind that frenzy of planning better than the tiny town of Newfolden, population 368, in the far northwest corner of Minnesota. If all goes as envisioned, the town's populace will swell nearly tenfold Sunday as 3,000 people gather for a "Liberty Remembered" ceremony starting at 9:11 a.m.
Military F-16 jets will roar over from Duluth. A 200-voice choir will belt out patriotic songs. A skydiver will drop down with an American flag.
"Ten years ago, local people gathered at the school to weep and pray," the Rev. Gary Barrett said. "We thought it would be appropriate to have a place for Americans to gather again 10 years later to remember, reflect and worship about a day that definitely left its mark on Americans."
For months, Barrett has served as Newfolden's planning point man, urging school arts classes from seven counties to draw panels depicting the 9/11 attacks. A hot-air balloon and Jumbotron screen were secured. Video montages were recorded.
"I've never worked on anything in which an absolute 100 percent of people said: 'Yes, that's a good idea, that has to happen,' and they all have worked tirelessly to pull it off," Barrett said. "We're all very much aware that this was a significant day that changed America. It's a day we mourned and a day we don't want to forgot."
What they've got planned in Newfolden will certainly be hard to forget. A non-military plane will buzz the crowd, followed by an unannounced explosion of fireworks, said Barrett, who leads the town's Evangelical Free Church. Then more than 100 motorcycles will roar in, creating a "wall of sound to mimic the noise and the chaos of that day."
More than 30 ambulances "with sirens blaring will effectively catch people off guard. Whether we were watching on our television screens or at the actual sites, there was a sense of 'we don't really know what's going on here' that was overwhelming and that's what we're trying to recreate," Barrett said.
"We want to educate the young people who don't remember," Barrett said. "We want to honor those who keep us free and safe. We want to unite, and we want to remember."
All all-day affair
Across the state, from sunup when the names of the fallen first responders are read in Marshall to a flag-waving sundown concert at the Lake Harriet Bandshell, Minnesotans will remember 9/11.
With the 10th anniversary falling on a Sunday, many of the memorial events will have a religious bent.
In the west-central Minnesota town of Willmar, eight churches will be closed so congregants can come together at the Civic Center at 10 a.m. All the collection-plate offerings will go to purchase all-terrain vehicles to help the area's first responders react to emergencies.
"Nothing like this has ever happened before," said Doug Reese, a Willmar City Council member who planned the service as part of his Faith at Work organization. He said they're expecting 3,400 people and hope to be able to purchase two $20,000 ATVs that were identified as a community need and will be shared by sheriff, fire and ambulance personnel.
"We're doing this to show unity in our community," Reese said. "And to recognize and honor those people who put their lives on the line to serve our community."
The Rev. Cody Nielsen, a United Methodist campus minister, expects up to 100 University of Minnesota students to gather for a reception just after noon. A Muslim, Jewish and Christian student will each speak as part of the Interfaith Campus Coalition before hopping on shuttle buses to the Capitol.
"It's an important day in the history of the country for us to stand in compassion and solidarity with one another," Nielsen said. "It's important to mark this date with an event that signifies that hope of being able to live at peace with one another."
The Capitol gathering, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., is probably the largest event, featuring dozens of faith communities, not to mention Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Heart of the Beast puppetry and hip-hop star Brother Ali.
But smaller events will punctuate the day across the state.
In Mound, bells will ring at 11:30 a.m. at the state's first 9/11 memorial at Veterans Park, and Erik Aamoth will talk about his brother, Gordy, an investment banker who died a decade ago when he went to New York to announce a merger at the World Trade Center.
In southwestern Minnesota, the city of Marshall has scheduled more than 12 hours of events, starting at 7:27 a.m. when the names of the 343 New York City firefighters and other law enforcement personnel are read to coincide with the time the first plane struck the North Tower.
A $400,000 memorial park, featuring a beam from the twin towers, will be dedicated in downtown Marshall with solemn bagpipe music and a military jet flyover. Marshall has had the beam in storage for nine years.
After a somber morning, Mayor Bob Burns said events in the afternoon will celebrate freedom with a parade, a community walk and bike ride. All of it will be capped off at sunset when 3,000 candles are lit to remember the victims of 9/11. "God Bless America" will be sung before a fireworks show.
"The theme of the day is remembering the sacrifices," Burns said, "and all that's changed as a result of September 11."
Curt Brown • 612-673-4767