Early Tuesday morning, two bicyclists dressed for speed stopped for several minutes to get a close-up view of the I-35W Bridge Remembrance Garden in Minneapolis.
Four years and a few hours after the bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River, the cyclists were part of the first wave of those who will visit the memorial in the decades to come to honor those who were on the bridge that unthinkable summer day, including 13 who lost their lives.
The Mississippi River site, on a quiet bluff just across from Gold Medal Park on W. River Parkway, is just a quarter-mile or so upstream from the new I-35W bridge. But unlike the sleek bridge, which can easily merge into a daily commute without reflection, the memorial is a place for reflection and healing.
Visitors may initially be drawn to the row of 13 vertical steel I-beams that honor those who died. Each is engraved with the name of a victim and a tribute written by relatives.
All of the messages will resonate, perhaps none more so than the loving tribute to Peter Joseph Hausmann, 47, a Rosemount computer consultant whose body was found half in and half out of another car. Authorities said it appeared that Hausmann survived the collapse and was attempting to rescue victims in another car.
"If only you knew your best friend and love of your life would become your wife and the two of you would create a beautiful family of four children filled with love and your contagious spirit of service,'' the message reads, in part.
"If only you knew your final act of selfless fortitude would touch the hearts of so many and inspire us to live a life worth living. If only you knew the time you spent with us would be the most meaningful and priceless gift God could ever give us.
"If only you knew how much stronger, how much braver, how much more hopeful we are because we knew you. We will always carry you with us in our hearts.''
Behind the pillars, a stone wall fountain is engraved with the names of the 171 survivors of the collapse.
The wall's affirming message: "Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it, not only by what life brings to us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events."
Designed by Minneapolis landscape architect Tom Oslund, and championed by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, the memorial is a reminder of one of the darkest days in Minnesota history.
It's a necessary reminder, though, and without it the names and stories of the victims and survivors might not mean as much to future generations of Minnesotans.
Now those memories will endure the test of time, as they should, on the banks of the Mississippi.
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It’s difficult to understand the kind of warped thinking that lead to the overnight vandalism of the memorial reported early today by the Star Tribune. Two dozen stainless steel letters were torn off of the stone fountain’s granite face.
Coming just two days after the dedication of the memorial, the vandalism was especially outrageous. Hopefully authorities will be able to make quick work of tracking down the vandals.