For decades, the steel beams were part of New York's World Trade Center, the twin towers destroyed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Now, they rise alongside a busy highway in Millersville.
If visitors stand to the west of the beams and look east, they can see airplanes as they prepare to land at nearby Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, framed in the airspace between the upended beams.
The scene is the Anne Arundel County 9-11 Memorial, a $120,000 monument created to pay tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. According to one plaque, it is dedicated to "all public safety personnel who responded that day and who continue to respond each day, remaining ever vigilant to protect the liberties and the freedom of our great nation."
While the idea of using fragments salvaged from the twin towers was part of the original concept, planners say, the fact that they now frame the view of planes as they land was sheer coincidence.
But it adds a certain poignancy to a memorial built to recall the day when hijacked planes crashed in New York, Northern Virginia and western Pennsylvania, representing the largest terror attack on American soil.
"The planes fly right overhead, and you can see them between the two beams," said David Abrams, communications director for County Executive John R. Leopold and chairman of the county's 9-11 Memorial Committee. "That has a powerful effect."
The memorial has been created on the grounds of the county's police and fire department headquarters in the 8400 block of Veterans Highway in Millersville. It is one of several in Maryland that recall the terror attacks and pay respect to the men and women who lost their lives that day. Others are in Montgomery County and Baltimore City.
The idea for Anne Arundel County's memorial came from Leopold, who was a state delegate in 2001 and has been county executive since 2006. He appointed a committee to choose a design and raise private funds for construction.
Leopold and Abrams said the fire and police headquarters was selected as the setting because it's highly visible and home of the county's "first responders," including some who traveled to the terror attack sites in 2001.
Leopold said he believe it is especially fitting for Anne Arundel County to create its own memorial because it is the "epicenter" of the country's cyberterrorism operations, at Fort Meade.
"I thought it's important to honor the first responders who gave their lives on 9/11 and the first responders who, on a daily basis, put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens," he said. "I thought Anne Arundel County should do its part in making that statement."
Leopold said the memorial is also intended to serve as a reminder of the need for vigilance against terrorism and the need to follow the recommendations of the federal government's 9/11 Commission, many of which haven't been implemented.
"I always want to convey the importance of vigilance to protect our freedom," he said. "There are still dangerous individuals who want to do us harm."
Last week, construction workers put the finishing touches on the county's memorial in preparation for a ceremony that will begin at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 11, to mark the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks. The beams were transported to Maryland and dedicated last year, but the entire monument wasn't completed until this month.
Besides the steel beams rising from a base of concrete rubble — twisted and bent from the attacks — the memorial includes a circular path made of bricks engraved with the names of donors who contributed toward its construction. The beams each weigh more than 1,500 pounds.
Ornamental grasses have been planted inside the circular path, adding a sense of softness and fragility against the steel and stone. Six bronze plaques provide details of the three attacks and the genesis of the county's memorial. An American flag flies overhead. Benches provide places to sit and contemplate.
The designers also included a misting system that will send foglike vapors into the air, evoking the dust and debris that filled the World Trade Center site after the towers fell. Blue-tinted spotlights will shine on the beams after dark.
The design was the work of Walnut Hill Landscape Co. of Annapolis, with Mike Prokopchak and Paul Kawoczka as key members of the design team.
"We wanted to evoke the feeling of being at Ground Zero" after the planes hit the towers, Kawoczka said. The misting feature "emulates the dust settling. … You can see how large and heavy the beams are."
Asked if the two beams are intended to symbolize the twin towers before they fell, Kowocska said people are free to read into it whatever they want. Many, he said, will react to the way the beams were deformed.
"It's open to personal interpretation," he said. "There can be a full spectrum of ways to react to it."
Abrams said the committee considered several designs before selecting the one that was carried out.
"We thought it was simple and appropriate," he said. "We wanted the artifacts to speak for themselves. They are very powerful. When someone stands here and sees a piece of history, it really affects you."
Abrams said the committee has raised most of the funds needed to build the memorial, including roughly $40,000 in cash contributions or proceeds from engraved brick sales and $80,000 worth of donated services and materials. The Anne Arundel County Arts Council is still accepting contributions. More information is available by calling 410-222-7949.
Besides Walnut Hill, companies that contributed services or materials include Chaney Enterprises; Federated Lighting; Atlantic Irrigation; Colonial Electric; Andy Concrete; Babikow Nursery; and Jones of Annapolis.
The event on Sept. 11 will include a moment of silence at 8:50 a.m. for the nearly 3,000 people who died after terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa.
The featured speaker will be Col. Edward C. Rothstein, commander of Fort Meade. Before assuming command of Fort Meade in July, Rothstein was chief of intelligence operations for the International Security Assistance force in Kabul, Afghanistan.