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'Kneeling Fireman' Finds Permanent Home Near Grand Central

By Mary Johnson | September 23, 2011 11:30am
Norma MacRae, who is visiting New York from Switzerland, called the Kneeling Fireman statue
Norma MacRae, who is visiting New York from Switzerland, called the Kneeling Fireman statue "really emotional."
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MIDTOWN — The “Kneeling Fireman” arrived in New York City 10 years ago, two days before the death and destruction of 9/11.

The statue, which depicts a firefighter on bended knee, was originally commissioned by the Firefighters Association of Missouri and cast in Italy before it arrived in New York on Sept. 9, 2001.

It was meant just to pass through the city on its way to Missouri, but it never left. As the nation reeled after the terrorist attacks, the statue was presented as a gift to the city. But it spent most of the past decade in storage.

On Thursday, the statue reemerged, as officials from the FDNY, FBI, Port Authority and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum helped celebrate its new—and permanent—home in front of the Emigrant Savings Bank on East 43rd Street between Madison and Fifth avenues.

The “Kneeling Fireman” is now the only publicly accessible memorial to all the first responders and victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in Midtown.

“I am honored to be able to provide a home for this noble and inspiring statue,” said Howard P. Milstein, chairman and CEO of Emigrant, in a statement. “It is a fitting tribute to all first responders who answered the call on that fateful day.”

In the months after the 9/11 attacks, the Milstein family offered to display the statue in front of the family’s Milford Plaza Hotel, which donated hundreds of rooms to volunteers who came to help in the search and relief efforts.

The statue became a tourist destination, with visitors leaving candles, notes, prayer books, toys and photos to honor the fallen.

But the area in front of the hotel could not permanently house the statue, which stands nine feet tall, 12 feet long and five feet wide. So the family stored the piece, and waited.

Now, the hulking bronze statue flanks the entrance to Emigrant Savings Bank. By Thursday evening, just a few hours after the dedication ceremony, it was already attracting passersby.

Some lingered for a few moments, others stopped and stared.

Norma MacRae, who is visiting New York from Switzerland, was walking on the opposite side of East 43rd Street when she saw the statue. She said she felt compelled to cross the street and take a closer look.

“It’s really emotional, actually,” MacRae said as she stared at the statue.

She read the firefighter’s prayer on a plaque in front of the statue and took photos from several angles.