For those living in Chattanooga, TN, or the surrounding area, November 21, 2016 will always be remembered as a tragic day. The date marks a horrific bus accident that involved 37 students from the Woodmore Elementary School, which took the lives of six of the children. Five of the children died at the scene of the crash, while another 23 were hospitalized and one passed away two days later. Although there is nothing that could ease the pain experienced by family and friends, as well as the community at large, Erlanger Children’s Hospital did think of a way to remember them. Utilizing local Tennessee stone that was donated by Majestic Stone, a memorial was created outside the entrance to the facility in honor of those young children who lost their lives that day.
“We collaborated with the hospital to design what is so simple – a stacked stone memorial – to honor those families of the children,” said Patrick Wells, CEO of Majestic Stone in Chattanooga, TN. “It shows the simplicity and the strength of stone in its raw form and what it stands for. There is a unique beauty to it.”
Wells explained that when he learned the local hospital system was building a new children’s hospital, he volunteered to help. “Personally, it was something I wanted to be a part of because of experiences I have had there with my family,” he said. “Unfortunately, my wife and I have taken our little ones to the hospital several times.” While some of the visits were for relatively minor issues, they did experience a more serious one with their daughter who was two years old at the time. “There were some pretty deep waters me and my wife walked through, but the hospital was great,” said Wells. “It meant a lot to me.
“About a year later, I heard they were building a new hospital and I went and said to let me know if there is anything we can do to help,” Wells went on to say. “They came back six months later and said they would like us to be a part of the memorial. We donated stone and helped their design team. It was a terrible tragedy that really rocked our community in Chattanooga. The one positive thing that came out of it was that the hospital design team said they couldn’t think of a better building product than stone to use for the memorial – and that it was local stone. They talked about the sheer strength and longevity of stone and what it means to our area. If you drive around, you’ll see massive outcroppings. It’s a landmark for us. Those were a few reasons they hit on as to why they wanted to use stone.”
Wells also mentioned that the design team brought up Ebenezer stone that is read about in Scriptures. “They are stones that are put in remembrance of,” he explained. “That was another reason they gave for wanting stone. This was a significant event that will forever mark our community.”
Majestic Stone supplied a combination of fieldstone and flagstone for the project. “They asked us to give as diverse types of stone as we could,” said Wells. “There are six stacks with six stones per stack. The boulder with the name plate has 37 stones for the 37 kids on the bus.”
When first asked to be a part of the memorial, Wells said he had envisioned fabricating a detailed stone structure. But now that the project is completed, he has a better understanding of why the design team chose the direction they did.
“Looking back on it, they wanted something that hadn’t been all polished up or shaped and worked on,” he said. “They wanted it raw because they said that tells a better story of life. It might look like a stack of rocks, but it’s a reminder of when you were a kid and stacked stones along the river bed or like you see on hiking trails. This marks the road to safety. It is right at the front door of the hospital. It leads you in. That was another way they wanted to symbolize this memorial. They wanted to tell people that here’s the way to a healthy road to recovery.”
Each bottom piece was approximately 5 feet long x 4 feet wide and 12 inches thick and from there the pieces worked their way up to smaller sizes. Some are tumbled a little bit on the top. “It was quite the ordeal to stack them and get them to fit,” said Wells. “We figured they would hold up fine, but out of risk of anything happening we drilled holes through all of them and put a 1 ½-inch rebar through all of them. Then we drilled half way through the top and secured the rebar with concrete.
“To me, the memorial gives the diverse nature of our product,” Wells continued. “It’s something I hope other suppliers, and even architects and builders, can see. As we continue to push the envelope of what we can do, let’s not forget the simplicity of that product as well. The beauty of the natural product. I know sometimes I forget.”