The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has laid bare great fissures in American society. A principal fault line is that between the so-called “essential” and “non-essential” workers, the former bearing a significantly greater burden throughout the darkest days of our contemporary plague. In honor of their sacrifices, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday, June 23, announced plans for a Circle of Heroes memorial to be constructed within Manhattan’s Battery Park.
Plans for the memorial date back to April 2021, when Governor Cuomo announced the formation of the Essential Workers Monument Advisory Committee. The Committee is largely composed of public and private union leaders who advised the state on potential locations for the memorial, as well as on its design and installation.
The memorial will be the focal point of a larger Essential Worker Park landscaped along the Hudson River. Details of the design have been broadly defined thus far, though the Governor’s office noted that the monument will be circled by 19 red maple trees intended to symbolize the many job sectors that carried through the pandemic. An eternal flame will be placed at the center of the memorial signifying the everlasting gratitude of New Yorkers for essential workers. Renderings of the Essential Worker Park also depict a series of concentric and curved paved pathways linking the memorial to the greater Battery Park waterfront.
“In the beginning of the pandemic when people were told to stay home, essential workers went into work day after day, making sure their fellow New Yorkers were safe, fed and cared for,” said Governor Cuomo in a statement. “While we will never be able to fully repay our essential workers, we can honor and celebrate them with this monument that will stand forever as a tribute to all that they have done for New York in our greatest moment of need and beyond. These heroes continue to inspire us every day and we are forever grateful for their service and sacrifice.”
The location of the memorial is certainly fitting; Battery Park has over the last couple of decades formed something of an open-air hall of remembrance for residents of the city and their ancestors. It is home to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a memorial to those who perished during the Holocaust, the Irish Hunger Memorial, and many more sites of commemoration.
This is, of course, but one of what will be a spate of COVID-19 memorials built across the country. For example, across the Hudson River, in the shadow of the Pulaski Skyway, Jersey City has released plans to incorporate such a memorial within a 12-acre public park built atop a rehabilitated Superfund site. Further afield, others are calling for a national memorial for the approximately 600,000 Americans who have died as a result of the pandemic.
The groundbreaking occurred this week and the memorial is expected to open by Labor Day.