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Fate of the "Trinity Root" 9/11 memorial by Steve Tobin to be decided in Federal District Court
The memorial was conceived by Tobin, who was known for his bronze Walking Roots, after a seeing a report in the media in the days following the attack on the World Trade Center describing a miraculous sycamore tree that had “saved St. Paul’s Chapel.”

NEW YORK, NY.- A Complaint was filed today (12) in Federal District Court on behalf of Pennsylvania artist Steve Tobin ( and his 9.11 memorial called The Trinity Root, which was removed from the site where it had stood at the corner of Wall Street and Broadway in Lower Manhattan for a decade, by officials at Trinity Church. Lawyers representing the artist have cited the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), which was legislation passed in 1990 to protect the rights of artists and their work.

The memorial was conceived by Tobin, who was known for his bronze Walking Roots, after a seeing a report in the media in the days following the attack on the World Trade Center describing a miraculous sycamore tree that had “saved St. Paul’s Chapel.” The enormous old tree was spit out of the ground by the impact as the towers came crashing down and its trunk and branches bore the brunt of falling debris, protecting St. Paul’s and its churchyard, which holds the tombs of such luminaries in American history as Alexander Hamilton and Clement C. Moore. In the aftermath of the attack the fallen tree was found covered with fallen objects, including victims’ DNA and a large I beam that had flown from the collapsing buildings. Scientists agreed that the seismic waves the tree absorbed were so powerful they would have damaged or completely destroyed St. Paul’s Chapel.

It took three years for Tobin and Trinity Church to agree to realize his dream of excavating the stump and root system of the artifact and turning it into a bronze memorial sculpture that was dedicated and blessed by church officials on the four year anniversary of the WTC attack. The Trinity Root, which was the first and only memorial in Lower Manhattan for nearly a decade, until the official 9.11 Memorial and Museum opened to the public in 2012, proved a powerful magnet for pilgrims to the site, attracting more than a million visitors annually, according to church officials. A 6’ high bronze maquette study of the Trinity Root is in the permanent collection of the 9.11 Memorial and Museum.

A decade after its dedication in 2015, Trinity Church appointed a new rector who indicated to Tobin through an associate that he wanted it removed, even though the Church had promised that it would remain permanently on the site. In reliance on that promise, Tobin had created and installed the sculpture using his own personal resources, taking a second mortgage on his home to enable him to finance the cost.

Without notice to Tobin, or ceremony, the Trinity Root was removed over a weekend in December of 2015 and taken out of state to a secluded church property where it has remained ever since. The artistic integrity of the sculpture was damaged during the move, with several branches broken from its limbs. Tobin found out about the removal when he called a church official the following Monday morning and said he planned to bring his young children to New York to see his work for the first time in the place for which he created it.

Mr. Tobin said, “When I offered to create The Trinity Root, I wanted to honor the victims of 9.11, the sacrifices of the first responders and the miracle of the tree that preserved St. Paul’s Chapel. All I asked was that it remain permanently in the place it was intended to be, the courtyard of Trinity Church. The Church accepted my offer, and in return it promised that The Trinity Root would stay in the courtyard. In its own publications, it said so to the world. It was installed and dedicated in a beautiful, moving religious ceremony. For a decade, people who visited Ground Zero told me that they found solace and peace when they walked under and through its roots. Then one weekend in the dead of night, the Church broke its word and moved The Trinity Root far away from the place and the memories it honors.

“By removing The Trinity Root, the Church dishonored my work of art, the impulse for creating it, and myself as an artist. I am asking the Court to restore that honor by returning the sculpture to its rightful permanent site in the Trinity Church courtyard.”

The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) was enacted by Congress in 1990 to give visual artists protection for their moral rights or attribution and dignity. It empowers Mr. Tobin to protect his works of recognized stature such as The Trinity Root sculpture from any intentional distortion, mutilation or other modification “which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation.”

Mr. Tobin’s lawyers are the Honorable Steven S. Honigman, a former General Counsel of the Navy, and Gale P. Elston, P.C. Ms. Elston is an art law attorney who has represented artists, art institutes, and non-profits for over twenty years as an advocate for artists’ rights. They have experience in prosecuting cases under VARA, and as co-counsel they successfully resolved a recent lawsuit involving the destruction of a monumental sculpture at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City.

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