Marshall University Plane Crash Memorial Fountain
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Designed by artist Harry Bertoia and dedicated in 1972, this fountain pays tribute to the victims of the 1970 Marshall University Plane Crash and the resilience of the university community. Built of welded copper and bronze tubes, the fountain is meant to represent life and upward growth. It stands in the middle of the Memorial Student Center plaza and serves as one of the major landmarks on campus. Marshall holds a memorial ceremony here each year on November 14, the anniversary of the crash. During the ceremony, the fountain is turned off in remembrance of the 75 who perished that day.
Backstory and Context
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On the evening of November 14, 1970 the Marshall University football team, coaches, and their supporters took a Southern Airways flight from Kinston, North Carolina back to Huntington after losing a game against East Carolina University. Poor weather hampered visibility around the Tri-State Airport, south of Ceredo, where the flight was scheduled to land. At around 7:35 PM the plane crashed into a hill just west of the airport. All 75 passengers and crew perished, including 37 members of the football team. It was the worst air disaster in American sports history.
Immediately after the tragedy a Memorial Committee was appointed by Marshall to find ways to honor the victims. Their recommendations included the installation of a plaque at Fairfield Stadium, a granite marker at Spring Hill Cemetery, and designating the new student center as a memorial. The committee also sought to build a major monument on the student center plaza. Early ideas suggested a sculpture of a bison, or a bronze statue of a football player. The committee ultimately decided to commission Italian-born sculptor Harry Bertoia to create a suitable memorial for $25,000. Bertoia designed a 13-foot tall, 6,500 pound, bronze and copper fountain sculpture; it took over a year to complete. 150 welded, copper tubes reach towards the sky, while water sprays upwards from the center and pours down into a pool. Bertoia intended for the design to “commemorate the living, rather than death, on the waters of life, rising, receding and surging so as to express upward growth, immortality and eternity.” A bronze plaque at the edge of the fountain lists the names of the 75 victims.
"They shall live on in the hearts of their families and friends forever, and this memorial records their loss to the university and to the community." -Fountain Plaque
The Memorial Fountain was unveiled and dedicated in a ceremony by Marshall President John G. Barker on November 12, 1972. Each year on November 14 a memorial ceremony is held at the fountain to commemorate the plane crash. Family members of the victims are invited, and the football team lays 75 white flowers at the base of the fountain as names are read. Traditionally an individual connected to the tragedy serves as the guest speaker.
The Memorial Fountain underwent extensive refurbishments in 2008. This included repairs to the deteriorating base; the installation of a new granite surface and a catch tray; the replacement of pipes and electrical wiring; and an upgraded water pump for the spray to shoot higher. It was rededicated in a ceremony on April 9, 2008.
“Aircraft Accident Report: Southern Airways, Inc. DC-9, N97S.” National Transportation Safety Board. April 14, 1972. Accessed January 19, 2020. https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/AAR7211.pdf.
Casto, James E. Marshall University. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2005.
Farner, Jessica. “Campus Rebirth.” Marshall Magazine (Summer 2008): 4-10.
Marshall University News Release. November 9, 1972. Marshall University Archives, Marshall University Special Collections.
“Memorial Fountain.” Marshall University. Accessed January 18, 2020. https://www.marshall.edu/history-and-traditions/sample-page/historic-buildings-and-monuments/memorial-fountain/.
Miller, Tom D. “Marshall Plane Crash.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. December 12, 2018. Accessed January 18, 2020. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1528.
Moffat, Charles Hill. Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age, 1837-1980. Marshall University Alumni Association, 1981. Accessed January 1, 2020. https://www.mds.marshall.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1008&context=lib_manu.
Stump, Jake. “Fountain an eternal reminder.” Charleston Daily Mail. November 14, 2005.
Tippett, Lawrence. “Memorial Sculpture Dedication.” Marshall University Archives, Marshall University Special Collections.
Withers, Bob. “Memorial Fountain designed to represent ‘upward growth, immortality, eternality.’” Herald-Dispatch. November 15, 2014.