Back in 1999, a young woman named Ann Katherine Seamans lost her life in an accident. Throughout her lifetime, one of Annie’s favorite pastimes was visiting the parks, especially at night where she could gaze up at the stars. After she passed, her parents, Elizabeth and Joseph, wanted to do something special to commemorate her life and her love for the parks. This is how the Ann Katherine Seamans Memorial came to be.
Along with local architect Fred Bonci, artist Janet Sweig, and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the project to restore the Mellon Park Walled Garden and install its spectacular lighting exhibit was underway.
If you haven’t yet seen the Walled Garden at night, it’s certainly worth the trip (Photo taken by LaQuatra Bonci). The installation features points of light in the lawn area of the garden, arranged in the same orientation as the stars were on the night Annie was born. To make this happen, the team had to develop a technique using light omission, acrylic rods, and fiberoptic lighting, which proved itself to be a difficult task.
Determined to rig up the best device possible, Phil Gruska, Director of Horticulture and Forestry, got to work. He headed off to Home Depot to see what types of supplies he could use to build the device himself. He eventually bootstrapped his own device, and the team approved.
However, it took Phil approximately an hour to build just one unit, and they needed 150 units for the whole project. Though he assumed he would get quicker at building each device, it would still take too much time to construct them all himself. Luckily, a Boy Scout in search of his Eagle Badge reached out at just the right time. Phil explained the scope of the project, and they soon had a handful of Boy Scouts lined up and ready to start building.
Phil cannot express enough how much time and money was saved with the help of the Boy Scouts. The Scouts were incredibly great workers and did not stop until the work was done. In the end, they made 155 units so that they would have a few to spare. Unfortunately, the Scouts were unable to help install the devices, as the project called for an active construction zone, but Phil explains that the Scouts were certainly “instrumental” in the project’s success.
Upon installation, Phil was tasked with making sure that each device was placed in its precise location. To measure and mark each exact placement, Phil once again recruited back up. This time, Phil’s son and a few of his college friends volunteered to help get the job done. After a few days of work, everything was ready to be installed.
The Mellon Park Walled Garden was restored in 2009 and then reopened in June 2010. The art installation remembering Ann was titled 7:11 AM 11.20.1979 79° 55´W 40°27´N to honor the day she was born so that others can gaze upon the stars in her memory.