Jul 18, 2014

A Mural Dedication: Tribute to Lt. Robert Neary & FF. Daniel Sweeney

by: Cassandra McAllister

I found myself standing next to the Unsung Heroes Gallery – staring up at the mural dedicated to two brave firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice just two short years ago in a fire at the intersection of Front & York Streets. The mural is centered on the larger-than-life portraits of heroes Lt. Robert Neary and FF. Daniel Sweeney. Looking down the narrow street, over 200 people were in attendance, with the Neary and Sweeney families seated in the front row, to commemorate the lives of their loved ones.

The ceremony itself was extraordinary – heartbreaking but also inspiring. City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Philadelphia Executive Director, Jane Golden, spoke eloquently about the project and families and described how the mural was made possible by the generous financial support of Alexander N Rubin, Jr. Esq. and the City of Philadelphia, along with in-kind support from Unsung Heroes Gallery.

The Neary and Sweeney families bravely took the stage and shared how working on the project helped them to heal, and expressed awe and gratitude about the authenticity of the portraits of their loved ones. The artist team, composed of Jesse J. Gardner, David McShane (left), and Kien Nguyen (right), shared their inspirations for the mural and also the challenges they faced along the way; the biggest challenge being to capture likeness of the heroes’ faces. Jeff Carpineta, former President of the East Kensington Neighbors Association, also gave an emotional speech recalling the day of the fire.

The location of the mural is approximately two blocks away from the site of the actual fire. After the ceremony, we walked around the corner to the fire ground. I followed Diane Neary who was walking arm-in-arm with a firefighter [FF. Patrick Nally] and I realized that once again she would be visiting the site of the fire that claimed her husband’s life.

Upon returning, guests gathered outside and inside the Unsung Heroes Gallery for sandwiches and refreshments. Inside, guests admired several portrait paintings by gallery owner and mural co-designer Jesse J. Gardner and engaged in cheerful conversations. Outside, guests took photos and celebrated the striking mural that will forever serve as a reminder of the bravery of two great men.

As I left the site of the mural, I recalled Jane Golden’s stirring remarks about how murals treat people as heroes – that murals show that their lives count, and that their lives will never be forgotten.

To Learn More about this project, CLICK HERE>>

Photos by Steve Weinik

Last updated: Mar 21, 2016

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