MAHOPAC, N.Y.— For Gaetano “Nino” Carbone, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center were especially heart-rending.
The Mahopac resident had once worked for an import/export office at 21 West St. in Manhattan, not too far from the twin towers, and often did business there.
“[The World Trade Center] was just a stone’s throw away from our office,” Carbone said. “I used to go there a lot because there was a lot of shipping companies there and we were an import/export business.”
Additionally, Carbone, who was born and raised in Italy, served three years on the Milan police force as a young man, so his empathy with the first responders who died that day was particularly strong.
“When it happened, it hit me hard,” he said. “I felt so bad.”
Carbone, 60, may be best known around Mahopac as a restaurateur. He was the proprietor of Nino’s Village Pizza Café for many years. But these days, he’s more likely to be recognized as an artist—more specifically, a world record-setting sculptor.
About two years ago, Carbone decided he would build a model of the twin towers.
He said that while he liked the Freedom Tower, the structure built where the World Trade Center used to stand, the New York skyline would never be the same again.
“I realized the [Freedom Tower] was just one tower and the New York skyline would always be incomplete,” he said. “So, I decided to build [a World Trade Center model] so we could show it off.”
But here’s where the story takes an unusual turn. His choice of media for the sculpture was not clay, stone or plaster. Instead, he used recycled wine corks.
“I was in the restaurant business for many years and I collected them; I never threw them out,” he explained. “I had so many. What was I going to do with them?”
At first, the project took on a modest scope. But then inspiration struck and Carbone had an idea: maybe he could create a cork sculpture so large, it would become a world record. He didn’t know if such a category even existed, so he reached out to the folks at the Guinness Book of World Records and, much to his surprise, he learned that it did.
It took Carbone a year to complete the sculpture, which stands at a record-busting 11.75 feet tall and sits on a 4-by-3-foot base. He finished it on Dec. 26, 2015.
“I didn’t think it would go this far,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be a world record.”
While he was in the process of building the sculpture, he called the offices of the Guinness Book of World Records and learned that the record-holder for the tallest cork model was a replica of the Eiffel Tower, which stood just shy of 8 feet tall.
He set out to make his sculpture 9 feet, 11 inches tall to commemorate 9-11, but that wouldn’t work due to the size of the corks. His revised goal was to make it 11 feet, 9 inches tall but, again, the math didn’t work due to his cork medium. So he tweaked it and the finished model came in at 11.75. feet tall.
“That’s more than a yard past the old record [the Eiffel Tower model held],” he said proudly.
Carbone estimates the sculpture weighs about 150 pounds, including the base.
He used 11,500 corks to finish the piece, which was way more than he had collected and stashed away during his years in the restaurant businesses. So, he solicited family members and friends and restaurant owners for more corks, yet it still wasn’t enough. Eventually, he found an online craft store that sold corks and he was able to procure enough to complete the project. He notes that no wood or metal was used in the sculpture, just cork and some glue.
When it was finished, Carbone had to supply evidence to Guinness World Records that his sculpture was what he said it was.
“I had to have an independent surveyor look at and make a video for Guinness,” he said. “I also had to have two witnesses. One was [town Councilman] Frank Lombardi and the other was a friend of mine.”
Once the proof was submitted, Carbone was issued a certificate from Guinness declaring him the new record-holder.
On Sunday, Jan. 15, Carbone will host an unveiling of the sculpture at the Mahopac Italian American Club, of which he is a member. The event will start at 2 p.m. at the IAC clubhouse at 141 Buckshollow Road. An admission donation of $30 will be used to raise money for Tuesday’s Children, an organization formed in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks to support youth, families, and communities impacted by terrorism and traumatic loss. There will be food and drink available—Carbone said he’s handling the cooking himself.
“That way there will be more money for Tuesday’s Children,” he said.
RSVP by calling Carbone at 845-803-9494, or IAC President Giulio Cefaloni at 845-745-2655.