Downtown and the Week of 9/11, a Look at How We Remembered
The Trib visits some of the many events taking place in Lower Manhattan over the past week. Below are just a few, starting with Sunday, the 10th Anniversary and followed by:
Hand in Hand
10 Years After Evacuation, P.S. 234 Remembers 9/11
St. Paul's is Again a Site of Remembrance
Memorial Preview: Peacefulness Among the Trees and Pools
SEPTEMBER 11, 2011: Downtown Scenes, 10 Years After
SUNRISE IN BATTERY PARK CITY
Nearly 100 Battery Park City residents gathered at sunrise in Wagner Park for an hour of singing and readings, and a togetherness forged by the difficult weeks of dust and displacement that began 10 years ago to the day.
Following a procession down the esplanade, the group settled in a long row along a park wall, facing the brightening New York harbor. Community leader Rosalie Joseph, who organized the event in concert with the Battery Park City Authority, stood at a microphone and began the program.
“It’s really good to be with neighbors and friendly faces, people we’ve all cared about for many years,” said Joseph, who has spearheaded the neighborhood's Sept. 11 observances since the first one in Oct. 2001. “I hope today when you leave we lift you up and you feel embraced by the unity that we share.
Indeed, as Joseph invited the group to stand for the final song, "God Bless America," spirits did seem to rise.
“Let’s look at the Statue of Liberty and stand if you wish,” she said, then turned around to discover a giant new battleship floating slowly up river. “Oh, and the USS New York!” she exclaimed. “Oh my god! Check it out!”
With the ceremony ended, its songs and passages of peace, love and hope concluded, many in the group went to the park railing for a closer view of the war ship, its bow made of World Trade Center steel.
COMING TOGETHER AT P.S./I.S. 89
P.S. and I.S. 89 students were evacuated from their school 10 years ago and on Sunday principals Ronnie Najjar and Ellen Foote chose to commemorate Sept. 11 by opening the gates for a simple gathering in the schoolyard. There were bagels and muffins and the quiet chatter of old friends. As 8:46 a.m. approached, the sound of a choir could be heard coming from the ceremony at the Memorial plaza, but not the ringing of bells that followed. The moment passed without notice.
Najjar said she couldn’t have stayed home on this day; she had to be in the neighborhood. “So if we’re going to be here why don’t we open the gates and welcome the community back, whether it’s the community that helped us or the community that’s new.”
“There’s no formula for what to do on these occasions,” said Foote. “I think it’s great just to reunite with people.”
Najjar has reunited with one former school parent, Leslie Silverman, on every Sept. 11 anniversary, or a day close to it. The two were together in the school playground as they watched the American Airlines jet strike the north tower. Now they stood together once again, as they do each year.
Silverman lives in the building above the school. Though her daughter Jesse, now a high school senior, has no memory of her evacuation in 2nd grade, Silverman’s bond with the principal remains strong.
“I live upstairs so I find Ronnie on the street,” Silverman laughed.
“She finds me sometime between the 9th and the 12,” Najjar added. “We always hug, we always shed a few tears then she goes to work and I continue my job.”
Standing at the corner near St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway and facing a wrought iron fence adorned with white ribbons and flowers, Sharon Whitaker of Indiana put her arm around Miguel Rodriguez of New Jersey, and whispered a prayer in his ear.
“Thank you,” Rodriguez said softly.
Beyond Rodriguez, the 1 WTC, now 80 stories high, could be seen in the distance. And the faint echo of names being read from the Memorial plaza could be heard.
“They say time heals, but it don’t heal. The pain’s still there,” said Rodriguez, who wore a white T-shirt with the name of his brother, Richard, a Port Authority Police Officer killed on Sept. 11. This was his first time in New York since his brother died.
“I tried to go in and I had to turn back around. I couldn’t go in there,” Rodriguez said, motioning in the direction of the Trade Center site, where the rest of his family was participating in the ceremony. “It’s just still a hard feeling.”
Visitors could also write their reflections about Sept. 11 on special cards, which they taped to the wall. “I had a cookie,” was one child’s response. Another card said, “I feel healed…thanks P.S.234.”
Jamie Heller’s 5th grade daughter was only five months old on Sept. 11, 2001. For the first time, she said as she viewed the exhibits, she was getting a glimpse of this pivotal time in the school’s history. “I may as well have lived in New Jersey,” she said. “I had no idea what was going on with this school.”
Sam Levine, now a college sophomore, said he was discovering something he never knew back then as a 4th grader at the school. “Ten years later, I realize how much work teachers put in and how much stuff went on behind the scenes,” he said.
Charlie Balsam, 19, was taking a photo of his younger self in a group photo of the entire student body made 10 years ago. He said coming back to the school with his family was more important this year than ever.
“This school is a rock in my heart, much more important than the Memorial,” he said. “It’s a very emotional nostalgic time for me right now.”
After greeting one parent and student after another in the cafeteria, Anna Switzer, the long-time former P.S. 234 principal who led the school a decade ago, stood in the hallway and took a moment to reflect.
“Maybe it’s a 10-year reaction but I’m having a harder time today than I remember ever having,” she said. “And seeing everybody back. I was overcome.”
“It was a noble time,” she added, recalling the five difficult months away from the school building. “People behaved nobly.”
For all the positive memories from those days, not everyone at the school favored a day that focused on Sept. 11. Lisa Ripperger, the school’s current principal who headed the planning over the past seven months, said it was only after school resumed that the commemoration won everyone's support. “I think this anniversary helped many staff members move over the hurdle of discomfort in talking about 9/11,” she said. “All these conversations help grown ups get better at talking about anything that’s difficult, not just 9/11.”
“Now it’s time to turn our attention to the rest of the school year,” she added. “It’s time to turn a corner.”
LIVING FOR TODAY
Sitting on a park bench in Battery Park City, Sheri and Marc Gorman watched their 7-year-old daughter, Brett, turn somersaults in the grass.
“We are thinking about what’s going on right there,” Sheri said, tilting her head backward in the direction of the World Trade Center site. “But at the same time, you have to go on with your life. Kids need to play.”
The streets of Battery Park City were emptied on Sunday—no traffic, only parked police cars and unmarked vans, and a few pedestrians. But the path running along the river was alive with bicyclists and runners, parents with strollers and residents walking dogs. The playground was full of giggling, squealing children; the basketball court was in full use.
The Gormans said they had moved to the neighborhood in 2002 because they wanted to be a part of the rebirth of Downtown. They planned to go to the Memorial on Tuesday, but on Sunday they were paying tribute through quiet contemplation, and by staying in the neighborhood and going on with day-to-day life.
“This is where we chose to live, this is where we chose to start our family,” Sheri said. “We want to be here today. This is our neighborhood.”
SURVIVORS AND THE SURVIVOR TREE
In the grassy triangular area next to the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, Manuel Chey approached a small group and threw his arms around one of them.
“It’s so good to see you!” Chey told the woman, then stepped back and looked for other familiar faces in the Sunday afternoon gathering of World Trade Center survivors.
In an annual ritual, the group congregates near a tree growing from the sapling of a tree that survived the Oklahoma City bombing. Several survivors of that attack, who have lent support to the New Yorkers over the years, attended as well.
“We’ve grown into a family,” said Oklahoma bombing survivor Dot Hill. “And when we came here to try and help them to heal, it healed us, too.”
Continuing that healing was what everyone was hoping for on Sunday.
“We came out for the fifth, we came for a couple of the in betweens, but that was more like grieving, said Dan Franco, who was working in the south tower at the time of the attacks. His wife had escaped from the 91st floor of the north tower. “This time we want it to be like closure. You have to move on. You can’t dwell on it forever.”
A Holding of Hands, a Moment of Silence
At 8:46 a.m. on Saturday—exactly 10 years minus a day since a planestruck the north tower of the World Trade Center—all the convivial chatter and organizing hubub along the Lower Manhattan waterfront came to a halt. Handheld bells rang out and for one minute, a human chain of thousands, stretched from Battery Park north, joined hands in silence.
Participants came from across the five boroughs and beyond.
AT RIGHT, CLICK TO LISTEN TO THE VOICES OF PARTICIPANTS.
“I felt drawn to be here and be a part of this,” said Diane Rosen of New Rochelle, NY, her mascara-smudged eyelids brimming with tears. “It was healing because we were all together.” Click on the player above to hear more voices from the event.
“I saw a whole range of human emotion and it was really beautiful to see,” said CB1 Chair Julie Menin, who spearheaded the event. “This surpassed what I had originally imagined. I had imagined a line of thousands and thousands of New Yorkers, but to see the emotions on people’s faces when they were in this line was incredibly moving.”
For many, it was that feeling of community and togetherness that made the event stand out among the plethora of commemorative events planned across the city during the anniversary weekend.
“I thought it was more uniting than some of the other things,” said Greg Gwilt. “People just coming and doing it for the sake of doing it, not because they wanted to see the president or some other big shot.”
“All united as one, that was the appeal of the event,” said Bridget Cagney, a Queens resident who, with her husband, dedicated six months to the volunteer effort after Sept. 11. “We spent so much time with the community we felt like we were a part of it.”
Putting it all together was a massive undertaking. Participants registered online and received a group color and a check-in spot. On the day of, dozens of volunteers greeted them and crossed their names off long lists, handing them a t-shirt and giving them directions on where to stand.
Volunteers stood stationed along the edge of Battery Park and the Battery Park City esplanade, working hard to bring people close together and create a line with as few breaks as possible.
“We wanted to stand united,” said Battery Park City resident Deidra Winszewski, sitting between her husband and the son who she said probably saved her life on Sept. 11. Winszewski, who had an office in the north tower, had been late for work that day because she was pregnant with her son and suffering from morning sickness. “It’s emotional,” she said.
Battery Park City resident Mara Sonnenschein came to the event to join her community, but also to have something to share with her two-year-old daughter in the future.
“Hopefully it will be something we can show her pictures of and tell her when she’s old enough to ask questions,” Sonnenschein said, looking down at her blond-haired toddler.
The ceremony over, some participants were still in tears as they left. One woman, who was almost too emotional to speak, walked off toward Battery Park City, her arm entwined with a weeping friend.
Leaning on a nearby fence, another woman paused to collect herself.
“It’s been 10 years, and it still feels like yesterday,” said Staten Islander Rita Petrizzi, as she brushed away a tear. “This event shows that we still remember.”
10 Years After Evacuation, P.S. 234 Commemorates Sept. 11
Class by class, the yard of P.S. 234 quietly filled with students Friday morning—all 829 of them—much as it had on the day nearly a decade ago when the school reopened after the attacks of Sept. 11. And like that first day back, when the school building had been cleaned and air monitors hummed in hallways, the children of this Tribeca school stood together and sang.
The song, once again, was “This Land Is Your Land,” but the purpose, said Principal Lisa Ripperger, was to acknowledge what had happened so close to their school—one of several Downtown schools that evacuated following the attacks.
“Schools tend to be hesitant to talk about things that are hard for them,” said Ripperger, who worked with her staff for months to plan the school's commemorative activities. “We feel very strongly that that just breeds more insecurity and anxiety in children. When children feel really safe and secure it’s because they can tell the parents are being honest with them.”
(P.S. 234 will host a public commemoration from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11, with film screenings, storytelling and a display of artifacts.)
In the yard Friday morning, Ripperger rang a bell signaling the beginning and end of a (successful) moment of silence. And at the end of the brief gathering, she rang 11 bells. “Ten for the anniversary and one for the future,” she said.
The sight of nearly 850 children standing in silence was one to behold. “I was breathtakingly impressed with their behavior,” Ripperger said.
Preceding the event in the yard, 4th and 5th graders were visited by P.S. 234 alums, who could tell them, first hand, what it was like to be in the school on Sept. 11, 2001.
Hannah Moch and Ian Slade Tullis, now college students, visited the class of their former 4th grade teacher, Pat Carney, one of the few teachers still at the school who was there on Sept. 11. The former students answered questions from her current 4th graders, most of whom had yet to turn 10.
How did you feel when you had to leave the school that day?” they asked. “How did you feel when all the gifts came in?” “Were you happy when Osama Bin Laden died?”
One boy asked if Moch and Tullis thought the towers would fall, or, as he put it, “Did you think it’s going to be okay because bad things like this don’t really happen?”
“This was so out of the ordinary, so weird,” said Tullis. “Nothing like this had ever happened before. We didn’t have a sense of what was going on.”
Another student asked what it felt like to go to another school, which for the first two weeks was P.S. 41 in Greenwich Village.
The students said it was very cramped because their class had to meet in an office.
“And do you remember the only furniture in the office, remember what it was?” their former teacher asked.
“The black leather couch,” Tullis replied.
“And the zebra rug,” Moch added.
“All the kids had to sit on either the couch or the rug,” Carney told her wide-eyed 4th graders.
When it was time to leave, Tullis looked around at the children and smiled.
“I’m so excited to meet all of you,” he said, “and I can’t believe I was this little 10 years ago.”
Not so, however, for his former teacher. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said.
The Rev. James Cooper went first, walking with a long, white ribbon of remembrance into the rain and tying it to the wrought iron fence outside St. Paul’s Chapel. Ten years ago nearly every inch of that fence was covered with Teddy bears, banners, framed pictures and cards. Now it would sport only ribbons, with handwritten messages of sadness and hope.
“It gives people an outward way of expressing what’s inside, to physically write something and tie it there,” said Cooper, the rector of Trinity Wall Street whose own message was both a prayer of remembrance for the dead and a thanksgiving for the volunteers, many of whom dedicated themselves for months to the comfort of recovery workers inside the chapel.
“I think we can remember the evil, and the horror comes to mind, but that’s actually the aberration of the human spirit,” Cooper said. “The human spirit is about those who tied ribbons of love and remembrance and came and served and worked. That’s the essence of humanity.”
The church ordered 30,000 of the white ribbons, imprinted with the words “Remember to Love.” On that morning of Tuesday, Sept. 6, church leaders followed Cooper out into the rain, taking a moment of silence before looping ribbons around black metal spikes. Then passersby began penning their own thoughts.
After just half an hour, more than 60 ribbons lined the fence, their tails flapping in the breeze, their writings in various languages. Most of the messages were partially hidden inside the knotted fabric and only the fragments of inscriptions could be read: “forgive but not forget,” “blessing,” “We’ll always remember what happened in New York.”
To make sure that all the 30,000 ribbons get handed out, church employees are staffing a small table near the entrance of the church through Sunday, Sept. 11.
“It’s unbelievable ten years later to see this,” said Wayne Lowery of South Carolina, who contributed to the first memorial at St. Paul’s a decade ago. “It’s nice that they devised a way for people who come down to participate.”
Lowery wrote the same phrase on his ribbon that he enscribed on a canvas banner in front of the church in 2001.
“New York, New York. So nice they named it twice. God bless America.”
It’s a short, noisy walk that ticket holders will take, beginning Sept. 12, from the visitor screening center at West and Albany streets to the entrance of the September 11 Memorial plaza. To the left of the chain-link fence that lines the pathway, cars zoom up West Street. To the right, excavators rumble from a gargantuan hole in the ground that will one day be the Vehicle Security Center.
But once you have stepped onto the plaza, the sounds of the city seem to fade. What you hear are the rustling leaves of the recently planted white swamp oak trees that dot the expanse.
“It’s peaceful,” said Michael Connolly, after entering the plaza and standing silently for a moment, taking in the plaza’s six acres. “You step off the highway, and suddenly, it is very peaceful.”
Connolly was among a group of community board members on a preview tour of the Memorial on Wednesday, organized by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“It brings you back, doesn’t it?” CB1 member Roger Byrom said. The reflecting pools, their walls mimicking the footprints of the towers, helped to orient him as his memory went back to the World Trade Center Plaza. “It really works. You can remember walking around here.”
Visitors only grasp the enormity of the pools when getting close to them, the eye following the breathtakingly high granite walls that rise from the base of the pool.
“If you stand three blocks away, it’s not like standing here,” Silver said. “The transformation is amazing.”
Just a little more than half of the 400 sweetgum trees and white swamp oaks are planted now. Eventually, the full growth will provide a shady canopy for the plaza. But for now much of the plaza is open to a wide expanse of sky, framed by rising skyscrapers.
“The open space really does feel good,” said board member Bruce Ehrmann. “It feels diaphanous.”
“I’ve walked around it and driven around it for the last 10 years, but you don’t realize how big it is until you stand here,” Anthony Notaro remarked to fellow board member Susan Cole. “I’m looking at Church Street and it looks like it’s a mile away.”
While Notaro, like others, was impressed by the plaza and struck by its vastness, what seemed to hit him most was the magnitude of its meaning. “While you’re excited about the rebuilding,” he said, “it’s important to also remember what happened here.”