Volume 17 • Issue 17 | SEPTEMBER 17 - 23, 2004

Dowtown Express photo by Talisman Brolin

Neighbors left flowers and candles at firehouses all over the city, including this one at W. 10th St.

Subdued feelings away from W.T.C.

By Lincoln Anderson

The anniversary of 9/11 was quieter on the third year — but at the same time more politically charged.

Three years ago, after the attack on the World Trade Center, when south of 14th St. was a restricted zone, Union Sq. became a focal point for gathering, mourning and praying for peace. At night, illuminated by the white light of thousands of candles, the park became a dazzling cathedral of hope.

At 9/11’s two-year anniversary, searching to find solace and to remember, people again returned to Union Sq. They left candles, signs and a small model of the Twin Towers, but the size of the memorial was nothing like before.

Last Saturday evening, the feeling that 9/11 is somehow starting to fade into history was palpable in Union Sq. There was only one small memorial of votive candles and flowers. It included photos of Jacob S. Fletcher, a soldier killed in combat in Iraq, and signs saying “1,000 Dead.”

Nearby was a small, plastic cup of cut flowers with water, looking lonely.

Someone had left a box of sidewalk chalk with a note nearby — “Write a peace sign” — and there were hundreds of them marked inside the hexagonal asphalt pavers in pink, blue, yellow and orange. And there were messages:

“This is for Pete’s Father”

“RIP Never Forget 9/11/01 — 9/11/04”

There were sketches of the towers.

But there were also a goodly smattering of Bushes in circles with slashes through them.

Mostly, though, the plaza was full of young people. They were on skateboards and trick bikes and kicking hackey sacks. They were playing guitars and dancing to old school Michael Jackson — “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” — on a boom box. One guy was even briefly twirling a flame-tipped baton.

Earlier that afternoon, Brian Monaghan, a Traffic Control Division police officer, was in Washington Sq. Park with his partner. They were attached to a shoot for a new music video by Latin singer Obie Bermudez. This 9/11 did seem mellower, he said.

“I think the convention sapped everybody,” Monaghan said. “It’s more of a media thing now, to sell newspapers,” he said of the 9/11 coverage. “There’ll probably be a big 10th anniversary.”

Monaghan planned to attend a block party later in Bay Ridge in honor of Moira Smith, the 13th Precinct officer who was one of the 23 police officers killed in the World Trade Center.

“I grew up on the same block with her,” he said. “I think 13 of us from that block became cops.” But he expected fewer people at the block party this year.

His former partner lost his wife in the attack, then retired to raise his two daughters. Like others he knows of, Monaghan said his old partner doesn’t go to ground zero on 9/11, but leaves town to be with his family and his thoughts and avoid news cameras.

Passing Ladder 3’s firehouse at 13th St. and Fourth Ave., Donna Perrone, 40, from the East Village, stopped to smell the flower bouquets left outside.

“I had a good cry today,” she said, recalling listening to a moving 9/11 montage on WBAI. “It took me back.”

One of two friends with her, Rachel Fried, 35, tends Sunset Park’s 9/11 flower garden. They were heading over to Union Sq. to see if there were any memorials there, or any protesters.

Standing in the station house’s doorway, firefighter Douglas DiGeorgio hadn’t appreciated overhearing them mention the word “protesters.”

“Not on a day like today,” he said.

He supports the war in Iraq.

“I don’t think that it was tied to 9/11,” he said of the Trade Center attack. “But there’s absolutely no doubt we had to go in there and clean that [situation] up.”

As opposed to the last two anniversaries, this year fewer people visited Ladder 3 to pay condolences and there was less media seeking interviews.

“Quieter this year” was how DiGeorgio described it. “Not too many people, but there was enough.”

As at other firehouses around the city, they had had a special mass earlier and family members came for lunch.

The ladder company lost all 12 men who responded to the Trade Center attack, including legendary Captain Patty Brown.

“This house,” DiGeorgio said, “everyone that went down, stayed down — no one came back.

“Going through the day, it’s just a like a normal day and then something happens that makes you remember and then it becomes hard,” he said, as he smoked sitting on a bench next to the flowers and candles. What are the triggers? “The news, somebody walking by — you,” he told a reporter. “You spend a lot of time suppressing it — I don’t know if that’s the right word — but eventually it comes up.”

A man with a Jack Russell terrier stopped to leave a bouquet. A woman leaned out a cab window: “Watch yourselves,” she said, and “thank you.”

Back at Union Sq., another man, who didn’t want to give his name and said he was an architect, was drawing the major religions’ symbols in a cluster of seven pavers — something his guru taught him.

“I lived below 14th St., in the restricted zone, worked in Tribeca, saw the towers fall, saw people jump — yeah, it was pretty intense,” he said.

He didn’t stop to draw because of 9/11, however, but because of the spirit he feels at Union Sq.

“This place is special. Do you know the history of this place?” he asked, referring to the square’s past as a center of labor organizing and political speech. “It’s regained a lot of that.”

He was from the Vietnam War generation, he said. He was 19 then, about the same age as his son now.

“We’ve got a self-proclaimed war president who’s frightened people enough to ram through the Patriot Act….”

His partner, Tom O’Hare, an airline attendant, stood watching him draw and listening.

“I don’t think I’ve ever protested so much,” O’Hare said with a laugh.

Standing outside Engine 5 firehouse’s door on E. 14th St. at First Ave., two East Village roommates were reading a tribute to fallen Firefighter Manny DelValle. It was where Sept. 11 fell during the week that made it different this year, they said.

“I think it was strange because it’s a Saturday — because it happened on workday,” said Kathy Thelian, 25. “In the morning.”


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