BBC News

9/11 anniversary: New York remembers

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News, New York

media captionNew Yorkers speak about their recollections of the 9/11 attacks, and how they spent the 10th anniversary

As New York reflects on probably the most painful episode in the city's history, how are people there marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11?

Tourists carrying US flags, barricades closing off streets and police stationed on every corner. For Lower Manhattan, this was a Sunday morning charged with emotion and tension.

People who could not get close to the World Trade Center because of the security arrangements still wanted to be as near as they could be. "I needed to be here," was a common sentiment.

About a dozen uniformed military police were gathered on Broadway before making their way to the ceremony for the families of those who died.

Lt Moshe Grusscott describes the mood as one of sadness and pride.

"Ten years later, it didn't destroy us, it made us more patriotic, the way the country rallied round. It didn't defeat us."

Further uptown, the scene was very much like any other early Sunday in New York - the city never sleeps, as everyone knows, but there are times when it appears a little drowsy.

In a deserted Times Square, retired postal worker Ron Wasserman, 61, recalls how 10 years ago, the streets were filled with pieces of burnt office paper, falling through the air like confetti.

Three people he knew died that day, he says with a tear in his eye, and the country instantly changed.

image captionTimes Square beamed pictures from the ceremony

"We are so security-conscious now. It's way over the top and yet it's necessary."

The country also feels more vulnerable, he says. He and his wife and have not flown since 9/11.

"The anniversary is just a chronological mark. It should be commemorated and we will never forget it, but I hope we won't dwell on it."

The moment of silence at 08:46 was observed by a couple of hundred people in Times Square, mostly tourists, although the morning traffic on 7th Avenue meant it was anything but quiet.

From sadness to hope

There were many ways that New Yorkers did something differently, to show it wasn't just another Sunday.

Some wore badges depicting the lost landmarks.

Others put up US flags outside their home or business to show their patriotism was unbowed.

One artist expressed her feelings through an installation composed of all the office papers that landed in her apartment after the towers fell.

image captionMichael Vitellio hangs a flag outside his father's Brooklyn restaurant

For 500 volunteers gathered at Nathan Straus School, the day was all about making something positive come out of the tragedy, whether that be making cards for military overseas or giving a school playground a makeover.

And a charity called Muslims Against Homeless spent the day making and distributing 1,300 meals to homeless people in New Jersey and Manhattan.

A weekend of anniversary events in the city had begun on Saturday morning, when thousands of people in white T-shirts saying "Reflect, Remember, Unite" joined hands in Battery Park, in a community event intended to show unity at the time the North Tower was struck.

Under the watchful eye of the Statue of Liberty from across the Hudson River, and within sight of the soaring new World Trade Center building, the chain of hands was a simple but powerful gesture.

Nearby, 3,000 flags which had been planted in the park as a "field of remembrance" fluttered in the breeze.

For Joe Zammataro, who travelled from Florida to take part, the 10th anniversary marks a new, inspiring beginning.

"Everyone who visited Ground Zero afterwards, prior to the reconstruction, felt a sense of loss and hollowness," he said. "But now sadness is replaced with hope.

"Holding hands, there was a spirit and energy I felt surge through my body. It was a resurrection, an uplifting feeling.

"They can knock us down but they can't knock us out. That's not the American spirit but the human spirit."

There were private expressions of grief too, like the woman who wiped a tear from her face as she looked up at the new tower, or the retired fire fighter who tried to compose himself on the subway platform.

Global sympathy

Across the bridge from Lower Manhattan, the borough of Brooklyn may not bear the scars of 9/11 but it feels the pain just as deeply.

Many of the people who died lived in the borough, especially within the firefighting community. Red Hook's Engine 279 lost five men that day, and five fire jackets bearing their names still hang on the wall.

Just a few blocks away, Engine 202 has seven helmets in a glass cabinet, one for each of the men who left the station that day to attend to an emergency in Manhattan and never returned.

image caption67 British citizens were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center

"Three companies in this area lost all their men that day, and the loss is still felt today," says Engine 202's chief officer Ed O'Donnell.

"There's a danger with the job, absolutely, and some of the guys feel it. We're like a family so when you lose one, it's like losing a brother."

Heading north from Red Hook and into Carroll Gardens, the sound of a British brass band fills the air. It's not something you hear every Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn.

An annual street party for 9/11 was under way, thrown by the residents of 3rd Street and attended by more than 100 British police officers, including the members of the West Yorkshire Police Band.

They were all due to attend a ceremony on Sunday for the 67 British lives lost in 9/11.

Posters praising the British bobby adorn the Brooklyn brownstones. And the appreciation is mutual.

Stephen Jones, from Humberside Police, says: "A lot of policemen died and no matter what country you're in you have the same shared values, so it's important for us to show that we care.

"It wasn't a crime just against America, it was worldwide."

The repercussions from that day were felt keenly in another Brooklyn neighbourhood, Bay Ridge, which has the largest Arab-American community in the New York area.

The Arab-American association shares its anniversary with 9/11, having been formed in response to the anti-Muslim backlash that followed the attacks.

image captionMr Polychronakis's business was buried but he hopes to return to the site

In the past week, it has experienced a spike in hate mail, says its associate director Jennie Goldstein.

But in a show of unity, and following a plea from President Barack Obama for Americans to use the anniversary to do acts of service, it has thrown open its doors and about 40 volunteers from places as diverse as Scotland, Sudan and Kansas have helped to give the place a makeover.

Back in Lower Manhattan, a 10-minute walk from the World Trade Center site, Minas Polychronakis is sitting out the front of his shoe repair business on Wall Street, warmly greeting passing customers.

He arrived in the US from Crete in 1969 with $138 and no English. After starting life on American soil as a dishwasher, he soon had his own shoe business.

He was one of the first tenants in the World Trade Center in 1976.

Twenty-five years later, along with an estimated 750 other companies, he lost his premises under a pile of rubble, while friends and customers lost their lives.

The district became a ghost town and he nearly lost his business, he says, but he felt a loyalty to the neighbourhood and refused to relocate uptown.

Years later, business is picking up again, but the 70-year-old is determined to be back in the World Trade Center when it reopens in 2013, and won't hear talk of retirement.

"I have to go back there," he says. "I spent 25 years there, so it will feel like going home."