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January 29th, 2002, 12:44 PM
January 25, 2002

In Remembrance of Sorrow From Other Times


YOU will never forget Sept. 11. But there are already more than 40,000 New Yorkers who will never remember. And their numbers grow every hour.

Not yet born at the time of the attack, they represent the ultimate audience for any memorial: those without personal recollection to whom the past must be transmitted. In the overheated debate over the remembrance of Sept. 11, it is worth pondering how other memorials in New York have conveyed their message across the generations.

And it can elevate the soul to step away from the chatter and partake in the contemplative hush that the best memorials offer.

Created out of grief or resolve, to advance a political message or underscore ethnic heritage, memorials fill the city. Those commemorating large-scale tragedy assume an astonishing variety of forms, from a 148-foot Doric column to a pocketful of blackened dimes and nickels. But each embodies the notion that even the most appalling catastrophe is part of a living continuum.

They are also appropriately wrenching. One cannot turn away unchastened from the blistered statue of Shinran Shonin outside the New York Buddhist Church on Riverside Drive, a figure of gently imposing nobility that somehow survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Nor can one gaze over the cobalt chop of New York Harbor, framed by the eight granite pylons of the East Coast Memorial in Battery Park, without shivering inconsolably for the 4,597 service members who perished along the Atlantic Coast in World War II. Their names, ranks and home states are inscribed on the 19-foot pylons. Coxswain, yeoman, apprentice seaman, radarman, torpedoman's mate, quartermaster, water tender, ship's cook. All lost.

At the head of the pylons, a fierce bronze eagle lays a wreath on an oceanic grave. But this is not what gives this memorial its real power. It is the enumeration. Names, real names, attest to the magnitude of sacrifice.

This lesson was absorbed at the Vietnam Veterans Plaza on Water Street, just north of Broad Street, in Lower Manhattan. The original memorial, dedicated in 1985, is a 66-foot wall of glass brick on which have been etched words written by and about service members in Vietnam. Among them may be the most poignant phrase on any New York memorial "And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind" from a poem written in 1970 by Maj. Michael Davis O'Donnell, three months before he was killed.

The original memorial did not explicitly acknowledge the role of New Yorkers in the war. Now it does, with the addition of 12 small steel and granite steles leading to the glass wall, inscribed with the names of 1,741 service members from the city who died as a result of their duty in Vietnam.

A large map has also been added to guide those for whom names like Saigon, the Mekong Delta, Hue, Tan Son Nhut, D.M.Z. and Parrot's Beak may be unfamiliar. More than one-third of all Americans today were not alive in 1975, when the United States withdrew from Vietnam.

In 38 years, if present trends continue, half the population will have been born after Sept. 11, 2001, says Prof. Andrew A. Beveridge of Queens College, using Census Bureau projections.

That raises a fundamental question about designing a memorial: should it tell the story literally or evoke the tragedy abstractly, allowing viewers to bring their own knowledge to the site and inspiring them to learn more once they have seen it? Today's memorial builders must also reach a generation to which history has been spoon-fed as entertainment and spectacle.

Relics as Reminder

The Irish Hunger Memorial, now under construction at Battery Park City, will recall the devastating potato famine of the mid-19th century by conjuring the Irish countryside with potato furrows, stone walls and indigenous plants.

"We wanted to make sure that this memorial told the story, so that when people see this in 100 years, they'll walk away knowing what it represented," said Timothy S. Carey, president of the Battery Park City Authority, which is financing the memorial.

By incorporating as its centerpiece an actual stone cottage from County Mayo, the memorial also reflects the quest at least as old as the veneration of saintly relics for something tangible to connect us with what was lost.

Relics can be found in surprising places.

On the park side of the Maine Monument at Columbus Circle, out of view to most passers-by, is a tablet cast in metal salvaged from the U.S.S. Maine, which exploded in Havana Harbor in 1898, killing 260. The plaque depicts a sorrowful liberty figure watching the battleship sink below the waves.

More modest but far more stirring is an 8-by-14-inch plaque in the chapel of New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn. Embossed on it are four dimes and five nickels that were in the pocket of 11-year-old Stephen Baltz, who was traveling from Chicago on a United Air Lines DC-8 that crashed into Park Slope in 1960, after colliding over New York Harbor with a T.W.A. Super Constellation. It was at the time the worst disaster in aviation history.

The horror was compounded by the shocking sight of a giant, streamlined, white-red-and-blue tail fin in the middle of Sterling Place and Seventh Avenue, the words "United" and "Mainliner" plainly visible.

In all, 135 people were killed in the air and on the ground. Stephen alone briefly survived. He died at Methodist Hospital the next day. His father, William S. Baltz, gave the coins to the chaplain's poor box.

Fifteen blocks away, at the site, there is no formal marker, but there is ample evidence of the impact. The Gothic-style Pillar of Fire Church at 123 Sterling Place was destroyed that morning and never rebuilt. The lot is still empty. At the corner, a modern one-story orange-brick building replaced the four-story McCaddin Funeral Home, which was hit by the wreckage.

Building With a Dark Past

Some of New York's most painful monuments are equally inconspicuous.

"You saw these young women literally ablaze flying out of the windows," recalled Rose Freedman, who survived the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire of 1911 and lived until last year. Given the infamy of this disaster, in which 146 workers died, one might imagine that the building at Washington Place and Greene Street was itself consumed.

Not at all. It is used today by New York University, with biology laboratories on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors, where the fire raged. Though it is otherwise virtually anonymous among turn-of-the-century loft buildings, its history is at least noted on two small plaques at the base.

In contrast, no sign marks the former St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 325 East Sixth Street, which is now the Community Synagogue Max D. Raiskin Center.

Upon no single house of worship in New York has tragedy ever fallen harder than it did in 1904 on the German congregation that worshiped in this modest Greek Revival sanctuary. Off to an annual Sunday-school picnic aboard the General Slocum, a coal-fired excursion steamer, 784 members of St. Mark's almost all children and women perished when the ship caught fire.

The total death toll was 1,021; until Sept. 11, the greatest of any single day in New York history.

In nearby Tompkins Square Park stands a nine-foot stele of pink marble depicting a boy and girl gazing over the water. He holds a hoop, which seems to form a halo around her head. Time has worn the stone to ghostly softness but one can still read, "They were earth's purest children young and fair."

`Rebels! Turn Out Your Dead!' There is no such gentleness at the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn. Instead, a Doric column as tall as a 15-story building erupts from the hilltop, startling in its prominence.

During the Revolutionary War, as many as 11,500 American prisoners died aboard British ships anchored in nearby Wallabout Bay. "We bury 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 men a day," wrote one prisoner aboard the most notorious vessel, the Jersey. "We have 200 more sick and falling sick every day; the sickness is yellow fever, small-pox and in short everything else that can be mentioned. Our morning's salutation is: `Rebels! Turn out your dead!' "

The remains were transferred in 1908 to a crypt set among broad staircases and terraces. Only as one ascends the hillside does the next flight of stairs come into view, so the journey up to the brazier-topped column seems to lengthen with every step forward; surely a metaphor for the endless rigors of imprisonment.

As the column's gigantic concave flutes catch or block the pale yellow winter sun, they create a faceted transition from light to dark, life to death.

The entire setting can induce melancholy: maple and oak leaves scatter as if souls were stirring, barren branches reach out as if in supplication. And there is something missing in the panorama of Lower Manhattan. More particularly, there are two things missing.

'No More Hiroshimas'

The most catastrophic event memorialized in New York City occurred half a world away: the bombing of Hiroshima by the United States in World War II.

Some 150,000 people died.

Ninety percent of the buildings in the city collapsed or burned.

But on Mitaki Hill, about one and a half miles from ground zero, something survived: a 15-foot-high, two-and-a-half-ton bronze statue of Shinran Shonin, the 13th-century founder of the Jodoshinshu Buddhist sect, carrying a staff and clad in robe, sandals and a mushroomlike broad-brimmed hat, known as an amigasa.

"The statue stood alone in the middle of all the burning," said the Rev. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, resident minister of the New York Buddhist Church, where the statue now stands. "This gave the people some kind of hope."

It is now the focus of an annual peace gathering held on Aug. 5, during which a bell is tolled at 7:15 p.m. At that moment in Japan, it is 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, the hour that the bomb dropped.

The statue was brought to this country by Seiichi Hirose, an Osaka businessman, who was responsible for its original installation in 1937. Accompanied by gongs, incense and children in traditional dress, he unveiled the statue in its new home in 1955, hoping in the spirit of "no more Hiroshimas" that it would serve as an enduring religious symbol of peace and serenity.

The date was Sept. 11.

Conveying a Message of Loss, Grief or Resolve

Given New York's role as a national focal point, it is not surprising that the city is filled with memorials to the tragedies of war and other cataclysmic events that have touched many lives. Here are the ones in the article on memorials:

BROWN BUILDING, New York University, 29 Washington Place, Greenwich Village. Site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire of 1911.

EAST COAST MEMORIAL (1961), Battery Park, Lower Manhattan. World War II memorial. Gehron & Seltzer, architects; Albino Manca, sculptor.

IRISH HUNGER MEMORIAL (2002), Vesey Green, Battery Park City, Lower Manhattan. Brian Tolle, artist; 1100 Architects, architects; Gail Eileen Wittwer, landscape architect.

MAINE MONUMENT (1913), Columbus Circle, Central Park. Memorial to the battleship Maine. H. van Buren Magonigle, architect; Attilio Piccirilli, sculptor; Charles Keck, designer of the plaque.

PRISON SHIP MARTYRS MONUMENT (1908), Fort Greene Park, Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Revolutionary War memorial. McKim, Mead & White, architects.

SHINRAN SHONIN (1937), New York Buddhist Church, 332 Riverside Drive, near 105th Street, Upper West Side. World War II memorial. The statue was moved from Hiroshima in 1955.

STEPHEN BALTZ MEMORIAL, New York Methodist Hospital, 506 Sixth Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn. Memorial for a plane crash in 1960. A small plaque on the rear wall of Phillips Chapel, reached through the Miner Pavilion entrance.

SLOCUM MEMORIAL FOUNTAIN (1906), Tompkins Square Park, East Village. Bruno Louis Zimm, sculptor. Nearby, at 325 East Sixth Street, is the former home of St. Mark's Lutheran Church, many of whose members perished aboard the General Slocum steamer in 1904.

VIETNAM VETERANS PLAZA (1985), 55 Water Street, Lower Manhattan. Peter Wormser, William Britt Fellows and Joseph Ferrandino, designers of the original; E. Timothy Marshall & Associates, designers of the 2001 renovation.

February 5th, 2002, 10:48 PM
New York seems to have lots of bad disasters. Texas and the Houston area sees lots of bad disasters, some the worst in US history, like Great Galveston Hurricane that claimed 12,000 lives on September 8, 1900. The worst disaster in US history. Or the French freighter Grandcamp, that exploded and nearly destroyed Texas City, and killed 600 people on April 16, 1947. The disaster claimed 27 firefighters,the worst at the time, until the September 11th attacks, which claimed almost 300 New York firefighters.

June 14th, 2005, 06:33 AM
June 14, 2005
Monuments and Memories, for a Moving Experience

By DAVID GONZALEZ (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=DAVID GONZALEZ&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=DAVID GONZALEZ&inline=nyt-per)

For years, the doughboy statue at DeWitt Clinton Park has had a faithful neighbor for whom duty still beckons. Why else would someone visit the Hell's Kitchen park and tie several cellophane-wrapped floral bouquets to the doughboy's right arm?

People around the park say he is local man, and an old one at that. Maybe he lost his father in the War to End All Wars. Maybe he even fought in it, wondered one man relaxing in the park.

"He's pushing the years," said George Kuzma, a carpenter who has seen the man but does not know his name. "He's a veteran from around here, and I guess he had something to do with all that stuff over there."

Maybe, but he definitely has something to do with the stuff over here - remembering and honoring the past.

Weeks after Memorial Day, four withering bouquets were tied to the statue's arm, in hopeful counterpoint to the rifle slung over its left shoulder. The man would return soon, any day now, as a reminder that the hundreds of statues, monuments and even simple markers in the city's parks still have the power to move some people deeply.

Every day is memorial day for Jonathan Kuhn, too. As director for Art and Antiquities for New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, he has raised private financing for a small squad of conservators who make sure all monuments great and small are restored and preserved. They go to parks to clean and polish statues and plaques days before ceremonies that commemorate everything from the Stonewall riot to the wireless radio operators who died in the line of duty.

"We live in a society with a transient attention span," Mr. Kuhn said. "People are dislocated and less connected to community. Because of that, people are in search of touchstones. Some find it in faith. Some find it in social constructs. But a monument can also serve that purpose. They are points where people rally."

Granted, many New Yorkers walk by these places with hardly a second glance. An exhausted jogger barely inching his way down the track at Pelham Bay Park last week appeared oblivious to (or perhaps shamed by) the recently restored American Boy statue, a 14-foot monument to the ideal, buff boy. A few hundred yards away, dozens of smiling bridal parties this month will pose for pictures in a sprawling plaza under the gaze of winged victory - unaware that the monument is dedicated to the 947 Bronxites who died in World War I.

Mr. Kuhn and his crew are in charge of about 1,200 sites around the city. Some still attract visitors who venerate the memory of a statesman, inventor or composer. In some ways, when no one is left to remember, the marker or statue takes on a greater significance as the only remnant of memory.

For those sites whose heyday has passed, Mr. Kuhn and his crew are the link to longevity. Private financing in connection with previous conservation efforts enabled him to restore overlooked and worn-down pieces like the Puerto Rican Sun sculpture in the South Bronx, which was restored in 1997.

Mr. Kuhn says the collection over all is now in good shape. The collection itself is a random one, reflecting what passed for important or famous at the time, with many dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"The range of artistic quality is considerable," Mr. Kuhn said. "But we have to acknowledge that somebody cared enough at one point to put up a monument."

How to keep people engaged is the current challenge. Caring for the pieces - keeping them clean and legible - is one way. But he also wants to preserve interest, recently meeting with public school teachers to see about developing a curriculum that would incorporate these memorials.

"It is something seen by all New Yorkers," he said. "If we can call attention to them, they could pull in people."

Yet even as he tells it, some of the most powerful moments when these sites became rallying points happened without prompting. He recalled how after the Sept. 11 attacks people flocked to Union Square Park.

"Almost instantly, they gathered around the George Washington sculpture, the oldest one in our collection," he said. "Why did they gather around that one and not Lafayette? He is in a position of benediction, almost. People all over the city left candles at our monuments. They used it as a place of community. That is a good thing."

More than a century ago, the Concert Grove in Prospect Park was also the community's artistic center. German choral groups used to perform there, and the busts of composers that they won in contests were eventually donated to the park. A restoration crew was touching up those busts last week, when a group of local high school students dashed through.

"This one's 1879!" shouted Annlise Sejour.

"That's 1897!" yelled Tashyana Brewer.

They were in the park for a school project, to compile a list of the statues and busts in chronological order.

"I've never even been around here," said Tashyana, a junior at the Metropolitan Corporate Academy.

The busts were of composers like Beethoven and Mozart, though she only shrugged when asked if she was familiar with them.

"People," she said. "Famous people. Other people know them. They are people who did something."

A plain, minimal site in Riverside Park honors those who definitely did something in World War II. A simple tablet in the ground declares it to be the site of the American memorial to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto and the six million Jews who perished under the Nazis.

Plans came and went, but the monument itself was never built. Instead, the marker and the surrounding benches and flowers serve as a spot for contemplation.

Although David Goldstick has lived in the neighborhood since 1962, he became aware of the memorial only in the mid-1970's. Now he is a volunteer in the park, giving money and time to restore the area.

"I planted everything you see," he said. "You should have seen how this was before."

As well kept as it is, some people just walk past the marker.

"You'd think it didn't exist," he said. "It's no more different than how oblivious people are to the flowers. They have their head to the sky and don't see the birds. That's not just here. It's amazing to me how people have no sense of history in the city. They'll fight for their neighborhood, but when it comes to something of historical importance, they are not aware it is out there."

That is not a complaint, he said, only reality.

But this past April 19, when survivors gathered at the park, he found reason to be hopeful. At the moment when the elderly survivors were to lay flowers on the ground, they instead handed them over to local schoolchildren.

"If you don't get kids involved, nobody is going to remember it," Mr. Goldstick said. "Now it becomes their monument to uphold and come
back to."

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