New York is not a completed is a city in the process of becoming. Today it belongs to the world. Without anyone expecting it, it has become the jewel in the crown of universal cities...New York is a great diamond, hard and dry, sparkling, triumphant!

- Le Corbusier, 1947

Tuesday  September 25, 2001


"The Pride of the West Side"

For information on how you can help the World Trade Center victims and their families, CLICK HERE

A couple of years ago there was a huge fire on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It started in a restaurant on the ground floor of the Manhassett, an older apartment building on Broadway and 109th Street and quickly spread to the upper floors via a metal flue that ran up the side of the building. Within moments, the entire north end of the 14 story building was engulfed in flames. My kids were in school three blocks away and saw the flames leaping thirty feet in the air above the building.

Many hose and ladder companies from around the city responded to the fire. Within an hour there were dozens of trucks and hundreds of firefighters at the scene. A friend who lives two blocks away said he felt the intense heat from inside his apartment -- with the windows closed. His wife went to the scene with their video camera and filmed some extraordinary footage of one of the firefighters making a daring rescue.

As the firefighter ascended a ladder, a woman frantically beckoned to him from a high window, smoke pouring out from behind her. The ladder he was on didn't quite reach her window, but as he climbed higher she held a baby out to him. He stretched as far as possible and was finally able to take the baby from her. But, no sooner did he climb down the ladder and hand the baby to another waiting firefighter than people on the street began screaming and gesturing to the woman. He looked up to see that she held a second baby in her arms. Up the ladder again he went, returning safely with the twin sister.

Eventually, the fire was extinguished. Miraculously, there were no fatalities, although many families were displaced, including my youngest daughter's best friend. The restoration of the building is nearing completion now.

My friend who shot the video gave her name to one of the fire captains who said he was interested in the footage for training purposes. She was not surprised when, a few days later, she got a call from the firefighter who rescued the twin babies. He wanted a copy of the tape as well. He eventually came to her house and gratefully accepted a copy of the tape. His name was Matthew Barnes.

*    *    *    *    *    *

Matthew Barnes was one of seven members of Ladder Company #25, an Upper West Side fire company, missing in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center two weeks ago. He is also one of three hundred and forty three NYC firefighters missing or confirmed dead on that day. The number 343 is abstract and distances us from the human reality that there are 343 men dead, 343 wives without husbands, and many hundreds of children without fathers. For me, the magnitude of loss in the NYC firefighters' community was brought home by the two page spread of photographs that the New York Times published this past Sunday.

Suddenly a number became a sea of faces. Then I imagined the same spread of photographs multiplied twenty times and I began to get a sense of what it means to have lost more than six thousand people in two hours.

I spoke to Bill Sage yesterday. He was friends with one of the missing firefighters. My wife Julie told me that a lawyer she worked with a few years ago lost her brother, also a firefighter. But, I am especially moved by Matthew Barnes' story. He, like all of his fallen brothers, was a hero every day, not just on September 11th.

*    *    *    *    *    *

It's hard to know what relationship our response here in New York has to that of the rest of the country. I, like most of the world, did not witness the attack. While strangely distant from an event taking place on the same island, I have still felt a connection that I know must be unique to New Yorkers. Not that that's a good thing; it has left Julie and me and most of our friends feeling pretty depressed over the last couple of weeks.

But, we too have returned to the comforts of work and soccer games and most aspects of our normal lives. Fortunately, the kids seem pretty cheerful, not really grasping the magnitude of what happened in their city.

Phebe and Helen at the Fireman's memorial

We've also found that the collective, communal responses have been very important in processing what happened -- leaving flowers at the Fireman's Memorial on 100th Street & Riverside, the candlelit gathering in our neighborhood, spending time at the impromptu memorial in Washington Square Park, one of so many in the City.

Washington Square

Like true New Yorkers, we will continue to live in and love our city, but without the Twin Towers, and with a different perception of the limits of human hatred.

Here's an account of a local Hell's Kitchen event, and a splendid example of how our city has come together in the wake of the attack:


Last Saturday evening, between 6-9pm, the Clinton Community Garden ran a benefit for three local Hell's Kitchen firehouses in conjunction with ONE4, a local club band with a very big heart. These fine musicians, who had originally planned a small neighborhood concert in our garden before the World Trade Center disaster, donated their services and created the soundtrack for an outstanding event. We cannot thank them enough. All funds raised went directly to the firemen's widows and orphans. I'm pleased that with your help, the Clinton Community Garden was able to raise a respectable amount for each of the three firehouses. We love these guys, and with the lousy wiring in many of our tenement buildings, many of us in the neighborhood are alive today because of now departed firemen who shared their oxygen masks with us.

Engine 54 in late September

Our Hell's Kitchen Firehouses are: Rescue 1 on West 43rd Street, Engine 54, Ladder 4, 9th Battalion on West 48th Street and 8th Avenue and Ladder 21, 7th Battalion on West 38th Street. Between all three houses, 57 are officially counted among the dead and missing. Annie Chadwick, our garden chairperson whom many of you know for her amazing work on the Parks 2001 campaign as a lecturer on herbs, coordinated the event which quickly morphed into an event where US Congressman Jerrold Nadler, City Councilperson Christine Quinn and NY State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (friends of community gardens all) spoke and gave the event a considerable amount of gravitas. Our speakers included a psychologist who works with the survivors of state terrorism in Central America, the daughter of Mr. Klinghoffer, the wheelchair bound grandfather who was killed in the Achille Lauro highjacking during the early 80's and neighborhood friends.

The garden, still blooming with perennials, mumms, dahlias, a beehive filled with honey and the lush green fullness of harvest time was wall-to-wall with candle holding gardeners, neighborhood residents and well wishing friends from all over. This memorial had to be the largest sized event that we've ever hosted and the least difficult to manage. We had to have had at least 500 people here, all holding candles.

City Councilperson Quinn really set the tone for the event when said, "It's wonderful when folks show up right after a tragedy like this, but it's maintaining the support three months, a year after that really is needed. When I stopped by Engine 54 to offer whatever assistance my office could provide, the lieutenant took me aside and asked how I was feeling and what he could do to help me. He was seriously concerned at what the enormity of the week had done to a member of the city council, entrusted to help keep things going. Now, my father is a retired fireman, it's just the way they are, being there for us...always. I'm glad we're all here for our firemen tonight. We just have to continue doing that, saying thank you, being there for them and their families. We were honored, during the course of the concert to have volunteer firemen from all over the country speak to us (Sacramento, Northern Virginia - when D.C. said it was OK, they flew up to work the bucket brigade search, Boston and others). A relative of one of the volunteers lives on the garden block. Bone tired from moving rock and sorting remains, they washed up and showed. We had some German and Japanese media crews in the house (bigger events were elsewhere and the NY media was covering them, rightfully so) who showed our best face to the world.

The highlights of the evening: We were visited by trucks from all three houses, who received cheers from all of us that you must have heard all over New York and the country. Each time, it was like Muhammad Ali, at the peak of his career walking into the ring. Our heroes, our family. Words cannot express what we all felt, the cheers, and the dead silence when any of the firemen came up to the mike to speak. Follow-up: The Clinton Community Garden is committed to deepening our relationships with all three organizations, i.e. visits when all the parades stop 3 months, 6months a year from now, when it's even more important that the grieving know that there are folks who care. A sharing of a pie, garden honey and fresh grown garden produce with a visit are neighborly under ordinary circumstances - under present conditions, simple gestures like these are even more helpful.

All of the firemen are being given garden keys with the understanding that our garden is now their backyard away from home (most live out of the Clinton Community Garden's immediate neighborhood). Who better to welcome into our garden community?

Best wishes,
Adam Honigman

- Joseph Pierson

There are reminders everywhere


Copyright 2001-2006 Cypress Films, Inc.
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License