Two years later, a quieter 9/11


By Josh Rogers

There won’t be bagpipers marching to Lower Manhattan from all over the city, President Bush will not be coming and few streets will be closed – but not too many people seem to mind that this year’s ceremonies marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack will be more understated than a year ago.

“Thank goodness,” said Charles Wolf, whose wife Katherine, a Marsh & McClennan executive, was killed at Two World Trade Center.

Last year, Wolf stood near where his wife died and read some of the 3016 names of people killed in the 2001 terror attack. He said this year he would have preferred to have marked the anniversary of his wife’s death privately, but since Katherine was one of the 68 British citizens who died, he is attending a ceremony in London at the British memorial to the victims.

“I wish I didn’t have to go over there, it’s not an enjoyable thing,” he said.

He views 9/11 event as “a private ceremony in a public forum…. It’s time to tone it down. I’m very much in agreement with the president not coming.”

Over the last two years, there have been numerous disputes between victims’ relatives and Downtown residents over things like the size of the W.T.C. memorial, but many people in each group think there should be a quieter anniversary after two years.

“It will be more concentrated on the family members,” said Madelyn Wils, a Tribeca resident who is a board member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the chairperson of Community Board 1. “It should be a more understated, quiet, personal thing. I think many of the family members want that. …It’s time to move on.”

That said, there will be dignitaries, thousands of people and many family members attending the ceremonies Thursday. Vice President Dick Cheney, Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Mike Bloomberg are all expected to attend the reading of the names by children of the victims. The ceremony is expected to begin after 8 a.m. with bells marking the times when the planes hit the towers and when the buildings collapsed. Streets immediately around the site will be closed until at least 3 p.m., around the time when the ceremony ends.

There will be afternoon ceremonies at “The Sphere,” the damaged sculpture which once stood in the W.T.C. plaza and which now serves as a temporary memorial in Battery Park. A choral performance at Hanover Sq., near Pearl and Hanover Sts. is planned for 5 p.m.

The “Tribute in Light” installation is expected to go on at sundown on Sept. 11, although the mayor’s office had not set the final arrangements by press time. First unveiled on the sixth-month anniversary of the attack, the twin beams of light are once again likely to be shone from a location near where the Twin Towers once stood. This time they may be somewhere on the W.T.C. site itself as opposed to west of the site in Battery Park City, where they were first lit.

One person who will be doing the same thing this year as last is Carl Palmer. On Sunday, he and some of his acting friends began reading the short biographies of most of the 9/11 victims originally published in The New York Times’ Portraits of Grief series and republished in a book. Palmer and friends expect to finish Sept. 11 — after five days of reading the bios from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Watching him read on Sunday, a few of the portraits brought some tears to his eyes. Palmer said a year later, it is easier emotionally to read the bios. “Last year, everyone would break my heart,” he said. “This year, you can see the humor in some of them. But sometimes, a particular one will get you.”

He felt moved to do something because he remembers the panic he felt in 2001 wondering whether his girlfriend, who worked in the Deutsche building across from the W.T.C., was alright. “I spent two hours wondering if she was alive,” he said. “I was one of the lucky people.”

Palmer is also fine with a quieter ceremony. “We don’t want to wallow in it, at the same time we do want to remember,” he said.

As for Wolf, he said he is in “a better place” this year although “it gets harder as we get closer to the anniversary.”

When he gets back from London, he plans to go though the difficult process of finishing up all the paperwork to apply to the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund. After that, he hopes there will be few imposed reminders of his loss, such as the recent publication of the emergency calls in the towers from 2001.

What does he think future September 11s will be like?

“I can’t predict that,” he said. “I take it as it comes.”