SOME WEPT over loved ones' portraits at Ground Zero; others walked under gray skies on a beach. Bagpipes mourned, bells rang and speakers intoned the long list of names yesterday as Long Island, New York City and the nation paused for the nowfamiliar ritual of remembering 9/11. But on the seventh anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States, some observances differed from past years'. The crowds gathered near the World Trade Center were smaller, and late yesterday afternoon, the two men competing for the presidency took a brief break from their campaigns to each lay a rose at the memorial site.
'They will always remember'
The joint appearance at Ground Zero by Arizona Sen. John McCain and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was a startling moment of political unity in the midst of an increasingly bitter campaign. Accompanied by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Cindy McCain, the two candidates shook hands, chatted amiably and strode side by side down the ramp into the pit.
Each spoke with a small group of survivors, who handed them roses. Obama and McCain then approached the flower-strewn reflecting pool, a temporary memorial, where they placed their roses before bowing their heads. They stepped away to shake hands with the white-gloved police officers and firefighters encircling them. After greeting more onlookers at the top of the ramp, McCain slapped Obama's back and said, "Good to see you." The two then departed in their separate motorcades.
"They promised me that one thing they do agree upon, whichever of them wins, they will always remember this day," said Maggie Lemagne, who spoke with the candidates in the pit and whose brother, Port Authority Police Officer David Lemagne, died in the attacks.
The candidates' unprecedented political truce spoke to the significance, and solemnity, of 9/11. Earlier, moments of silence - at 8:46 and 9:03 a.m., when the two planes struck; and at 9:59 and 10:29 a.m., when the towers collapsed - were observed at the main ceremony at Zuccotti Park, a block from the World Trade Center. Those moments were also marked across the region and across the country, in churches and in firehouses, schoolrooms and supermarkets. On an F train in Queens, the conductor asked passengers to drop their books and turn off their iPods and "be still" for one minute. Afterward, she wished everyone a "calm and peaceful" day.
Tributes and tears
At Point Lookout, hundreds gathered on the town beach at sunrise to remember the lost, including 152 residents of the Town of Hempstead. A flag flew at half-staff while a group of young children clambered around a nearby dune. Those gathered on the beach yesterday included Zackary Fletcher, an FDNY firefighter and Freeport native whose twin brother, Andre, a firefighter with Rescue 5, died in the attack.
"Losing him is like losing 50 percent of me," said Fletcher, 44.
As usual, the speeches at the main memorial were short and few. Bloomberg, near the site where a staggering 2,751 people were killed, said Sept. 11, 2001, began like any other day but ended "like none ever has."
Holbrook resident Lenny Crisci, 60, was in the crowd listening, as he has every year, for his brother's name. Firefighter Lt. John Crisci, 48, a 25-year veteran of the city's Fire Department, was assigned to a Hazmat unit out of Maspeth, Queens, when he died in the collapse of Tower Two. He left behind his wife, Rachel, and his three sons, John, 25, Michael, 22, and Joseph, 19.
"I miss him so much," Crisci said, crying. "I know when someone dies, they say the person was a good guy. But he really was a good guy."
After the ceremony, Eileen Mosca of Massapequa Park signed a memorial beam in Battery Park for her sister, Kathleen Hunt Casey, who worked in the World Trade Center at the investment banking firm Sandler O'Neill. In pink marker, Mosca wrote, "Sisters in life and sisters in death. Sisters forever."
Mosca, wearing a T-shirt featuring a smiling Kathleen, said she was saddened by the declining crowds. "I don't want people to forget them," she said. "But for some of the families, it's too heart-wrenching to come out. People get overcome with emotion and it's very understand[able]. But at the same time, we can never forget, especially the victims. For people not directly involved, I'm sure it's easier to move on. But I can't really worry about that."
At St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, Bishop William Murphy celebrated a Mass to commemorate the victims of the attacks, which took place shortly after he was installed as spiritual head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. "A horrible ugliness descended upon us seven years ago and unleashed its hatred upon us," Murphy said in his homily. "So unsuspecting were we that the floodgates of our emotions exhausted us."
A chance to reflect
For some, the anniversary of 9/11 offered an opportunity to reflect on how the attacks changed their lives. Blair Burke, walking in a peace march on the beach in Fire Island, said her family lost several friends, all firefighters, on that terrible day. After some soul-searching, she, her husband and their two children decided to leave the Upper West Side to live full time on Fire Island.
"It seemed like a good place to regroup," Burke said.
She said the beachfront march near the lighthouse was an appropriate way to remember the firefighters who had died.
Others, however, said their routines remain the same as they were then - though sometimes they wish it were otherwise.
"I was here that day, and every day I walk past here to go to work. It's painful, but I have to do it for my family. I have to support my children," Nyima Manneh, 36, of the Bronx, said at Ground Zero. She stopped yesterday on the Vesey Street pedestrian overpass to snap a photo of the ramp into the pit, where international flags flew and family members and officials stood.
"I think about all the people that died that day, every day," said Manneh, a waitress at the nearby Chevy's Restaurant. "It is stuck in my mind."