Christmas Tributes Flood 9/11 Memorial, Latino Chief Curator Says

 A pair of roses and an American flag sit in a name of a panel with the names of the victims of the September 11, 2011 terrorists attacks.

A pair of roses and an American flag sit in a name of a panel with the names of the victims of the September 11, 2011 terrorists attacks.  (2011 Getty Images)

Now, with the first Christmas approaching since the Memorial opened last September 11, holiday greens, wreaths, red berries and bows, even Christmas stockings are appearing to mark the season.

There's the little glass jar filled with sand from a special Oahu beach, left for the young Hawaii native, and the collection of red cotton scarves for "the man in the red bandana" who led so many others to safety but never made it out himself.

Elsewhere in the tapestry of tributes left at the 9/11 Memorial are notes in children's handwriting saying things like "Daddy, we miss you," first responder badges from around the world, family pictures, flags, sealed letters, flight attendant wings, rosaries, even a CD of hits by the Who.

There's a certain humbleness to all of this. These aren't elaborate, expensive tributes. We're honoring everyday people who got up to go to work that day, from CEOs to sandwich deliverers.

- Jan Ramírez

As a whole, they reflect the incredible scope, diversity and personal touchstones of the nearly 3,000 lives lost that day in 2001. On an individual scale, they're often heartbreaking, sometimes joyous and occasionally so personal their meaning isn't immediately obvious.

The Memorial organization encourages visitors to leave individual artifacts, within certain size restrictions, and every day a new cluster appears to honor what Chief Curator Jan Ramírez calls "these extraordinary ordinary people.

"There's a certain humbleness to all of this," she says. "These aren't elaborate, expensive tributes. We're honoring everyday people who got up to go to work that day, from CEOs to sandwich deliverers."

The tributes are placed next to – and often inserted inside -- the names cut into bronze plaques surrounding the two reflecting pools that now occupy the footprints of the Twin Towers.

Each item is on site for a day, then photographed, collected and archived, with some of the non-perishable items destined for rotating exhibits at the 9/11 museum scheduled to open next year.

And each conjures up a life and a narrative cut short but determinedly not forgotten.

Maile Rachel Hale, for example, was a 26-year-old Honolulu native and Wesleyan graduate working in the financial industry in Boston who was attending a conference at Windows on the World on the morning of September 11.

Next to her name, visitors left a collection of what she loved: a glass jar of sand with a label saying it was from Malaekahana Beach, a pair of ballet slippers to reflect her passion for dance, a small bag of M&Ms because she was a chocolate fanatic, several leis, a collection of notes and a soccer ball signed "For Maile from Elise."

At Welles Crowther's name, it's the red bandanas – at least three of them. "He was known as the man in the red bandana," Ramírez explains. "On 9/11, when Flight 175 hit the South Tower at the 78th floor, a number of survivors said a young man appeared with a red bandana around his face and personally escorted or carried them off that floor and got them started to floors below. Then he kept going back up to help other people."

Crowther, a 24-year-old equities trader, never identified himself and it wasn't until later that his parents pieced together reports from the scene and sent photos of their son to witnesses who identified him as the man who saved their lives.

Along with the bandanas, his name also has been decorated with tributes reflecting his athletic career at Boston College – soccer and lacrosse balls (inscribed "RIP" and "Never Forget") as well as a lace from a lacrosse shoe.

In keeping with Jewish tradition, two rocks were left at the name of New York fireman Alan Feinberg bearing the messages "Our Hero" and "Alan, you are missed" along with a photo of him in uniform.

For LeRoy W. Homer, Jr., co-pilot of Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field, someone left a small balsa wood airplane with a paper flower attached.

And Who fan John Joseph Ryan was honored with a CD of their songs inscribed "I think of you every time I hear your favorites! Miss you! PR"

A random selection of other items garnered from the site include everything from a school pass, left by a young daughter for her father, to a Pez dispenser with a witch's head (presumably a private joke), a photograph of Lindsay Herkness III with his two beloved basset hounds, a photo of a dark-haired man with a small child labeled "My Daddy," two brightly woven designs for Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas and her unborn child, a Brave Heart plaque, a long ago wedding photo, origami cranes, a teddy bear holding a flag and a New York Giants hat.

Always, there are notes. Sometimes they are in sealed envelopes, which remain closed since they are considered private communications between the visitor and their loved one.

But often they're just scribbled on random pieces of paper, left open to display messages like "you are loved" and "Daddy sorry you had to leave me" and "I miss you and I love you very much."

"It's the simple notes," says Ramírez. "These are the ones that really break my heart.

"We suspect people come without the intention (of leaving anything), then they feel they have to have personal interaction and they're fishing in their purse or pocket for something to write on."

They need to figure out a way to anchor them in place, as well. Because the plaques slope slightly, a windy day can mean notes and other small items blow around – so most often they're just inserted right into the names.

But other impromptu ways to hold them in place have included a band-aid, a rolled up rubber band and a variety of different kinds of tape.

Flowers, not surprisingly, are one of the most popular remembrances and the memorial staff is working on ways to give them a meaningful afterlife. All the bouquets left in the first two days have been dried in preparation for turning them into potpourri "for some memorial purpose," according to Ramírez.

As for the blooms left since then, the staff hopes to turn them into compost that can be used to enrich the trees on the site and, as Ramírez says, "make something grow."

In early December, the Christmas tributes began to arrive. For Joseph Plumitallo, it was a flag and a pine sprig with red berries along with a note saying "Joe: We miss you! We'll never forget you!"

A white Christmas stocking with the name Kathy written in gold glitter, along with a small red and green wreath, appeared one day on the wire construction fence surrounding the site.

At the Survivor Tree – a callery pear so named because it somehow survived the 9/11 attack, then was nursed back to health and replanted – someone left a red-ribboned wreath with badges from eight different first responder units, some as far afield as Wyoming and Rhode Island.

Ramírez, who began working on plans for the memorial in 2006, says the emotions and the loss are "very near the surface" and points to her heart.

"People say how can you work in a place where it's always 9/11?

"But we see it through the eyes of 9/12. Humans are pretty impressive under extreme circumstances and that's something we can all take comfort and pride in."

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