Project to lift morale, honor attack victims blossoms in New York

Volunteers plant tulips, daffodils at park near ruins of trade center

War On Terrorism : The Nation

November 12, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Ten blocks away from the acrid air of ground zero's smoking ruins, a host of volunteers placed tulip bulbs in Battery Park yesterday in remembrance of the thousands who lost their lives in the World Trade Center attack two months ago.

These Orange Emperors, just a small part of the more than 1 million bulbs -- mainly daffodils -- given to New York by The Netherlands, arrived on a container ship last month. The gift, meant to lift morale and decorate spring in the city, resulted in an impromptu, monthlong daffodil project, attracting about 7,300 volunteers.

"They came to us; it wasn't hard. The word just spread," said Nate Harris, outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Partnership for Parks.

The city's recreation and parks department is organizing plantings in more than 350 parks citywide, including Washington Square Park, Central Park, Riverside Park and Prospect Park.

"Speaking for myself, it's therapeutic," said Harris, 23, standing where the twin towers used to cast their shadows on Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty, which has been closed to visitors since Sept. 11, is not far across the water.

Clearing a square patch for planting was Peter Backes, 40, who moved to the city from Seattle in August. The software consultant watched the bedlam and blaze of the terrorist attack from his 14th Street office. "Participating [planting bulbs] makes me feel like more of a New Yorker," he said.

Maryanne Doyle, an equity trader wielding a shovel, works on Wall Street and knew people who perished in the Cantor Fitzgerald offices at the trade center.

Speaking of one, she said, "She'd be surprised I came so early on a Sunday morning."

Her friend Mary Ogorzaly heard about the project on the radio: "It's part of the healing, somehow."

The project also attracted people from beyond the city's borders.

A Massachusetts contingent of high school teachers and students left Springfield at 7 a.m. to participate. Each student wrote an essay on why he or she cared enough to come, math teacher Richard W. Seelig said.

Kelly Douglas, 17, who was on her first trip to the city, was dazzled by the skyline against the crystal clear sky: "I see these buildings, and they're gorgeous."

The day of the attack, 16-year-old Jasmine Walker said, "It was silent in the cafeteria." She said she hopes one day to bring her children to this spot on the southern edge of Manhattan, where people line up for sight-seeing ferries -- "bring them here, show them what I did."

Planting the tulips -- exotic orange ones, no less -- by the park's Clinton Castle, a fort dating to the War of 1812, was exceptional in an endeavor composed mostly of daffodils. The project is expected to paint parks bright buttery yellow come March and April.

Park supervisor Phil Lombardi said, "A lot of orange and yellow, you never see that around the castle."

Henry J. Stern, parks commissioner, said the daffodils are especially meaningful: "Yellow is the color of remembrance."

A couple visiting from California were disappointed to find the ferry to Ellis Island shut down but heartened to witness the project.

"See, this is a good world," said Ron Newark, a Santa Maria rancher.

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