Festivals, fund-raisers on Sept. 11 try to strike balance between fun, respect

Organizers are mindful of the date's significance

September 10, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

On the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, there will be parades, parties and joyful music alongside moments of silence, words of remembrance and doves released into the air.

This year Sept. 11 falls on a Saturday and many local groups have decided they can't pass up their festivals, fund-raisers and family events, even as they seek ways to be respectful of what could be an emotionally charged day.

So, in addition to solemn ceremonies by county governments, advocacy groups, churches and veterans' organizations, tomorrow will offer the Baltimore County "Phelpstival" in honor of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Howard Community College's annual equestrian fund-raiser, the Fire Museum of Maryland's Founder's Day Celebration and the Bring the Heat Christian Music Fest at Carroll Community College.

The Reister's Towne Festival, which will feature a parade, fireworks, games and food, "has always been on the second weekend of September," said Kathy Gambrill, chairwoman of the Reisterstown event.

"We were respectful and mindful of it being on Sept. 11th. But at some point, you have to pick up and move on," she said. "We think by celebrating small-town charm, we are bringing our community together."

People will likely react reverently to the anniversary if they lost a loved one or were otherwise directly affected by the attacks, said Darren Goins, an associate professor of rhetoric at Towson University. But three years later, many people in the country are comfortable carrying on with their lives.

"I don't think people are forgetful of [9/11], I think they are in the spirit of moving on," he said.

Attending positive events is not incompatible with remembering 9/11, said Goins, who has studied the rhetoric of that day and the rituals of mourning. "This country has shown a wonderful resilience," he said. Citizens "are showing the terrorists we will not change our way of life."

In the Baltimore area, that means a Ukrainian Festival in the city's Patterson Park, a rock concert at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, a Celebration of Nature at the Howard County Conservancy in Woodstock and flea markets, art gallery receptions, concerts and parties.

Some Maryland groups are incorporating 9/11 remembrances into their celebrations.

At Baltimore County's "Phelpstival," organizers plan to have a color guard, bagpipes, words from a clergy member and a release of doves after a parade and before Phelps receives a key to the county.

"Sept. 11th is a solemn day," Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said through a spokeswoman. "I think it is a day to recognize the strengths of America, and to celebrate the hope and promise that are an important part of American culture, the hope and promise embodied by Michael Phelps."

At the Columbia Classic Grand Prix, a fund-raising event for scholarships at Howard Community College, a small ceremony and a moment of silence will precede the horse-jumping competitions and partying.

"As time passes, we all want to remember," said Michael Nagle, chairman of the Grand Prix advisory committee. "But we don't want to dwell on the negative."

Like many groups, the college had practical considerations in choosing its date, Nagle said. Tomorrow was the only day the USA Equestrian organization, which oversees the competition part of the day, could schedule an event in Columbia.

The Maryland Fire Museum in Lutherville chose tomorrow for its Founder's Day Celebration because other weekends this month conflicted with fire history events nearby, said Debbie Brown, public relations director. Sept. 11 was also the only date a demonstration of antique fire apparatus was available.

"I haven't had any recoil, or anybody asking why that date," Brown said.

The fact that people are willing to attend social events on Sept. 11 doesn't necessarily mean they feel safe three years after the attacks, said Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.

He said studies by other groups have echoed his organization's findings from last year: 76 percent of people surveyed nationwide felt the same or less safe two years after Sept. 11 while 24 percent felt more safe. The study had a margin of error of 3 to 4 percentage points.

Concerns about terrorism remain, Kull said, but "people can only stay in a heightened state like that [immediately after the attacks] for so long. ... After a while you start adjusting, living your life."

For some people that means going ahead with personal events, too.

Hotels, caterers and other professionals reported a drop in weddings in some cities as brides and grooms seemed to think twice about making Sept. 11 their anniversary.

But locally, caterers report strong business this weekend. Martin's Caterers has 25 banquets, meetings and other events scheduled at its nine Maryland locations tomorrow, including 15 weddings.

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