There are no prescribed rituals for mourning thousands of people. We invented them as
we went along. With a couple of candles and a bunch of flowers we transformed ordinary
sidewalks and street corners into sacred spaces. Here friends, family, or passersby could
pause to pray, reflect on the tragedy, and leave whatever offerings they deemed appropriate.
Visitors left messages addressed to the dead with the shared belief that words, in this newly
consecrated space, would somehow find their way.
Grief took many forms, from simple and personal shrines for individuals to a gigantic
shrine in Union Square dedicated to all. Expressing sorrow or hope, many people created
small works of art from whatever markers, crayons, or colored paper and glue they had at
hand. Students from all over the world sent cards and banners.
The shrines blended different traditions, both sacred and secular. Saints sat beside carefully
selected Beanie Babies. Dotty the Dalmatian, Fleecie the Lamb, and Glory the Patriotic Bear
were oddly comforting nestled among candles beside the Virgin of Guadalupe. All offerings
were welcome and the resulting installations became intricate creations of communal art,
enabling each of us to mourn in our own way in a shared space.
Reprinted from Voices 27. 3–4 (Fall–Winter 2001): 8–9, in remembrance of the recent
This article appeared in Voices Vol. 34, Fall-Winter 2008. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.
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