The understated 9/11 memorial few people know

It’s just a simple plaque, mostly bronze with a bright red, white, and blue American flag, four sentences plus a bas relief image of the skyline before September 11, 2001.

Unless you regularly walk up First Avenue in Kips Bay, you probably wouldn’t even notice it. The understated plaque is affixed to the side of a VA Hospital building on First Avenue near 23rd Street.

I don’t know when the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System put it up.

But in a city filled with sizable memorials and monuments commemorating the immense bravery and tragedy of 9/11, there’s something to be said for a small quiet plaque that sits off to the side.

On another note, is this an archaic use of “hale” as a verb in the second sentence below?

In the lyrics for the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag is “hailed.”

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35 Responses to “The understated 9/11 memorial few people know”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    I love your blog so much. I honestly cannot tell you! This is a misspelling….not a misuse, I am afraid. “Hail” is what I believe was meant here…..What do you think? The other “hale” makes no sense.
    Oh well…..a lovely memorial!

  2. Ty Says:

    Once again you had me a googling. Pretty sure that is a mistake. Hale means to make healthy or whole such as “Hale and hearty” and hail means to call from a distance such as “hail a cab”. It came to mean salute as in from one ship to another. Whole also comes from this root. Hegel in German.

    I both lived and worked on 23rd St. those days. The VA hospital I know played a part in cataloging body parts as they found them.

    The coroner’s truck came up the Westside Highway and then right on 23rd St. to the hospitals on the east side. It had a motorcycle police escort who would close each intersection as the truck approached.

    You could tell when they probably had a uniformed body by how aggressive they got when they closed each intersection.

    We went To St. Vincent’s that day to give blood or see what we can do. They had rows of hospital gurneys laid out for the injured who never came.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks all, yes, I think it’s a spelling error.

  4. mcrmom614 Says:

    I know you usually show things you can see on the streets of NYC, but I’d like to point out the heartbreaking memorial inside the American Express building not far from Ground Zero. The lobby contains a circular reflecting pond, surrounded by the names of the employees they lost. Into the pond, from high above, a single drop of water falls into it, possibly eleven times per minute, since they lost 11 workers that day. See this link:

  5. Bob Says:

    There is the transitive verb “hale.” It means “to haul, to pull” or “to compel to go.” I doubt this is what they intended, however.

  6. Ty Says:

    I don’t think I ever read or heard anything about the smell of the burning wreckage that day. The most neglected of the five senses. I never smelled anything like that before or after. It was part burning plastic, part electrical fire and an acrid something else I can’t define. It lasted for more than a month.

    It was strongest in the evening when the winds blew uptown off the harbor.

    The kids went trick-or-treating, as usual, in our building that year. My neighbor across the hall told me that when she opened the door to the first trick-or-treaters she broke out crying like baby while filling their bags. I asked her what did the kids do? She said they just shrugged and moved to the next door.

    • Zoe Says:

      It was the odour of burnt asbestos (& like that of burned brake pads… ). I was on the CT Shore then & it came all the way out at least to Stratford (where my mom had moved to). To give some perspective Stratford is an hour and a half outside NYC in Fairfield County. After that – travelling East – one is in New Haven County. I’m not sure if it could be detected in New Haven.

      In Westport (CT) – about an hour outside of the City – one could see the tops of the Towers from the beach. They were so tall they were slightly visible over the curve of the horizon – looking like very very wide flat square slabs. (Like some kind of brutalist archticture for a power plant or bunker). People stood on the beach & watched them burn from there.

      We celebrated my childhood friend’s wedding in the Towers – at Windows of the World. A friend of mine worked there at Port Authority. I was married downtown in the Court Building blocks away (as was my friend). I used to see the Towers from my roof at East First St. & Second Ave. And whenever I walked toward the corner at Houston a block away & every time I walked back to my house. So basically every single day.

      WARNING for the following:
      The worst thing in my immediate circle was that the adult married w/ young children son of my mom’s Stratford neighbour was murdered in the direct path of the plane. He was on the phone w/ his parents (or one of them) & he told them a plane was flying into his window & the phone lost signal.

      Memory eternal to everyone. Prayers.

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        This is making me tear up, and I know that’s a cliche but I can’t imagine being on the phone with my adult child and hearing those last words.

      • Zoe Says:

        Sorry Ephemeral. I hesitated about posting it so put that warning. I think those of us who love history really love the *people* in the history vs. the atoms in the cornerstones. So I completely understand the tears.

        WARNING (again):

        My mum survived the merciless excoriating bombing of Berlin – US by day & British by night – & was unable to watch more than a little of that 9/11 morning. Telling me as we watched the news coverage that she had to stop because it “reminded” her “too much”. (She had PTSD from that because imagine the whole of New York taken out like the towers vs three buildings on one day. That’s what the bombing of civilians in cities in Germany was like). And her & my grandparents WANTED the planes to come & liberate them from the Nazis that had murdered her two of her family & forced them to live in an Orwellian nightmare. Something that hasn’t been explored enough for Holocaust survivors also – who were bombed to be liberated.

        I write of this because she described people in these circumstances including herself as having an automatic pilot calm & pragmatism in these situations of horror. (Running w/ people trying to get to safety & watching them fall behind or be sucked into the fire by backdraft & *having* to keep running or be killed). She said the emotions shut off for survival mode. And also that it feels completely surreal whilst this is happening; “like a dream”.

        That was like the description of this son on the phone. He was in an upper office w/ a glass window & simply matter of factly declared that a plane was roaring into him.

        Before that I had seen him in my mom’s neighbour’s driveway bringing his young children to visit their grandparents now & then. I was no longer married & had moved in w/ my mom briefly – who is forty years older than me – because she had terrible arthritis & needed a knee replacement. I became obsessed w/ creating a beautiful garden & was out there whenever possible. So I would see him in their driveway when I was out in the front garden. Their house was one house over from the one across the street from us. My mum had two dachhunds & then my sister’s dog also & I would walk those dogs past their house frequently. Their front garden had rows & rows of bright yellow & orange marigolds in it. A small probably three bedroom 1950s wooden Cape. I imagine he grew up in that house though I’m not sure.

        Later I saw them in a brief interview about their son & 9/11.

        Probably the worst part of this for me personally (beside that I am an Arab American advocate & w/ the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee then & we experienced all the strides we’d made to be seen as patriotic loyal Americans for 100+ yrs crumble w/ the Towers) is my former NYC friend Laurie who I’d lost touch w/ as our lives & friends & locations changed – worked in the Port Authority offices. In planning & zoning. She’s been married & taken her maiden name; so I was never able to sort out if she still worked there when the Towers fell. I kept searching for the ‘Laurie’ people – trying to find matching photos. Finally I just gave up. My hope is that since over a decade had passed; she no longer worked there. I have telephoned & emailed some people we both knew but have not found out anything.

        And I hope people remember on this day that when American bombs fall they harm & kill human beings as well. And take it upon themselves in some small way to change that.

        Thanks for reading. xxx

      • Zoe Says:

        Correction for my last post:

        Re. My friend Laurie who I am trying to know if she still worked inside the Towers on 9/11. I just wrote “She’s been married & taken her maiden name…” Of course I meant to write ‘married name’ (husband’s family name).

        Also perhaps someone reading this thread will have a good suggestion. I only know her maiden name (& obviously first name). She worked in Planning & Zoning at Port Authority in the late 80s.

    • AG Says:

      The smell, my god. Twenty-one years on, it’s the smell — burning concrete + jet fuel + all-the-rest — that still triggers the stress response for me, long after all the rest has been managed. Never have I been so thankful for a rain as I was that Thursday night; it helped, a bit, and gave some of us a bit of purchase on hope that the nightmare would… if not end, at least become manageable.

      (Years later, I was flying on Election Day 2016 — took off just before the polls closed on the East Coast, landed on the West Coast as the race was being called. Over time I’ve managed to filter out the jet-fuel smell at airports, but that night very much smelled like 9/11 and 9/12 to me.)

  7. Buzz Says:

    Not only misspelled, but randomly capitalized. And because of it–somehow touchingly heartfelt.

  8. Ty Says:

    Zoe, I’m pretty good at finding people. (Been tracing the origins of my family for 25 years). No guarantees but, If you want, send me her name and any other info you might know. Brothers, sisters, husband’s last name, places lived to and I’ll give it a shot.

    • Zoe Says:

      Thanks so much Ty. I’ll email you later. This evening is a juggling act so far. God willing she moved on & did not work there for over a decade. I saw someone w/ her name on Facebook (maiden name though) who sort of looked like her – but I wasn’t sure. I thought about contacting that person but didn’t.

      This is such a great blog Everyone; especially today – 9/11 – of all days. I’m so glad I found it. There is nobody like New Yorkers!

    • Zoe Says:

      PS Ty: I’m pretty positive after reading your posts for ages that you’ve only made a typo; but the whole thing turns on that I DON’T know her ‘husband’s last name’. Maybe we can go to late 1980s NYC marriage records? If those are public. Thanks again.

    • Penelope Bianchi Says:

      You are the best!!!!

    • AG Says:

      Ty, I don’t know you but I’d buy you a cup of coffee if I could. Good luck with the search!

  9. Ty Says:

    I’m very good at typos. But I was a little confused. Full name, place born, appx date born, high school, college, work places, family names all come together to form a picture. Also any major events like a grandparent death can help through the obituaries. Would love to bring someone back.

  10. Bruce Bethany Says:

    The heinous crime of 9/11 deserves no memorials, so I wrote a short essay on Larry Silverstein. Read on:

  11. Ty Says:

    The holocausts that engulfed the civilians of World War II Berlin, the six million Jews of Germany and the 3000 people in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon do have one thing in common. Hatred of Jews.

    All kinds of reasons are invented to cover that fact but that is prevalent and dominating cause. Ask your Nazi, militant Muslim or Ku Klux Klan devout Christian friends. They’ll let you know as long as they don’t suspect you of sympathizing with Jews.

    We commemorate 9/11 as if it were a natural disaster like a volcano or a hurricane. It wasn’t. It was a group of Islamic extremists who used general hatred of Jews to finance and launch the murder of 3000 people. Their hope was that the most powerful country on earth would stop supporting a Jewish state and Jews in general.

    Let’s not forget that.

  12. Tom B Says:

    Well said Ty.

  13. Barbara Hack Says:

    The use of “hale” is definitely an error. Amazing to think of the number of people involved in this process – and none of them caught this. I actually wrote to the VA hospital regarding both the language and placement, but never received a response. I’ll try again. As you note, the sign is now on the side of a building in an unused alley. bh

    • Ty Says:

      Barbara, they might think this is trivial. It’s not iMHO. Words start wars and stop them. Only 4000 or so of them have guided us Americans for more than two centuries. Comments are one thing but press that into steel? They undermined their message by disrespecting the language the wrote it in.

  14. David Lippman Says:

    Well said, Ty. I was not aware that “Hale’ was an old spelling for “hail.”

  15. Barbara Hack Says:

    No resolution yet, but a brief update on hale v. hail and the location of the sign. I tracked down some contacts at the VA and also copied the VAVS, the volunteer group that donated the plaque. Someone called me THAT DAY and asked how they could help. I was impressed. The woman noted that everyone associated with the project was now probably gone and that, to her knowledge, there had been no other complaints. At the very least, I suggested that they should contact the fabricator – who owes the VA a correct sign. As to the location, she said it probably had been more active at one time. It is now almost 17 years ago – amazing to consider. I’ll stay on this and provide any updates. Regards to all.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks for following up about this. I think it’s something that should be easily fixable, but again, it’s probably low on their priority list.

    • Zoé / Hayat Says:

      That’s really kind of you to be so diligent. I wonder if they even had an argument about it before casting it in bronze – lol. Perhaps they thought it has to be spelled differently from the precipitation (ice hailstones).

      It’s such an important subject to mess up on – 9/11… & a bit embarrassing when so many people from other countries note that our students score lower in so many subjects compared to a lot of other countries. Hence if your walking by there w/ a British person – distract them New Yorkers. They always say we’ve butchered the language. It’s your patriotic duty to steer Redcoats away from this sign!

  16. Barbara Hack Says:

    This is an update on the 9/11 plaque at the VA hospital. As previously noted, I contacted the group that had installed it and we’ve had a number of exchanges. They had not received any other complaints. Here is the final outcome:
    “…after further discussion with my leadership a decision has been made to keep the plaque up. It is felt that although there is an error on it, it is a historical aspect of our building at this point though and removing or changing it would actually do more harm.”

    Disheartening, to say the least.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      You tried, that counts. I’m surprised they didn’t just blow it off, so I think it says something about the VA that they did address it ultimately.

    • Zoé Says:

      I wonder what kind of “harm” they meant. To the building? Or reputation? Or because a new physical plaque would not have been part of a ceremony? (Somewhat like replacing a wedding ring etc.).

      • Barbara Hack Says:

        Inasmuch as no one else has complained, it would probably raise more questions if they tried to correct it. The woman I spoke to was very respectful and acknowledged that probably everyone associated with the plaque was no longer part of the administration. I can appreciate the bureaucracy that would have to be involved. I suppose I just continue to be amazed that no one in that bureaucracy caught the error In the first place.

  17. The little-known 9/11 memorial to kids in Central Park | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] occupying such small pockets of the cityscape that they tend to go overlooked (like this bronze tablet affixed to the VA Hospital at East 23rd […]

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