Monday, October 22, 2001

New Yorkers don't let disaster stop them

Vendors follow tourists to site

        NEW YORK — Jennifer Stewart stood on a milk crate in the center of Nassau Street. Her face was painted a pale shade of green, to match her costume. She was dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

        In her right hand, she held a torch. In the left, a tablet. At her feet sat a plastic bucket overflowing with small bills. Behind her was a police barricade and, further west, ground zero.

        Beside her were a trickle of tourists, who dropped dollar bills in the bucket for the privilege of getting their picture taken with this scale model of the Mother of Exiles.

        “My goal was to raise $11,000,” Ms. Stewart said.

        “We made it yesterday.”

        The actress, who appeared as the statue in the film Joe Versus The Volcano, said she was reprising the role on behalf of a fire department company in Brooklyn that lost eight of its 11 members in the World Trade Center collapse on Sept. 11. Her business was brisk.

        The Trade Center perimeter has become one of the city's leading tourist attractions since the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Though the stock markets were closed for the weekend, the streets of the financial district were fairly choked with foot traffic Sunday afternoon.

Where pedestrians go, peddlers follow.

        The disaster site is now surrounded by street vendors, their folding tables clogged with virtually identical merchandise: American flags, police and fire department baseball caps, lapel pins, photographs of the fallen skyscrapers. One table features T-shirts bearing a crude photograph of Osama bin Laden and a cruder message.

        Where there is chaos, New Yorkers will create commerce. Where there is tragedy, New Yorkers will find opportunity. Where there is violence, New York will remind us of its vitality.

        In the congested block of Broadway in front of Chase Bank, where victims are remembered in a makeshift memorial, a man in a worn red sweat shirt and a weathered Yankees cap plays “Amazing Grace” on the violin for the tips of passing tourists.

        Taped to the wall are photographs of the missing and the plaintive tributes of strangers. Beneath a crayon drawing of a tower in flames, a first-grader named Conrad, from Mrs. Lindsey's class in San Jose, Calif., added an inscription: “I hope you are not sick.”

        On the west side of the street, nearer the disaster site, dozens of bouquets hang from the holes in a chain-link fence. At the Woolworth Building, once the world's tallest, placards proclaim the progress of renovations: “State of the Art in 1913. State of the Future in 2000.”

        The crowds are orderly, and they are quiet. At each intersection, police and military personnel keep the curi ous from encroaching. Along the courtyard of Trinity Church, burial site of Alexander Hamilton and Robert Fulton, the traffic narrows to single file along the narrow, sloping sidewalks.

        At the corner of Greenwich and Rector, due south of the disaster site, signs are posted prohibiting photographs. Soldiers in camouflage uniforms explain that ground zero is a crime scene, and therefore no place for snapshots.

        Because the scene is so striking, cameras are largely superfluous. To look upon the twisted metal remains of the tall buildings, even from two blocks away, is to contemplate a calamity unprece dented in America. The image is indelible, a nightmare of epic scale, a scene suggestive of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The smell suggests sulfur.

        Some of the onlookers cover their noses and mouth with paper napkins to shield themselves from the fumes and the dust. The Army/Navy Store of Soho carries a handwritten purple sign in its window: “Gas Masks Now In Stock. Quantity Limited.”

        Money changes hands. New York moves on.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; fax: 768-8550; e-mail:


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