People across the world will watch next month when the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum is dedicated at Ground Zero on the 10th anniversary of the worst terror attacks in U.S. history.
But it won’t be Gotham’s first magnificent monument to our worst day.
For the past eight years, a memorial in Brooklyn has offered us a serene sanctuary to reflect upon our shattering losses. It’s free, no reservations or special admission is needed, and it’s illuminated every evening — year-round — until 11 pm.
The Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance — located on the west wall of Coney Island’s MCU Park, a short fly ball away from the Parachute Jump — stands as a powerful portrait of the courage, spirit and sacrifices of our selfless heroes, who rushed into the molten jungle that was once the World Trade Center, never to return home again.
As wide as a JumboTron screen and as tall as a pair of baby giraffes, the handsome granite palisade bears the names and laser-engraved images of all of the emergency workers from the five boroughs who perished; among them, 346 firefighters, 37 Port Authority officers, 23 cops, three state court officers, one state trooper, one Secret Service agent, two FBI agents, and Sirius, the valiant dog.
The wall exists only because of the determination of ordinary Americans, who parted with their time and cash to deliver us a timely tribute. Its dedication in December, 2002 was followed by two more in the coming years — its $500,000 tab paid in full by private donors.
There’s certainly plenty of gratitude to go around: FDNY Chaplain Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Peter Kasten of U.S. Bronze Sign Company and John Kelly of the Uniformed Firefighter Association helped with the planning, and Jamie Lester sculpted the 6-foot-high bronze relief of a pair of firefighters holding the helmet of a lost smoke-eater. Even Hollywood heavyweights Gary Sinese, Jon Voight and Jackie Mason were moved to help with the fundraising.
Yet credit for its vision belongs to one man: 72-year-old former Mill Basin resident Sol Moglen, who might as well have known every last one of them judging by his labor of love, which was inspired by a single thought which refused to budge.
“I began to wonder how many firefighters from Brooklyn had been lost,” recalls the soft-spoken recycling company veep, who was aghast to learn that more than a third of the firefighters who perished on that sunny Tuesday were from Brooklyn — and later, that the remains of 122 of the borough’s 137 first responders were never found.
Moglen reached out to the community, which responded enthusiastically.
Raymond Goffio says he was watching a ball game at the Cyclones stadium in 2002 when he overheard Moglen discussing his “dream wall” with another fan.
Goffio, the former owner of the Brooklyn Egg Cream Company who had volunteered at Ground Zero for five months, immediately approached Moglen with an offer of help, later putting him in touch with elected officials who successfully lobbied the Art Commission of the City of New York on their behalf.
“Once I’d seen the photos and the plans, I had to get involved,” says Goffio.
For its visionary, the memorial represents the might of the working stiff — for the working stiff.
“We got it done for the families, and it shows that we can do things without the big corporations,” comments Moglen, who marked 9-11’s milestone anniversary by publishing “The Fallen Heroes of September 11th,” complimentary copies of which were given to each responder family.
The Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance is particularly poignant because it immortalizes the rescuers as one large family.
There’s a reason for that, according to Sol Moglen.
“They went in as a team, and we kept them as a team.”