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US marks 9/11 anniversary at tributes shadowed by virus

NEW YORK — Americans commemorated 9/11 on Friday as another national crisis reconfigured memorial ceremonies, dividing some victims’ families over coronavirus safety precautions, and a presidential campaign carved a path through the observances.

In New York, victims’ relatives gathered Friday morning for split-screen remembrances at the World Trade Center’s Sept. 11 memorial plaza and on a nearby corner, set up by separate organizations.

Standing on the plaza, with its serene waterfall pools and groves of trees, Jin Hee Cho said she couldn’t erase the memory of the death of her younger sister, Kyung, in the collapse of the trade center’s north tower.

“It’s just hard to delete that in my mind. I understand there’s all this, and I understand now that we have even COVID,“ said Cho, 55. ”But I only feel the loss, the devastating loss of my flesh-and-blood sister.”

Around the country, some communities canceled 9/11 ceremonies, while others went ahead, sometimes with modifications. The Pentagon’s observance was so restricted that not even victims’ families could attend, though small groups could visit its memorial later in the day.

On an anniversary that fell less than two months before the presidential election, President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden both headed for the Flight 93 National Memorial in the election battleground state of Pennsylvania — at different times of day. Biden also attended the ceremony at ground zero in New York, exchanging a pandemic-conscious elbow bump with Vice President Mike Pence before the observance began.

In short, the 19th anniversary of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil was a complicated occasion in a maelstrom of a year, as the U.S. grapples with a pandemic, searches its soul over racial injustice and prepares to choose a leader to chart a path forward.

Still, families say it’s important for the nation to pause and remember the hijacked-plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the trade center, at the Pentagon outside Washington and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001 — shaping American policy, perceptions of safety and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.

“People could say, ‘Oh, 19 years.’ But I’ll always be doing something this day. It’s history,” said Annemarie D’Emic, who lost her brother Charles Heeran, a stock trader. She went to the alternative ceremony in New York, which kept up the longstanding tradition of in-person readers.

Speaking at the Pennsylvania memorial, Trump recalled how the plane’s crew and passengers tried to storm the cockpit as the hijackers headed for Washington.

“The heroes of Flight 93 are an everlasting reminder that no matter the danger, no matter the threat, no matter the odds, America will always rise up, stand tall and fight back,” the Republican president said.

Biden visited the memorial later Friday, laid a wreath and greeted relatives of victims including First Officer LeRoy Homer. Biden expressed his respect for those aboard Flight 93, saying sacrifices like theirs “mark the character of a country.”

“This is a country that never, never, never, never, never, never gives up,” he said.

At the Sept. 11 memorial in New York hours earlier, Biden offered condolences to victims’ relatives including Amanda Barreto, 27, and 90-year-old Maria Fisher, empathizing with their loss of loved ones. Biden’s first wife and their daughter died in a car crash, and his son Beau died of brain cancer.

Biden didn’t speak at that ceremony, which has a longstanding custom of not allowing politicians to make remarks.

Pence went on to the separate ceremony, organized by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, where he read the Bible’s 23rd Psalm. His wife, Karen, read a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

“For the families of the lost and friends they left behind, I pray these ancient words will comfort your heart and others,” said the vice president, drawing applause from the audience of hundreds.

Formed in honor of a firefighter killed on 9/11, the foundation felt in-person readers were crucial to the ceremony’s emotional impact and could recite names while keeping a safe distance. By contrast, recorded names emanated from speakers placed around the memorial plaza. Leaders said they wanted to keep readers and listeners from clustering at a stage.

As in past years on the plaza, many readers at the alternative ceremony added poignant tributes to their loved ones’ character and heroism, urged the nation not to forget the attacks and recounted missed family milestones: “How I wish you could walk me down the aisle in just three weeks,” Kaitlyn Strada said of her father, Thomas, a bond broker.

One reader thanked essential workers for helping New York City endure the pandemic, which has killed at least 24,000 people in the city and over 190,000 nationwide. Another reader, Catherine Hernandez, said she became a police officer to honor her family’s loss.

Other victims’ relatives, however, weren’t bothered by the switch to a recording at the ground zero ceremony.

“I think it should evolve. It can’t just stay the same forever,” said Frank Dominguez, who lost his brother, Police Officer Jerome Dominguez.

The Sept. 11 memorial and the Tunnel to Towers foundation also tussled over the Tribute in Light, a pair of powerful beams that shine into the night sky near the trade center, evoking its fallen twin towers. The 9/11 memorial initially canceled the display, citing virus safety concerns for the installation crew. After the foundation vowed to put up the lights instead, the memorial changed course with help from its chair, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Tunnel to Towers, meanwhile, arranged to display single beams for the first time at the Shanksville memorial and the Pentagon.

Over the years, the anniversary also has become a day for volunteering. Because of the pandemic, the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance organization is encouraging people this year to make donations or take other actions from home.


Associated Press journalists Alexandra Jaffe and Ted Shaffrey in New York, Darlene Superville in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.

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Summer residents are enrolling their kids in schools down the shore. But will they stay?

MARGATE — The corner of Monmouth and Granville avenues is busy with morning drop-off at the William H. Ross School, but this year, in addition to masks and coronavirus protocols, things are a little different.

“You missed the New Yorkers,” says crossing guard Dawn Flynn, a veteran of the corner for 19 years.

The Philadelphia people, though, are still on the corner, after dropping off their two children, newly enrolled down the shore in Margate, where the family spent the spring and summer in a rental property, and where unlike back home, schools have reopened for in-person instruction five days a week.

The Philly dad doesn’t want his name used, fearing a possible backlash from the locals who are skeptical of the new parents’ commitment to their school. “We’re all in,” assures the dad. “We are staying.”

Up and down the Jersey Shore, summer people, many of whom arrived in the early spring from COVID-19 hot spots, are staying on. They are working remotely, arranging extended rentals, making September their new August and, a bit more controversially, enrolling their children in appealingly small schools in shore towns.

In the tiny schools in Avalon and Stone Harbor, where teaching is currently in a hybrid in person-remote model, the school board is worried the added enrollment will derail plans for a gradual move to a five-day reopening.

“If it is a luxury option, because you have a second home, to choose between school districts, nobody else has that luxury who is a resident,” Maggie Day, a school board member and Stone Harbor shop owner, said during a school board meeting broadcast Wednesday on Facebook.

She suggested capping in-person numbers and restricting any future summer people to an all-virtual option.

“If it’s going to affect a resident or a tuition student already attending our school, then their option would be virtual,” Day said.

The district, which barely cracks 175 students spread out over two schools, has seen 15 new students in its Stone Harbor school, which houses K-4th grade, and two new families in Avalon’s upper grades.

But just a few more summer residents will tip the balance of the school’s classrooms and prevent a full reopening with proper social distancing, Superintendent Stacey Tracy told the board.

She and others on the board doubted the summer people would be sticking around, and expressed reluctance to “flip the entirety of our school system” to accommodate them, as one board member put it, comparing their enrollment to “the difference between a marriage and a hookup.”

“The summer residents, I don’t think they’re going to stay for the year,” Tracy said. “I think by October or November, they’re going to go home. We had 12 kids in Avalon enrolled, and 10 of them are gone.”

The board explored whether they could restrict in-person learning to locals and those already enrolled, or ask people to show a New Jersey driver’s license or voter registration to discourage summer people.

In Ocean City, board President Joseph Clark thinks the summer people are here to stay. Like elsewhere in coastal towns up and down the Eastern Seaboard, Ocean City real estate is on fire.

Ocean City’s high school, which is running on a hybrid model, has about 75 additional students to put enrollment at about 1,300, Clark said, with somewhat smaller enrollment boosts in the lower grades.

The high school, in fact, is now at capacity, he said, and is still working out the wrinkles in social distancing. Any additional high school enrollments will be assigned to the district’s outsourced Virtual Academy for now, he said.

Clark said he was well aware of a widely circulated photo showing students eating lunch bunched together on the high school’s bleachers, and said the school was “working out the problems as we go along.”

“There are people who have second homes, and it’s not just we’re going to sneak down here until we get it straightened out (back home),” he said. “I believe a lot of those families are moving here. We’ve had families move into town, buy a home, who are in the virtual program right now. We’re full.”

Unlike tiny Stone Harbor, Ocean City has multiple classrooms per grade and extra classrooms, he said. The district also has 198 students from out of district under the state’s Choice program.

He said the additional enrollment was a reflection of Ocean City seeing a general increase in people relocating to seasonal destinations, spurred by concerns over the coronavirus in more dense locations. Post-Labor Day did not have quite the same feel this year, he said.

“For those of us used to the carpet being rolled up and things calming down, not so much,” Clark said.

Back in Margate, parent William Jacovini said the decision to enroll his son in the beach town’s school rather than in Philadelphia was easy.

“I went through Margate schools,” Jacovini said.

And despite the town’s typical nuisance flooding he had to navigate around Thursday morning, he said he feels his first grader is in good hands.

“These public schools really stood out,” he said. “You hear the discussions, go on the Zoom meetings. They’ve really done their preparations. They had engineers discussing the upgrades in the HVAC system. It’s amazing, for Margate to make such an effort.”

He said he’s staying “100%.”

“We’re actually selling our Philadelphia home,” he said, and his wife, a pharmacist, is getting a New Jersey license. Plus, his parents still live in Margate and so are available for after-school pickup.

Thomas Baruffi, Margate’s superintendent, said about 23 students had transferred into Margate’s two schools, for a total enrollment of 381. The school has classes every day from 8:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., leaving the afternoon for teacher planning periods.

It is also offering limited after-school care in its Lucky Kids program, and Margate recreation will be planning intramural sports, easily solving problems that are upending parents in other districts.

Students must pass health screening questions every day, bringing their signed paper with them, and are assigned one class per door to space them out around the building. Masking has not been an issue, Baruffi said, and classrooms have desk shields.

“It’s going well,” he said. “So far, so good.”

For a school facing declining enrollment, the boost would typically be welcome.

“We have a limit on our class size,” Baruffi said. “It’s kind of a funny conundrum. We always welcome new students because our enrollment is low. Now all of a sudden, we’ll be happy to take a few more but not too many.”

Back at Monmouth and Granville, the dad from Philly said he was looking forward to his family taking their place among the Margate locals. “It’s an amazing lifestyle,” he said.

“My daughter said she’ll do her homework on the beach,” he said. “I said, ‘You think you’ll do your homework on the beach.’”

GALLERY: Wildwood Catholic Academy first day of school

Cape May Harriet Tubman museum welcomes first visitors

CAPE MAY — With a sparse few exhibits in place and the finishing touches nearing completion, the Harriet Tubman Museum received its first visitors Tuesday morning.

The museum is housed in the former parsonage of the neighboring Macedonia Baptist Church, which until recently seemed close to collapse. The church did not have the funds to renovate the historic building at 632 Lafayette St., which was built in the 1790s.

The museum was the vision of Cape May resident Bob Mullock, who convinced the church to allow him to organize the project. It took about two years of work by local contractors. Once expected to be demolished, the building has been thoroughly renovated.

But it has not yet opened its doors. Mullock’s son, Zack, has been managing the project and said Tuesday it will still be about two weeks before everything is completed.

Still, when Vivian Guyton, of Franklinville, Gloucester County, and her sister Thelma Peaker, of Philadelphia, knocked on the door of the museum, the Mullocks and Lynda Anderson-Towns, a member of the church, did not have the heart to turn them away.

“We actually think they may be angels,” Bob Mullock said.

Anderson-Towns walked them through the first tour of the museum, which has some exhibits in place relating to African history and slavery.

Peaker relies on a walker. Both women kept their masks on during the tour, which was the reason for their visit to Cape May.

“We came down here specifically to see this museum,” Guyton said. She and her sister were excited when she learned a museum dedicated to Tubman would be opening.

Over the coming weeks, as construction winds down and the rest of the displays are put in place, the museum will be open to private tours. At first, they will include those who helped raise funds for the project and members of Macedonia Baptist Church, along with other community groups in Cape May.

With concerns remaining about the coronavirus and fall on its way, it may be some time before the museum has regular hours and accepts walk-in visitors. Zack Mullock said it could be spring before the museum is fully operational.

The museum has already attracted national attention, including a mention in Smithsonian Magazine among the most anticipated new museums planned around the world. Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, have put forward a bill to give the museum state recognition.

“It’s on the governor’s desk,” said Zack Mullock. “He’ll sign it. It passed unanimously in the Assembly and Senate.”

Mullock told a story of a child from Texas who came by while construction continued over the summer, who insisted her family visit Cape May because Tubman is one of her heroes. His father estimates the museum could see 10,000 visitors a year, joking that it seemed like that many people knocked on the door as the renovations continued.

For years, there were stories that Tubman lived for a time in Cape May, although some local historians had their doubts. She was after all the best-known figure in the Underground Railroad, a system that helped people who escaped slavery reach safety and freedom.

Recent research by journalist Barbara Dreyfuss and others has shown Tubman lived in Cape May in 1852. At the time, Cape May was home to an active abolitionist movement. That history is also reflected in the museum, with profiles of several leading figures, including Stephen Smith of Philadelphia, who had a house across Lafayette Street from the new museum.

The museum will have exhibits in sections, beginning with pieces from Africa. From there, visitors will proceed to the slave trade, with exhibits outlining the global traffic in human beings and on slavery in New Jersey.

On display are shackles for hands and legs dating from that time, part of the extensive collection of the late Rev. Robert Davis, the longtime pastor of the church who once lived in the house.

There also is an enormous bronze statue on loan to the museum, showing a towering Tubman escorting a young boy from slavery to freedom. An escaped slave, Tubman escorted about 70 people out of slavery in Southern states and was active in the abolitionist movement. She also served as a scout and a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War.

Created by sculptor Westley Wofford, the bronze piece weighs more than 2,000 pounds, requiring the floor underneath to be reinforced to hold its weight. That piece dominated the largest room in the museum, a wide-open addition on the back of the historic house.

Cape May's Tubman museum on track for 2020

CAPE MAY — Restoration is continuing at the Harriet Tubman Museum of Cape May, where future exhibits will celebrate the Underground Railroad leader and the role of abolitionists in the seaside resort.

According to Mullock, it is set to be returned Friday, but it will be back next summer, he said.

There also are explanations of the historic free Black communities in Cape May and the surrounding area, with the final room of the small museum dedicated to Cape May’s Black community, which has long been a vibrant part of the town.

Where the museum sits was once a predominantly Black neighborhood, Towns-Anderson said, the site not only of historic Black-owned homes and churches, but later of the segregation-era Franklin Street School, which still stands around the corner and is slated to become a branch of the Cape May County Library.

Including the community history was important to the members of the church, said Towns-Anderson, who serves as the church liaison to the museum. She said the plans were initially met with skepticism from members of the historically Black church, but the skepticism has since evaporated as the project progressed over the past two years.

The museum has already held a grand opening, although the work was not completed, with a socially distant gathering in nearby Rotary Park on June 19, the date traditionally linked to the end of slavery in the U.S.

PHOTOS from the Juneteenth celebration in Whitesboro

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Atlantic City honors 'man with the red bandanna,' other 9/11 heroes

ATLANTIC CITY — High winds kept an American flag several stories high dancing on cables attached to two firetrucks Friday, as hundreds gathered at Jackson Avenue and the beach to hear the stories of heroes of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and other national crises.

The annual Saracini-O’Neill Sept. 11 Memorial Ceremony honors Atlantic City natives Victor Saracini, captain of United Airlines Flight 175, which hijackers flew into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, and Trade Center Security Director John P. O’Neill, who had retired after a long career as an FBI terrorist hunter.

Both died 19 years ago on Sept. 11, two of almost 3,000 killed in the the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

This year the event also honored 24-year-old Welles Remy Crowther, of Nyack, New York, who died along with them. Crowther was an equities trader and volunteer firefighter who helped two groups of people to safety down a stairway of the South Tower, then went back up a third time to save more. His body was found months later with those of New York City firefighters in the command center.

Crowther is called “the man with the red bandanna” because that is how the people he saved described him — wearing the bandanna across his mouth and nose as he calmed them and led them down from the 78th floor.

That description helped his family find closure, said keynote speaker Jim Mogan, of Brigantine. They’d had no news of Crowther, who worked on the 80th floor of the South Tower, since the attack. But they knew Crowther had carried a red bandanna in imitation of his father every day since childhood.

“Weeks later while reading a (New York Times) newspaper story about survivors of 9/11, both Ling Young and Judy Wien mentioned that a man with a red bandanna over his nose and mouth helped them and others survive,” Mogan said.

When Crowther’s mother read the piece, she said, “’Now I found you,’” Mogan said.

The two women later confirmed their rescuer was Crowther.

Mogan heard Crowther’s story from family members.

Mogan’s son Tom is a vice president at Boston College, Crowther’s alma mater where he was a Division I lacrosse player. The school celebrates Crowther’s heroism with Red Bandanna events each year.

And his nephew Jim McGinty is a physician who is a good friend of ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi, of Tenafly, Bergen County, who has created a documentary and written a book about Crowther.

“I have been a supporter every year,” Mogan said of the Saracini-O’Neill event. He had talked to event founder Bob Pantalena about Crowther. This year, Pantalena and event co-director Pam Papparone asked Mogan to give the keynote speech about Crowther.

This year’s memorial included a sand sculpture by John Gowdy, of Atlantic City, who depicted Crowther leading victims down the stairs in the South Tower.

Later in the day, Crowther’s high school friend Allyson Pavelchak, of Landover Hills, Maryland, arrived to see the sand sculpture with her wife, Yvette Montanez. Pavelchak saw information about it on Facebook and drove four hours to see it.

“He was a special kid,” Pavelchak said. “He helped a lot of people. He was very athletic, and we all supported each other in athletics.”

Crowther played ice hockey, soccer and lacrosse, she said. She played softball.

“He did a lot of volunteer work and strived to be a firefighter,” she said of Crowther as she posted photos of the sculpture to her high school’s Facebook page. “Unfortunately, as he was helping people that day, he just didn’t make it back out.”

Nearby, Michael Van Steyn, of Ventnor and Hudson Valley, New York, was telling his son James, 8, about the terror attacks and the heroism of people that day. Van Steyn was working on the 79th floor of the North Tower until the day before the attacks, he said. On Sept. 10 he had moved to new offices two blocks away.

Everyone he knew from that floor perished, he said, choking up with emotion.

GALLERY: Atlantic City 9/11 ceremony