Flight 587 Group Pleads To Keep Wall
A group of angry family members of those who perished when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001, met at the crash site, at Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue, Wednesday morning to bring attention to a reported announcement that the ad-hoc memorial wall that had developed at that corner would be removed prior to the second anniversary of the crash.
According to a number of family members present at the site, Congressman Anthony Weiner, who has been mediating the placement of a permanent memorial at the site, called those family members to say that the property bordering the wall had been sold and that the wall would have to come down prior to this year’s crash anniversary.
Hector Alagrobba, who lost both parents in the crash, told The Wave that Weiner had "threatened" him when he heard that the group was going to hold a press conference at the site.
"Weiner told me that the wall would remain if we postponed the press conference, but would be immediately taken down if we went ahead with it," Alagrobba said.
The wall, which was put up shortly after the crash, features the names and pictures of many of those who died, along with flowers and candles left on visits by family members.
It has become something of a shrine to the families of the 260 passengers who died on that flight. The question of keeping the wall at that corner or replacing it with a more permanent memorial has also become something of a controversy in the Belle Harbor Community, where five residents died in their homes and several other homes were destroyed.
Fernanco Mateo, the president of the Hispanic Across America, was at the demonstration. He demanded that the wall be kept, at least until a permanent memorial can be built at the site.
"These families have suffered enough and they should not be made to suffer again," Mateo said. "This wall, which was built by love and grief, must stand."
He urged Belle Harbor residents to join with his organization to "protect this temporary memorial."
Alagrobba said, "We are heartbroken by the idea that we will not have a place to go on November 12 to remember those we lost. All that we are asking is that the memorial stay in place for the second anniversary."
Weiner denies that he made any threats to Alagrobba or anybody else.
"That was misconstrued," he told television reporters two blocks from the crash site. "It is not in anybody’s best interest to hold this discussion on street corners. There will be further talks about this important issue."
Weiner, who told Rockaway residents at a meeting a few weeks ago that they should "trust" him to represent Rockaway’s interests in the memorial issue, was adamant that the press conference was the wrong way to negotiate.
"For months, I have been hosting meetings with representatives of the families of Flight 587 to make difficult decisions about dozens of issues surrounding the aftermath of the crash," he said. "Finding consensus on the delicate issue of a permanent memorial for the victims has been the subject of hours of discussion."
"A decision was made early that these discussions would be held without public fanfare and with the dignity that the subject deserves," Weiner added.
Weiner believes that the residents of Rockaway, and particularly the owners of the site where the temporary memorial has been erected, have "demonstrated extraordinary sensitivity" in those discussions.
"I made it very clear to Hector Alagrobba that there were two ways to pursue this issue," Weiner said. "One was to grandstand for the public and the other was to hold a discussion. He took the former, but we will only satisfactorily resolve this issue through the latter."
It was clear that there were varying opinions on how the issue would be resolved.
Lori Ann Albert, who lost her fiancé, Roberto and her baby son, Jayke, on the flight, said that she not only wanted the temporary wall to remain, but she wanted a permanent memorial on that site.
"They should never build a home here," she said. "That would be like building a home on a cemetery."
A Rockaway resident watching the press conference, who asked not to be identified, had a different opinion.
"My grandchildren have to walk past here each day and it is too much. This is not a cemetery," the resident said. "It is time for it all to go away."
Morris Katz, the "World’s Most Prolific and Speedy Artist", as listed in the Guiness Book of World Records, will showcase his "instant art" technique at the Rockaway Music & Arts Council 19th Annual Fall Festival. The Festival, a free event for the entire family, will be held at Gateway National Recreation Area, Historic Jacob Riis Park on Saturday and Sunday, September 20th and 21st. Meet the Grandmaster Artist/ Entertainer, on Sunday afternoon when he will be demonstrating for the enjoyment and amusement of all. His signature toilet paper and palette knife style and his lightening-fast pace will leave everyone gasping. He has been given the title of the world’s fastest painter with subjects including landscapes, portraits, florals and murals. Katz was commissioned to paint Pope Paul VI during his 1965 visit to the United States and has art work in the Smithsonian Institute and on permanent exhibition at the Empire State Building. He has appeared on television worldwide and has been seen on shows with David Letterman, Regis Philbin and Walter Cronkite among many others.
The Rockaway Music & Arts Council Fall Festival is a Juried Fine Art and Craft Extravaganza with something for everyone in the family. Co-sponsored by the National Park Service at Jacob Riis Bathhouse, Breezy Point, Queens, there is free admission and parking for 8,000 cars. Highlighting the talents of the artists and artisans, such as jewelers, potters and quilters, who come from as far away as California, the Festival attracts crowds from all over the metropolitan area. Strolling Musicians and Entertainment, fabulous Gourmet Food, Antique Autos and Collectibles, Free Petting Zoo, Pony Rides and both an Aquarium and Craft Workshop all add to the fun. There will be a special appearance by Ronald McDonald, a performance by the Rockaway Theatre Company on Saturday as well as the champion Double Dutch Jumpers and The Revelations in Rhythm.
At the Demonstration Tent visitors can watch members of The Long Island Quilters Society, Stained Glass by George Marian, the Lace Making of Gunta Jorgenen, Flower Arranging on Saturday courtesy of Georges Florist and on Sunday by Jean Metz, Pastel Portraits by Connie Jorgenson, Broom Making by Karen O’Neil and Knitting by Kathy Gormley.
Festival hours are from 11-6pm on Saturday and 11-5 pm on Sunday. For more information call 718-474-6760 or 718-318-4300.