2012-06-29 / Letters

Set The Record Straight

Dear Editor,

The “Flagpole Incident” as reported by the Wave last week and responded to in the ‘Bag of Mail’ should be explained from beginning to end in order to set the record straight:

After having lived on Beach 128 Street for four years, a young lady lost her battle against depression and passed away. Her family scattered her ashes on the beach at 128 making that her final resting place, although scattering ashes on the sand, according to Jill Weber of our Parks Department, is illegal. That aside, two of the deceased’s sisters went door to door to neighbors asking permission to put a flagpole and plaque memorializing their sister on the Beach 128 Street baffle (the concrete area between the end of the block and the sand) where a flag used to be. Not wanting to add further grief to their lives, many, if not all blockies agreed. After all, when two mourning sisters in the throes of their tragedy ask you anything, it’s impossible to refuse. They appealed to our sympathies further by telling us how much she loved the beach.

Two weeks ago, on the sidewalk in front of the sea wall on Beach 128 Street two granite blocks were installed on the sidewalk. One was a granite base for a flagpole and the companion to it was a marker for their departed sister. What happened to the flag pole on the baffle as promised? What happened to the baffle plaque as promised?

It seems the flagpole not only came with rope, it came with strings. Parks would have allowed the family to put the flagpole on the baffle, a wonderful tribute to their sister even without a plaque. However, Parks would not allow the installation of a plaque.

When blockies saw the monument and flagpole in the sidewalk at the seawall, we were surprised and confused. Could the DOT allow a flagpole and a grave marker on the sidewalk in front of the seawall? What happened to the plaque? What then is to stop anyone from honoring their departed by installing a granite marker in front of the sea wall? None of the departed’s family members live on the block. However, the family thought it appropriate to leave a memorial of their dearly departed for blockies to view on a daily basis.

If the family of the deceased had not scattered her ashes on the beach she loved in keeping with Parks laws, none of this controversy would have occurred. Were the initial intentions of the family, the ones they told us they were planning for the baffle, carried out, the flagpole itself being the memorial, none of this controversy would have happened. But, this was not to be. Instead, after discovering they could put up the flagpole but not the plaque on the baffle, the family took it upon themselves to change their plans and proceeded to construct the two granite slabs on the outside of the baffle on what amounts to a sidewalk without investigating the legality of it and without consulting the block. It was only after the two granite structures and flagpole were installed that two sisters of the deceased went door to door asking if we minded what they did. Again, how do you turn down grieving family members who are virtually crying to see their sister’s final resting place marked with a stone?

Don’t get this wrong. This controversy is not about anybody hating the American flag. Nobody is disputing the American flag or the significance of it or the numbers of people who died or were maimed or mauled defending it. If it were placed in the baffle replacing the one children on the block destroyed, most probably everyone would have been thrilled. However, this flag and pole came with an agenda which was to mark a tragic death of a family member raising the question, “Can anybody do anything they want on the baffle or in front of the sea wall to honor a departed member of their family?

Personally, I love our flag. I fly it continually on my deck. In fact, I had just contracted to replace the one on the baffle that the block kids wrecked when this one was erected until I received a phone call from my installer telling me there was a flag being placed in front of the wall.

What disturbed me was the marker. I recognize that by installing the granite marker, the family, none of whom live on the block, will have a place to come for solace and comfort. I further recognize that the family, by marking their sister’s resting place, feels they are celebrating her life.

When I look at the marker which I must each time I look at the ocean from my deck (multiple times each day), I think of the tortured manner in which she died.

The beach is and should be an enjoyable place. If each time people pass the granite marker on their way to the beach, like me, they think of her death, it is morbid.

Justifying her memorial by saying she loved the beach is preaching to the choir as, I don’t think I’m stretching here, we all love the beach. After all, we don’t live here for the shopping.

When Eric Ulrich’s aide told me the deceased deserved to have a marker. I told her she was right and that there was a place for such markers and that it was called a cemetery. If the marker is allowed to stand it will open up the sea wall facing the block to those who wish to honor loved ones who pass away and also loved the beach.

In deference to The Wave article that played up the ‘insignificant’ size of the two granite implants, the dead end with the entrance to the baffle is not enormous. Perhaps there is enough room there for ten such markers. Who gets preference?

There are ways to commemorate the loss of loved ones in Rockaway, adopting a bench on the boardwalk which allows for a plaque to be installed on the top of it, adopting a seat in the Fort Theater (allowing a plaque with wording the choice of the family) are but two. Surely contributions to local organizations would also get the recognition the family was so determined to achieve.

The family of the deceased has taken an extremely private matter and made it public, not only creating controversy, but pitting blockies against each other. Had the family done research on the matter they would have discovered none of their plans that included a plaque was legal and plotted a different course. Instead, they did whatever they pleased, trying to garner sympathy and permission after the fact.

Once this controversy is straightened out whether the family of the departed will be satisfied with relocating the flagpole to the baffle without the plaque or the DOT allowing things to stand as they are inviting others to follow, the neighborhood must agree that the entrance to our beaches should never be used as a memorial sidewalk or wall.

Spare us from reliving the tragedy of a young woman’s death with each view of the sea wall. Whatever the outcome of this controversy, Beach 128 will have a flagpole and flag. Let us keep the beach a pleasant place free from grief, free from controversy.

JOAN METTLER

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