By: Charlie Tortorella
There is no easy way to remember the lives lost on September 11th, 2001. But members of the Greenwich community, some years ago, set out to create a fitting memorial to honor the victims. Through challenges with determination they succeeded and even surpassed their goal, leaving the town of Greenwich with a wonderful place to go to forever remember the beloved who were lost.
GIFF contacted the co-president of the Project, James Ritman, for a Q&A about the memorial, its process of creation, and what it means to Greenwich and its people. We are pleased to share his answers.
What is the mission of the September 11th Memorial at Cos Cob Park?
The mission of the Greenwich September 11th Memorial was to design, find an appropriate accessible location, and build a fitting memorial for the families and for those from the Greenwich community who lost their lives on 9/11/2001.
What was your role in building it? Were there other people integral to the process?
I was the co-president along with Demi Wasilko Ferraris who had lost her cousin Teddy Maloney. Teddy had worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and was at the World Trade Center that fateful morning. My role was to help design with the help of our board, with our incredible architect Charles Hilton, to design the memorial. Next we had to find a location within the town that would be appropriate for a memorial of this sensitive nature. When the families all agreed with the design and location at Cos Cob Park, we had to raise the money to build the memorial. The memorial was a gift to the town of Greenwich and was 100% funded by donations. There were several other people who were integral to the process. The then CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Mary Ann Morrison, the then First Selectman of Greenwich, Peter Tesei, Beth & Peter Barhydt, Gervais & Meggy Hearn, Ed Dadakis, Senator Blumenthal, Vineyard Vines, Pete Francis and his band Dispatch, and all the families. The support from the families is what drove all of us for several years to make this memorial a reality.
Were there any challenges you and your group faced in bringing it to life?
Yes there were challenges. The design was actually the easy part. Charles Hilton and his team did an incredible job. When we unveiled the design to the families, there was not one negative comment. They were united and unanimous in that they loved the design. Finding the location was a challenge. We had to find a location in the Town of Greenwich that was fitting for this memorial. The families wanted it to be on the water. Finding a public place that would allow the memorial, and was not too loud with either I-95 noise, or too overcrowded with people was difficult. We had to find a location that was appropriate for the subject and for the families and those who visited an opportunity for peaceful reflection. Raising the money was challenging but actually was easier than I thought it would be. We sent a mailer out to the entire town and held fundraisers. We took donations on Greenwich Avenue, made Vineyard Vines 9/11 Memorial ties, and Dispatch held a concert for us that all helped raise the money.
What does the Memorial itself mean to you?
For me the Memorial has two important meanings; the families and for generations to come to be a place of remembrance. The families didn’t have a place in Greenwich to go on Sept 11th. They didn’t want to go to NYC, many were going to Westport to that memorial, and the town didn’t have a place for people in the community who wanted to go reflect and remember. For many of us Sept 11th is an annual date that comes and goes, but for those who lost people dear, Sept 11th is with them daily. They should be able to go on a birthday, anniversary, or just go on a lunch break to be closer to those they lost. But, as one father said to me, “I do not need a memorial to remember my son, I think about him every day, but this memorial is for future generations so that they may never forget the events of Sept the 11th.” To see families bring their kids to the Memorial and to hear parents explaining in their own appropriate way, why the memorial is there, is what the memorial means to me. It is a place to remember and honor those we all lost.
How has public response to the Memorial been? Do you ever get personal messages or letters?
The response has been incredible. When we finally unveiled the Memorial and had our first event on September 11, 2015 people were really moved and people didn’t need to speak or write letters. You could see in their faces and with their tears how much this meant to them. The response from the town was special. So many people thanked us for helping bring something important to the Greenwich community.
What makes the Memorial special to the Greenwich community?
Greenwich as a town lost more people on Sept 11th than any other town in Connecticut. Honoring those lost was important. What makes the Memorial special to Greenwich, is the location perfectly nestled away at the highest point at Cos Cob Park, privately screened with trees along a circular walking path to the Memorial. To see the memorial with the water in the background and situated just down from a playground and field so that people can come there intentionally, or just stumble upon the Memorial. That is what makes it special, it is there but not there, and it helps us to reflect on those who are gone but never forgotten.
Are there any stories related to the Memorial that you would like to share?
Honestly there are too many stories, but the best story was probably the fundraiser at the Capitol Theatre, “The Music Remembers”. That concert was headlined by Caroline Jones, Ian Murray Band and Dispatch. All three acts have roots in Greenwich. The event was critical in that we raised the money we needed to build the memorial, but it was also a way for all the families and their loved ones to come together, for one night to heal together, listen to some incredible music and finalize our fundraising goals. That was in December of 2014 and we opened the Memorial nine months later.
Will there be a service held at the Memorial this year on September 11th?
Yes, every year the families put together a service on Sept 11th and it is open to everyone in the town. This memorial was a gift from the town to the town and Sept 11th each year is a reminder of why we needed to build this special place to remember, reflect, and to love one another.