Before last Tuesday, Union Square was known for its chic
restaurants and weekend farmer's market, its small green park a
popular haven for skateboarders and activists, students and
Now, it has become the city's primary spot for mourning.
Over the past week, the downtown square has been transformed into
an impromptu memorial. Located on 14th Street, Union Square was for
several days the southernmost point on the island that civilians
were allowed to go, while the area below remained blocked off by
police. Literally thousands of New Yorkers have flocked here with
flowers and candles, some scribbling their thoughts on the pavement
For days, what was most striking was the stillness - huge crowds
of people sitting in silence or shuffling quietly past the various
But lately, a growing clamor of voices has penetrated some of
that quiet. As shell-shocked New Yorkers start to consider what
lies ahead, Union Square has also become a spot for passionate -
often painful - debate.
While the square's visitors are united in their grief, they
express a full range of opinions and emotions when discussing how
the United States should respond to last week's attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It's a debate undoubtedly
occurring throughout the country - indeed the world - but with
particular intensity here, about a mile from where the two towers
Like the Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde Park, Union Square has
long attracted its share of street philosophers and political
activists. Home to Tammany Hall, the famous headquarters of the
Democratic Party during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the
square was often the site of labor protests. In more recent years,
its proximity to New York University has made it home to political
demonstrations of all sorts.
But never has it seen such a steady flow of people, from every
corner of the city and beyond. Under a statue of George Washington
on horseback lie hundreds of candles, cards, and flowers, as well
as various signs that plead for peace.
When an older man - wearing a denim vest and an American-flag
bandanna - starts sounding bellicose themes, Heidi Fledderjohn
quickly asks those standing around her, "Does anyone know the words
to 'Amazing Grace?' " A small group starts singing, attempting to
drown the man out, though they trail off after the first verse,
unable to remember the rest of the song.
"I think people are here because they're really afraid of what's
going to happen next," says Ms. …