Everett reflects on terrorist attacks

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Monday, December 10, 2001 9:00pm
  • Local News

Abby Burroughs took paper flags of many countries. She pasted them together to form a peace sign and the words "to all."

Danielle Greaby made red, white and blue balloon shapes. On one balloon are childhood photos, from sweet babyhood to nutty adolescence. Another balloon has images of Sept. 11. Written on the third is a jumble of words: shock, anguish, family, fear, unity, Taliban, flag, grief, blood, understanding.

Another student made an anonymous contribution to the Our Community Reflects space at the Everett Mall, a bracelet fashioned from baby ID beads that says, "I LOVE USA."

I spent an hour Monday in the sanctuary created from empty retail space and the hearts of people thousands of miles from the Sept. 11 tragedies. It’s across from Waldenbooks in the Mervyn’s wing. To enter the hushed room is to leave completely the bustling, brightly lit mall corridor.

New Age music, pinpoints of light and a reflecting pool set the mood for remembrance. The quiet hits you first. Messages and mementos left by visitors take awhile to resonate. The lingering result, at least for me after two visits, is tranquility and a sense of belonging.

When Kevin Sutton happened by Our Community Reflects, he was so affected that he urged his eighth-grade students at Voyager Middle School in the Mukilteo district to add to the wall.

"They were just asked to think up a unique contribution. Things they did ranged from making a bracelet to collages to an embroidered little U.S. flag," said Sutton, who teaches social studies and language arts.

Abby’s peace sign and Danielle’s balloons are creative results of Sutton’s assignment, and just two of hundreds of personal ways visitors have responded to the September attacks.

Paper-covered walls offer a venue for the written word. The young and old have taken pen in hand to convey everything from the ubiquitous "God bless America" to "Blow up Afghanistan" and "Our faith in humanity will keep us going."

Objects are push-pinned to walls like so many talismans of hope. There’s a cap with a United Airlines logo. A book on praying the rosary is inscribed: "To all who have perished, we pray &love, the Shepherd family."

There are religious medals, roses, signed dollar bills and posters of the New York skyline with twin towers standing tall. A flag collage made of faces is labeled, "Tulalip Bingo Casino employees will never forget September 11, 2001."

Volunteer coordinator Shylo Murray spends nearly six hours a day in the space, which opened Nov. 3. She keeps count of visitors; by Monday afternoon she had logged 25,148. On Saturday alone, 1,121 people saw the sobering display.

"I have the need to be here," the Everett woman said. Murray’s husband, Norm, lost a childhood friend, Army Sgt. Maj. Larry Strickland, in the Pentagon attack.

Patricia Railton, the mall’s director of leasing, pushed for the space after visiting flower displays at the Seattle Center and Everett Community College. She reached out to other businesses, inside and outside the mall.

"I was turned down by almost no one. There is $20,000 to $30,000 in donated time and energy in that space, and that continues. It’s really heartening to see the support," she said.

The display is scheduled to end Dec. 31, but Railton and Murray hope to keep it going.

"I don’t think there is another place like it in the whole country. If I have my druthers, it will stay open until Sept. 11, 2002," Railton said.

The space gave Sutton’s students a place of belonging.

"I was proud of them," the teacher said. "They really got it that they’re important, they’re a part of society."

Our Community Reflects is a reminder that Sept. 11 happened to all of us, not just to people back east.

Pinned on the wall is a printed program from a memorial service. "In memory of Thomas F. Swift," it says. "Dec. 2, 1970-Sept. 11, 2001. St. Aloysius Church, Jersey City, N.J."

I know little about Swift, only that he was 30, lived in Jersey City, worked for the Morgan Stanley financial services firm, and is among the confirmed dead in the World Trade Center.

I know that much, and a little more: Someone who stopped at Everett Mall cared enough to let people here know about Swift.

The Sept. 11 story is our story, too.

Contact Julie Muhlstein via e-mail at muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet.com, write to her at The Herald, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206, or call 425-339-3460.

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