10 years after 9/11, locals remember

(Gazette File Photo by John Swan) South Street residents hold a candlelight vigil for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the steps of St. Thomas Aquinas Church on Sept. 14, 2001.

Sept. 11, 2001 dawned as a bright, sunny day in Jamaica Plain. For the southern edge of the neighborhood, it was special Election Day in a Congressional race eventually won by Stephen Lynch. For most people, it was just a normal late-summer day.

Then came the terrorist airplane attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a nightmare that riveted JP as it did the world.

The Gazette recently asked four JP residents to recall their memories of that day and its effects on the neighborhood years later. The interviewees included Gerry Burke Sr., then an owner of Doyle’s Café, where people gathered to watch the news; Aaron Goldstein, a conservative commentator whose political life was changed that day; Marie Turley, executive director of the Boston Women’s Commission, who took the day off to work the election; and Sandra Storey, then the editor of the Gazette.

If you were in JP on that day, the Gazette is interested in your story, too. Send any memories to [email protected], and we may publish them on the Gazette website at jpgazette.com.

The news at Doyle’s

Gerry Burke used to leave the TV behind the bar at Doyle’s turned off so people could talk. But on Sept. 11, the destruction unfolding on TV was all anyone wanted to talk about. Like many local pubs, Doyle’s became a gathering spot for news-watching.

“People came in off the streets,” Burke said. “Everyone couldn’t believe it, that in this day and age, such a powerful country could be attacked in such a way.”

World War II vets and others bellying up to the bar had no doubt about what to do: “Let’s find out who these SOBs were and extinguish them.”

But who exactly to blame was unclear in those early hours.

“I was sitting with my old friend Al Lupo at the bar,” said Burke, referring to the late Boston Globe columnist. “Al said, ‘I hope it’s got nothing to do with my homeland, Israel.’ We just didn’t know.”

As one name filtered out, many people didn’t recognize it, Burke recalled: “Bin Laden? Who’s bin Laden? Does he play for the Red Sox?”

Paranoia about terror attacks lingered for some time, Burke recalled. A few days later, “they were flushing the pipes on my street. I went to make coffee and the water came out dark. I thought, ‘Oh, no! They poisoned the water supply!’”

Burke, who is old enough to recall Pearl Harbor, a wartime attack to which Sept. 11 is often compared, said that the sense of national unity that arose in 2001 was nothing like that in World War II. And today, he said, people remain distanced from the long-term fallout.

“Nobody gives a [care] about how many kids got knocked off today in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

A conservative is born

Aaron Goldstein is likely JP’s only high-profile conservative political commentator, and Sept. 11 has everything to do with that.

In 2001, Goldstein was a far-left activist and poet who had worked for the socialist-democratic party in his native Canada. Living in the Fenway at the time between stints in JP, he was slated to spend Sept. 11 at a North Shore company picnic.

After sitting through that terror-tainted event, he headed to a beach to find a “place of serenity,” where he was struck by “the juxtaposition of the beauty and this evil that had taken place just a few hundred miles away.”

That night, he was scheduled to join a regular poetry reading at Cambridge’s Club Passim. He decided to go through with it in the spirit that life must go on.

“This is the first place I started getting bothered by [the liberal response],” Goldstein said. While some people at the poetry reading expressed sympathy for the attacks’ victims, “Already some were saying this was our fault or even suggesting this was an inside job,” he recalled.

“My foundation was shaken,” he said. Over the next 15 months, he found himself allying with the right wing.

“For a time, it was like, ‘Oh, no! I’m agreeing with conservatives!’” Goldstein said. “I saw that conservatives were willing to take the good with the bad [about America]. The events of Sept. 11 led me to that political conclusion.”

As the Iraq War loomed in 2003 as a consequence of Sept. 11, a group called Poets Against the War formed. Goldstein began writing for a rival website called Poets for the War, which got him attention from the likes of National Public Radio. He now appears as a regular commentator on the website of the conservative magazine “American Spectator.”

The sense of unity that spread across America on Sept. 11 was long gone by then. “Things like that don’t last,” Goldstein said. And, he noted, his own transformation is unusual.

“I think for the most part, it reinforced people’s politics,” he said of Sept. 11. “If anything, JP is probably more left-wing than when I arrived here.”

Election Day

“It was such a gorgeous day,” Marie Turley recalled, adding that to this day, when the weather is similar, she finds herself thinking, “It’s a World Trade Center kind of sky.”

Turley, the head of the Boston Women’s Commission and a Democratic ward committee leader, had the day off to work the special election to replace Congressman Joe Moakley, who had died in office earlier that year. She also had some work to do for the Jamaica Plain Arts Council and stopped by Doyle’s for a brief meeting. Burke already had the TV on with the terrorist news.

When the second plane hit the World Trade Center, Turley said, “I thought, ‘Oh, my God! This is my family!’”

Her family in New York City included a sister working a building next door to the World Trade Center. And she had a brother in Washington, D.C. as well. In the chaos of that early cell phone era, checking on them was not simple.

“It took us three hours to find our family, but I found everyone,” Turley said. “I can’t imagine how it felt for people who didn’t find their families. I know how hard those three hours were.”

Election Day was already somber. “It was sad enough that we were replacing Joe,” Turley said. But it went ahead after talk of cancellation.

In the following days, Turley attended some of the local vigils for the attack victims. She especially remembers a classical music concert held at Central Congregation Church (now Hope Central) that drew people by word of mouth and became a place to grieve.

“It was this kind of JP moment,” Turley said. “There was a hunger for human contact and finding people and a shared sense of humanity.”

But that changed as controversial wars arrived and the JP peace movement was renewed. “That sense of unity that we shared quickly slipped away,” she said.

The local news

Sandra Storey, then the editor of the Gazette, had just arrived at the office when word of the attacks arrived. Like many others, the Gazette staff headed to the local pub—the Galway House—to watch the mysterious horror on TV.

“It was horrible to watch people get traumatized as they saw the plane crash for the first time,” Storey said.

The Gazette also had a job to do, covering that day’s election and the vigils that followed. But much of JP hunkered down. In a record that certainly has not been broken since, the Gazette’s phone didn’t ring for three days, Storey said.

“There was a feeling of wanting to join together with other people…[but] some people were afraid to go anywhere there was a large group,” she recalled. “People would afraid all of a sudden to go the MFA [Museum of Fine Arts] because no one knew what could be a target.”

That fear extended to JP. “People would actually say, ‘Do you think the terrorists have heard of Spontaneous [Celebrations]?’” Storey said. “That was on people’s minds.”

But within six weeks, “People [had] the opposite reaction—the only thing we could be sure was safe was local. Who’s going to bomb the local restaurant?”

“I think the whole [JP] idea of local being good is an offshoot of that,” Storey said. “I don’t think it was conscious. I do think that it maybe gave birth to that without realizing it.”

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