A display at International Plaza of photos with a central theme of the terrorist attacks touches everyone who sees it in some way or another.
By TAMARA LUSH and JANEL STEPHENS
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 10, 2002
TAMPA -- They came from funerals and from dinner. They came with big, white Lord & Taylor shopping bags and strollers carrying sleeping babies.
They came to remember.
"I know this place," said Raymond Taylor, 25, of Tampa, pointing to one of the hundreds of photos clipped to a black screen in International Plaza's main lobby.
The photo, of an ash-covered Ray's Pizza parlor in New York City, like all of the others in the exhibit, depicted the country during a moment that no one will ever forget.
"These are as vivid as I remember," said Taylor.
He was in New York City that day, hungover and late for work. A friend told him to turn on the television, just as the second jet hit the second tower.
Taylor left New York soon after, and eventually made his way to Tampa. Monday night, he decided to check out International Plaza. There, he found his past.
"I only want to see the ones where the towers weren't hit," Taylor said.
Across from Godiva Chocolates and down the escalator from the Coach boutique, the mall is hosting "here is new york: a democracy of photographs." Sponsored in part by the St. Petersburg Times, the 300 photos in the exhibit were taken across the country by amateurs and professionals, both before and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Soft music played in the background, an endless loop of Amazing Grace, God Bless America and I'm Proud to be an American.
The photographs of the towers, the people and the events prior to that day are heartbreaking in their innocence: One depicts a lavish dinner table set for six at Windows on the World, a restaurant atop the north tower. The New York skyline sparkles in the background.
Photographs of the aftermath, however, are difficult to look at.
"I thought that it was the end of the world," said 39-year-old Tadesse Kassa of Tampa. He shook his head as he looked at one picture of a group of horrified people covered in dust.
The images made some angry.
"Let's bomb the rest of them out of the world," said Richie Pagano, a 63-year-old former New York City police officer. "It's time we stop playing footsie (with terrorists). They didn't give nobody in that building a chance."
Each viewer seemed to have their own experience with the towers, the Pentagon, the sadness.
Gary Chapin of St. Petersburg moved in for a closer look at a picture of rescue workers stationed at the Pentagon. He looked at a helicopter landing pad similar to the one he used when he served in the Navy.
"We used to fly from Norfolk, Va., to Washington, D.C.," said Chapin, 55, a retired master chief. "I'm almost sure we landed somewhere close to there."
Chapin's wife, Nancy, looked at a picture of rescue workers scouring rubble and remembered when Gary had to do the same thing while he was stationed in Beirut during the Oct. 23, 1983, suicide truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks. The bomb killed 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers.
"In Beirut he knew those people. They were his friends," Nancy Chapin said. "It's the same for them all," she said, pointing to a picture of firefighters resting on a pile of debris.
Nearby, Claudia Barrow of Land O'Lakes took a step back from a wall of pictures.
"It's unbelievable, isn't it?" she said. "I pray that we don't have to go through this again."
Many shoppers didn't know the exhibit was there, but once they knew, they had to see it.
The very public shopping plaza became a very private place to grieve.
"It gives me the same feeling as when it happened that day, you know that feeling, that something bad is going to happen," said Candita Roldan-Gonzalez, 60, of Tampa.
Rick Weich of Land O'Lakes has seen a lot in his 28 years as a firefighter for Tampa Fire Rescue. But what the 50-year-old saw at the mall Monday night made his eyes red with tears.
"Normally, I don't cry, but it got me tonight," said Weich, who took his wife and two children to see the exhibit. "I have a lot of pent-up feelings. I've kept it inside."