New Yorkers dance in streets after bin Laden death

People climb street signs, sing national anthem near site of Ground Zero; jubilation slowly gives way to respect for the 9/11 victims.

woman holds US flags_311 (photo credit: JORDANA HORN)
woman holds US flags_311
(photo credit: JORDANA HORN)
NEW YORK – While the streets by Ground Zero in Manhattan were filled with dancing and cheering people on Sunday night after the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden, by Monday morning the mood had changed to one of respectful homage to the dead and hopeful optimism for the living.
Sunday night, after President Barack Obama made his television announcement of bin Laden’s death, the intersection of Church and Vesey streets in downtown Manhattan – streets that used to be in the shadow of the Twin Towers – were full of jubilant celebrants. They climbed on street signs and each other’s shoulders to sing the national anthem, hug, wave American flags and otherwise celebrate the death of the mastermind of the deadliest terror attack on American soil.
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By Monday morning, however, the chanting and dancing had ended, and Ground Zero had become populated almost exclusively by international media and foreign tourists.
The media were on a nearly-fruitless quest to find native New Yorkers to interview – although most in all likelihood were at work. Many reporters seemed frustrated with the comparative lack of local color. Dunkin’ Donuts seemed to be doing a fairly brisk business as grumpy cameramen ate under plastic tents put up as preemptive shelters against rain-threatening skies. One New Yorker who happened to wander into the area was set upon by reporters like a bone thrown to a pack of wild dogs. He gave interviews to no fewer than three media outlets.
The tourists, however, were there in order to show their support for the United States, and to be at a critical spot on a critical day in the history of the war on terror. Some tourists were American – a group of three started a short-lived chant of “USA! USA!” before giving up and going to the subway – but most of the visitors were from abroad.
The sidewalk swarmed with accents from all over the world, with Hebrew, French, Japanese and other languages coming together in a virtually indistinguishable blur. A Frenchman, seeing my press pass, held up a small sign he had affixed around his neck. It said, “French people are with you. We love America.” Japanese tourists asked to pose with New York City policemen stationed at the scene, who responded stoically, refusing to allow their own emotions to become a tourist attraction.
“Move along, move along,” New York police officers told the crowds, who were busy taking pictures of the swarms of television cameras with cameras of their own or with cell phones.
“That’s a no-no,” a cop sternly reprimanded a German tourist who had climbed on top of a pylon to take pictures of the tremendous, self-referential scrum.
“Why?” the German asked, after obediently getting down.
“Are you kidding me?” the policeman responded, in true New York fashion.
A middle-aged woman pushed a cart through the crowd, doing a brisk business in American flags. “Small flags are $2, big flags are $5,” she told me. “No time to talk if you’re not going to buy.”
“Do you think Osama bin Laden really did this?” a European reporter asked a man in his 20s, gesturing at Ground Zero behind him.
“Of course!” the young man responded indignantly. “I’m from Spain. Bin Laden bombed us in Madrid. He was not a good guy. This is a huge day for the United States – it’s a huge day for the entire world.”
Against the wall outside the 9/11 memorial site preview, where tourists could look at a history of that blue day in September, someone had placed a small cardboard sign. “Freedom, hope, peace, USA,” the sign read, with the dates May 1 and May 2, 2011, written on the sign’s sides. “Wish you were here.”