On Hausman Street in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, everyone knows each other by first and last name; Most of the residents have grown up in this block of little more than 300 meters with houses of two or three floors on both sides of the sidewalk. That is why the death of Catherine Fagan, who worked in the financial district, in the 9/11 attacks marked this community so much that she decided to pay tribute to the victim and support her family by lining the street with United States flags.
“Catherine Fagan was my grandmother. Seeing the flags gives me a real sense of community, we all came together after (the attack), it was like showing all our support for her,” says Cori-Anne Fagan, who is now 26 years old. She is a preschool teacher and has grown up on the same street her grandmother lived on, as her parents also bought a house down the block when they got married. In addition to the flags, she remembers her predecessor every time she sees her arm tattoo. “It is the skyline of the city when the Twin Towers were still standing and underneath there are drops of paint because she was an artist.”
Eric Blickhahn and Vinny Pedota remember how they put up the first flag after the attacks. They took a gigantic American flag and hung it from the roof. It covered the third floor and went from the roof to the middle of the second floor. The neighbors tell it with a beer in hand, a common image in the neighborhood, since every afternoon they usually get together with other people from the block to have a drink in front of their houses.
On September 11, 2001, this street became the “headquarters” where all the neighbors left their children after taking them out of school to make sure they were safe. “We sat on the street, you could see the jet planes flying over the area, everything was gray,” recalls Pedota. It was a particularly tough day for Eric Blickhahn’s family as his sister, now 45, worked in one of the towers. By chance she had to go home that day because she had forgotten some slippers, so she was late for work and when the first plane crashed she was still in the lobby and was able to escape.
“On the 9/11 anniversary, she always leaves the city, as it is very hard for her,” says her brother, who also has the Twin Towers tattooed on his arm, but in his case with an American flag in the background. Every year on 9/11, he tells how he goes up on his roof with his daughter to take a picture of the Tribute in Light, a New York tribute to the victims that consists of the projection into the sky of two brilliant rays of blue light, near the site of the Twin Towers.
Despite covering windows, that first great flag hung for a year and was even surrounded by blue lights. “This is how we all start with the flags,” says Pedota. Each year this block displays about 280 flags, according to the president of the area association, Robert McErlean, as they change them four to three times a year. In 2006, residents managed to rename part of the street as Catherine Fagan Street.
“The neighbors pay a small fee (five dollars, that is, a little more than four euros) for the change of the flag. Last year nobody paid anything, it was my way of saying: ‘thank you'”, says McErlean, known in the neighborhood as “the mayor of the street.” He also says that the initiative receives donations from businesses in the area to buy the flags.
In residential neighborhoods in the United States it is normal to see flags hanging from porches or nailed to green lawns, but it is very unusual to see this image in New York, since the national flag often hangs from the facades of businesses or government buildings and not so much about houses or flats.
In the two decades of neighborhood patriotism they have only had one incident: it was 18 years ago when the bloc woke up with some 18 flags “destroyed by vandalism.” After learning of what happened, the City Council donated 21 large flags folded in a triangle to the street, such as those given to the families of the victims of the attacks. Because they were too big to hang on house fences, the neighborhood decided to donate them to firefighters and other emergency services workers.
For years, and also before the attacks, every second Saturday in September the neighbors get together to have a great party in which there is food, attractions for the little ones and lots of beer for the adults. This year coincides exactly with the 20th anniversary of the attacks, so 9/11 will be very present.
There have been multiple moves in the 20 years at Hausman, and according to McErlean, new tenants are often involved in the initiative. “There are two houses on the block that don’t have a flag. For what reason? I don’t know. That depends on them,” he says.