Remembering Flight 587

November 12, 2015

On November 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 departed JFK International Airport en route to the Dominican Republic. At 9:16 am, seconds after take off, the jet crashed into the community of Belle Harbor, killing all 260 passengers and crew and five Belle Harbor residents.

People from France, Haiti, Israel, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States and Puerto Rico were on the flight. Yet the majority were of Dominican descent, traveling to their homeland, or returning from visiting family. The plane struck the ground at the intersection of Beach 131st Street and Newport Avenue, where members of the fire and police departments (many of them off duty) and numerous volunteers rushed to the scene. Despite their heroic efforts, the crash of Flight 587 stands to date as the second largest aviation tragedy in U.S. history.

All New Yorkers were devastated by this terrible event, occurring only two months and a day after the World Trade Center attack. The communities of Washington Heights and Belle Harbor were uniquely affected. Many of the passengers lived in and around Washington Heights. Belle Harbor was home to many police officers and firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11.

These communities, together with the families of the victims and the city of New York, have created this monument to honor those who perished and ensure that we never forget those we have loved and lost.

Freddy Rodriguez, a Dominican-born New York City artist, designed the Flight 587 Memorial that stands near the beach in Rockaway, Queens. It was dedicated on November 12, 2006, the fifth anniversary of the day the packed Airbus A300 crashed in nearby Belle Harbor.

Placement of the Memorial was controversial: many of the victims’ relatives wanted it to be built at the scene of the disaster, while residents opposed the idea, saying it would create a constant reminder of the horror that had traumatized so many of them. The conflict was resolved by placing the structure within the boundaries of the neighborhood, but about 15 blocks from the crash site.

The Memorial stands at the end of a street full of shops and apartments near the Ocean Promenade. Its curving wall has window-like openings providing broken views of the Atlantic Ocean. Near the center of the wall is an open door angled towards the Dominican Republic. The rose granite blocks are inscribed with the names of all 265 of the victims. A large block is inscribed with the description of the incident (quoted above).

Directly above the door are the words of the late Pedro Mir, Poet Laureate of the Dominican Republic: “Después no quiero más que paz (Afterwards I want only peace).”

Inscription on a nearby wall

The memorial includes a plaza and bench

The doorway faces the Dominican Republic

Another view of the doorway

Names of victims


A family



Men, woman, children



A family



A family

Afterwards I want only peace

City of New York: Flight 587 Memorial Project
USA Today: Reaction Mixed on Flight 587 Memorial
Pedro Mir

Junior’s Birthday Cake

November 3, 2015

There I was, minding my own business in Downtown Brooklyn, when I was approached by a member of the NYPD.

“Hey!,” yelled the cop.


“Do you like cheesecake?”



Despite momentarily wondering whether “cheesecake” might be a code word for some type of illegal activity, I admitted that I did, in fact, like cheesecake.

With that, the officer told me that to celebrate its 65th birthday, today Junior’s restaurant was selling cheesecake for 65 cents a slice.

To Brooklynites, there is no question about where Junior’s is located, what it serves or why a 65 cent slice of their cheesecake is worthy of a proclamation.

Junior’s restaurant was founded by Harry Rosen on the corner of Flatbush Avenue Extension and DeKalb Avenue on November 3, 1950. Rosen said that if his was going to be a great restaurant, he had to have a great cheesecake. He and his pastry chef began tinkering with formulas for the rich sweet until they found what they considered to be the perfect recipe. The pubic agreed and Junior’s cheesecakes have gone on to worldwide acclaim.

Junior’s is now in the hands of third-generation owner Alan Rosen. The little corner restaurant with the scrumptious dessert has become a local landmark. There are branches in Manhattan at Grand Central and Times Square and a location within the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut. There is a mail order business (said to sell over one million cakes per year), several cookbooks and scores of awards naming theirs the best cheesecake in the city. And a single wedge of Junior’s classic cheesecake sells for $6.95.

To celebrate its 65th anniversary, the restaurant announced that it was selling slices of its famous original New York plain cheesecake for just 65 cents—one per customer—only at the original Brooklyn location on Tuesday.

The line began forming before the sun rose. Celebratory signs and balloons were fastened to the restaurant’s famed orange exterior, crowd control barriers erected, security guards posted at the front door, a squadron of police officers stationed at the curb. Behind closed doors, thousands of cheesecakes were baked, sliced, packaged and bagged for the waiting crowd.

By the time doors opened at 6:30 a.m., the queue stretched down the block and around the corner. Some passersby called out that people had to be crazy to stand outside like that “just for a piece of cheesecake.” But they were wrong. It wasn’t “just cheesecake”—it was Junior’s.

The crowd waits

The deal

One slice per customer

Security guard keeps order

The hard working countermen

The cake

Welcome to Junior’s! Remembering Brooklyn With Recipes and Memories from Its Favorite Restaurant
Junior’s Cheesecake Cookbook
Junior’s Dessert Cookbook
Junior’s Home Cooking
Junior’s Restaurant
Brooklyn Eagle: Junior’s fans come in droves with loose change
NY Daily News: Slices of famous cheesecake for 65 cents
PIX11: Junior’s Cheesecake celebrates 65th anniversary
Foxwoods Casino

Halloween in the Heights

October 31, 2015

While their fellow New Yorkers complain about how the city is being destroyed by greedy developers, the residents of Brooklyn Heights bite their tongues. That’s because little has changed in the neighborhood in decades.

In 1965, the newly created New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Brooklyn Heights as city’s first historic district. Later that year the neighborhood was also named a National Historic Landmark and the following year, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

All of that governmental recognition and legal protection mean that Brooklyn Heights essentially looks the same today as it did 50 years ago—a mixture of brick homes, brownstones, grand mansions, and wooden houses (some dating back to the Civil War), punctuated with century-old shops and churches.

The area is beautiful at any time, but it takes on a special appeal when decorated for Halloween. These are streets where young trick-or-treaters still troop from door to door, and few homeowners neglect adding at least a touch of seasonal color to their stoops and thresholds.

Pumpkins and cobwebs

Skeleton and pumpkins

Dried corn

Tombstone and ghost

“Boo” says the pumpkin

Pumpkins and evergreen

Pumpkins and cobwebs

Skeletons, cobwebs, etc.

Pumpkins and ivy

Pumpkins and potted mums

Pumpkins and squash

Mums and pumpkins

Pumpkins, cobwebs and a blue planter

Witch, bats and ghosts

Pumpkins and spider

Pumpkin and metal pots

Big pumpkins

Pumpkins and skeletons

Curbed: How Brooklyn Heights Became the City’s First Historic District
National Park Service: Brooklyn Heights Historic District
National Historic Landmarks in New York
National Register of Historic Places
NYC: Brooklyn Heights

Seeing the Pope in the Park

September 25, 2015

Long before the pope’s plane touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Roman Catholic Church officials began meticulously planning every aspect of his two day trip to New York City. At the same time, law enforcement agencies—ranging from the local to federal levels—started coordinating what Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called the “largest security challenge ever.”

Pope Francis arrived late on the afternoon of the 24th and was immediately whisked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where he led the evening prayer. The next morning he plunged into a whirlwind of activities around Manhattan, going to the East Side to address the United Nations General Assembly, heading downtown to hold a multi-religious service at 9/11 the Memorial and Museum, driving uptown for a visit with students at Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, traveling in a motorcade through Central Park and then down to a Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Admission to all of the events involving the pope was restricted; at no point could someone simply wander over to a school or church to catch a glimpse of the pontiff. Tickets to the religious services were distributed by politicians and priests, while city officials conducted a free lottery for those wishing to view the pope’s procession through Central Park.

On September 10, 40,000 area residents were notified by phone and email that they’d each won a pair of tickets to see the motorcade. The announcements were accompanied by detailed instructions, warnings and restrictions, including a lengthy list of prohibited items:

  • Alcohol
  • Aerosol containers
  • Amplified sound devices
  • Animals other than service and guide animals
  • Balloons
  • Bicycles, scooters and skateboards
  • Blankets
  • Backpacks
  • Chairs
  • Coolers
  • Drones and other unmanned aircraft systems
  • Flags
  • Glass, thermal and metal containers
  • Large bags
  • Laser pointers
  • Mace and pepper spray
  • Musical instruments
  • Posters
  • Selfie sticks
  • Signs and supports for signs and placards
  • Unlicensed vending
  • Umbrellas 
  • Weapons, explosives and ammunition

Those selected in the giveaway were assigned to color-coded park entrances (red, yellow, green) and told to arrive, bearing their tickets, before 3:00 p.m. to ensure that they’d pass through security in time to see the pontiff drive by at 5:30.

The southern end of the Park was enclosed behind high fences while security gates and tents were erected near Columbus Circle. The streets surrounding Central Park were closed to traffic. Thousands of law enforcement officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, were deployed throughout the area. Although the gates weren’t scheduled to open until 11:00, anxious ticket holders began arriving at the barricades before dawn and patiently waited for hours until they were able to move forward.

The crowd slowly passed through airport-style security checks conducted by Transportation Security Administration agents including X-rays, inspection of electronic devices and sniffs from dogs trained to detect explosives.  Upon entering the Park, the faithful sprinted towards the metal barriers lining the roadways.

People jockeyed for position, trying to get as close to the front as possible, then settled in for the day. At one point, someone in the crowd cried, “Look up!” All heads turned to see that, directly above the path that the pope would take, a tiny rainbow had appeared above.

As observers remarked on the fact that the day had been clear and almost cloudless (“Imagine, a rainbow without rain!”), the colored strip grew wider, longer and bent into an upside down arc. “It looks like a smile,” some said. Others thought that it was a sacred sign, a blessing, a miracle. After a few minutes, the rainbow faded away.

Finally, a rumble was heard in the distance and a fleet of slowly moving vehicles, all of them flashing lights, appeared. A convoy of motorcycles, armored trucks, NYPD vans, limousines rolled past as excitement in the crowd surged. An open bed truck, its rear filled with photographers and camera operators clamoring for shots, was directly in front of the sight all were awaiting: the famed white Popemobile.

Inside stood the pontiff, smiling and waving his hand to the faithful. The vehicle drove slowly through the Park without pausing. Pope Francis and his guards moved up the roadway and drove out of sight, headed south to Madison Square Garden, where he celebrated Mass and delivered a homily that included references to urban life.

Living in a big city is not always easy. A multicultural context presents many complex challenges. Yet big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences. In the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine. Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be.

But big cities also conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second-class citizens. In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath “the rapid pace of change”, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no “right” to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly.

These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.

Mural overlooking Penn Station

Sign at Pizza Parlor

Banner on deli

Pope marshmallows

Selling vatican flags

Vendor with football pope t-shirts

Pope Ticket
Ticket to the green zone

Posted instructions for ticket holders

Warning sign on the fence

Reminder about banned items

Notice about Secret Service dogs

First arrivals at the barriers

TSA checkpoint tents

Waiting for security inspection

Standing against the barricades

Officer reminding the crowd to be patient

A tiny spectator

Visitors displaying flags and banners

A tiny strip of rainbow appeared directly overhead

The rainbow grew into an upside-down arc bisected by a strip of cloud

He arrived, waved, and drove on

New York City: Pope Francis Visits New York City
Archdiocese of Washington: Walk With FrancisPope Francis Visit
NBC 4: Officials: Upcoming Papal Visit to NYC ‘Largest Security Challenge Ever’ for NYPD
NY Times: Pope Francis, ‘People’s Pope,’ Is Security Teams’ Headache
NY Times: Pope Francis in America
NY Times: After Lottery in New York to See Pope Francis, Some Winners Scalp Tickets Online
Catholic to the Max: Madison Square Garden Mass
National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Madison Square Garden
Our Lady Queen of Angels School

Selling the Bear Necessities

August 17, 2015

PinkyOtto, a women’s clothing store with several locations in New York City, is advertised as “a fun-filled, charming place for stylish girls.”

Their whimsical window displays include mannequins topped with teddy bear heads. These fashion figures are in the Flatiron District store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street.



Teddy Bears

A Neighborhood Tragedy

August 11, 2015

I was surprised to see the pastry shop closed, and at first I thought that some kind of itinerant florist was selling bouquets in front of their lowered metal gate.

Then I noticed a sign taped to the gate and crossed the street to read it. That was how I learned that Muyassar Moustapha, the man who ran the shop with his brothers, had been killed by a speeding motorist.

Oriental Pastry, along with the family that operates it, has been a Brooklyn fixture for decades. Walking through its doors is akin to taking a trip into the past or a foreign land, with heaps of spices and dried fruits spilling from bins and barrels, a small glass case filled with fragrant, freshly baked sweet and savory pastries, a revolving selection of purring resident cats, and friendly, caring proprietors.

As I gazed at the bouquets arrayed on the sidewalk, two neighborhood boys, both about 10 years old, came over to talk. They asked whether I’d known the man who died. Yes, I had.

Tremulously, one boy worried aloud about what would happen to the cats that lived in the store. They’ll be OK, I told the boys. They’ll still have good lives. But they’ll remember Mr. Moustapha, and they’ll miss him— just as we all will.

Flowers in front of the shop.

The sign.

Gothamist: Owner Of Oriental Pastry In Cobble Hill Reportedly Killed By Driver
Gothamist: Cobble Hill Mourns
Patch: Brooklyn Pedestrian Struck, Killed by Mercedes-Benz
NY Daily News: Man, 66, Mowed Down
Yelp: Oriental Pastry & Grocery

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Pop-Up Pool and Beach

July 7, 2015

Wedged behind a construction fence, in a weedy corner of Brooklyn Bridge Park between Pier One and Pier Two, is one of the city’s secret delights: a pop-up pool and beach.

If you aren’t familiar with the term “pop-up,” it is used to indicate that something (a shop, restaurant, etc.) is open for an intentionally temporary period. The pop-up pool and beach were built here with the understanding that they would be demolished after five years.

These summer attractions stand beside a luxury hotel and condominium project, known as Pierhouse, which is currently under construction. As Pierhouse nears completion, the land on which the pool and beach now stand will be integrated into the surrounding park. Until that happens, they offer a perfect respite from the heat and humidity of a New York summer.

The primary feature of the tiny resort is a fenced-in blue pool that measures 30 by 50 feet and is only three to three and a half feet deep. This is a wading pool, not a swimming pool, and it is the perfect depth for young children. No electronics, food, glass, or printed materials are allowed beyond the fence (hence, I could not take any photos from inside the pool). There are also changing rooms, communal showers and toilet areas.

On the other side of pool’s fence is a sparklingly clean sandy beach complete with lounge chairs, shady umbrellas, an assortment of sand toys, balls and plastic spades and a snack bar that serves up lemonade, beer, chips and sandwiches. Aside from the food and drink, everything at the pool and beach are free.

The rules here are strictly enforced and those who want to enter the pool area are inspected by lifeguards to ensure that they comply with the clothing and health requirements. If you want to go, the pool is open daily, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m, from June 26 until September 7.

Wristbands are required for entry to the pool, and they are distributed hourly on a first-come, first-served basis. Since the pool’s capacity is only 60, it is wise to arrive early before the allotted number of wristbands are taken.

Each wristband entitles the wearer to a 45-minute session in the pool. After each bathing period, the pool is closed and cleaned for the next wave of waders, splashers and sun-worshippers.

The pool is almost impossible to see from the park

The entryway is in the weeds

The beach is small but lively

The view of lower Manhattan is spectacular

Everything is provided for visitors

The pool has rules

A glimpse through the fence

Another view of the pool

Brooklyn Bridge Park: Pop-Up Pool Rules
Lizzmonade Concession Stand at the Pop-Up PoolBrooklyn Bridge Park: Pop-Up Pool
NYC Parks: Brooklyn Bridge Park Pop-Up Pool
Brooklyn Bridge Park Project Development
DNA Info: Visitors Pop In to Brooklyn’s New Pop-Up Pool
The Brooklyn Paper: Parks and declarations: Judge gives Pier 1 condos and hotel the all-clear
Curbed: Judge Rules, Again, That Pierhouse Can Rise to Its Full Height
Curbed: Brooklyn Bridge-Blocking Pierhouse Is Allowed to Keep Rising
Curbed: First Look Inside Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pierhouse Condo


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