Remembering the September 11 attacks.

A piece of the fallen World Trade Center.
A piece of the fallen World Trade Center.

It’s hard to believe 18 years has gone by. To me, the morning of September 11, 2001 doesn’t seem that long ago. Even though I observed the horror of 9/11 on television from the other side of the country, it’s one of those life changing memories that will never fade.

I realize the human world is full of tumult and antagonism, but I pray we all might finally learn to live in peace. Life is short enough as it is. Even though our many different ambitions and beliefs might come into conflict, why can’t we simply be kind to one another?

Over the past six years while blogging, I’ve experienced a few respectful moments in San Diego that remember the September 11 attacks. Each was deeply moving. If you want to revisit some of those images, here are the links:

9/11 Firefighter’s legacy: Two Sons and Stickball.

Freedom Bell at Balboa Park’s Veterans Museum. (The bell is cast from metal that includes steel from the World Trade Center towers.)

Photos of cool aviation event at Gillespie Field! (One special airplane on display during this event was painted to honor victims of 9/11.)

Heroes at San Diego 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.

9/11 Firefighter’s legacy: Two Sons and Stickball.

Tampa Chargers huddle up during the 2017 Labor Day Stickball Tournament in Little Italy. Photo by Margie Jones.
Tampa Chargers huddle up during the 2017 Labor Day Stickball Tournament in Little Italy. Photo by Margie Jones.

An important event in San Diego history took place over the Labor Day weekend. It involved a firefighter hero who saved lives during 9/11, his two sons, and the game of stickball.

The following inspirational article is contributed by Margie Jones of 4 Heroes 4 Life:

The 2017 Labor Day Stickball Tournament in Little Italy was one of the largest in its 19 year history with a field of 16 teams, four from New York and one from Tampa Bay, Florida. New York transplant Bob Ortiz and a group of players brought the Bronx-style tradition of street baseball to California in the early 1990s, later passing the torch to brothers Louie and Joey Centanni.

This year’s tournament held a special meaning for the San Diego and New York stickball communities, bringing the return of Skylar and Austin Mercado, sons of former Emperor’s Stickball League President Steve Mercado. Mercado and his family brought the team to San Diego from the Bronx in 2001 when the boys were 6 and 2 years old. The Mercado family made a lasting impression on many San Diegans, including SD City Firefighter and Stickball League Commissioner Willie Blas and Fire Marshal Mark George. After saying their goodbyes, Steve returned to NYC and went straight to work on 9/11, courageously saving lives. He was one of 12 of 13 from Engine 40 and Ladder 35 to lose their lives on that day, along with over 400 NYC first responders.

This weekend, Skylar and Austin Mercado brought the legacy of their Dad and Grandfather to Stickball in San Diego. Their team, the Tampa Chargers, was undefeated going into the Championship Game on Monday but could not best the local Sultans of Swat, who took home the trophy this year. We hope the Mercados experienced the outpouring of love and support for these two fine young men, their family, and the entire NYC community of heroes.

So that Steve and all heroes on that day will be NEVER FORGOTTEN, Mark and Willie as sponsored by 4 Heroes 4 Life and Veteran Adventures will be hosting a 9/11 NEVER FORGOTTEN Charity Golf Tournament and Community Extravaganza on September 11. Proceeds of the event will benefit the Steven Mercado Foundation, and funds for Engine 40 and Ladder 35, and the NYC Emergency Fund. This is the first of an annual event on 9/11 as an opportunity to bring community together in support of our fallen heroes and for our nation’s healing. Please join us. Register or donate here.

Commemorative bat honoring 9/11 firefighter Steve Mercado. Photo by Margie Jones.
Commemorative bat honoring 9/11 firefighter Steve Mercado. Photo by Margie Jones.
Tampa Chargers' Austin Mercado. Photo by Margie Jones.
Tampa Chargers’ Austin Mercado. Photo by Margie Jones.
Tampa Chargers' Skylar Mercado. Photo by Margie Jones.
Tampa Chargers’ Skylar Mercado. Photo by Margie Jones.
Power hitting. Photo by Margie Jones.
Swinging with heart on a San Diego street. Photo by Margie Jones.
2017 Championship Game final score. Photo by Margie Jones.
2017 Championship Game final score. Photo by Margie Jones.
Stickball family. Photo by Margie Jones.
Stickball brings many together. Photo by Margie Jones.

Museum exhibit brings Coney Island to San Diego!

Grinning face of Tillie, symbol of Coney Island, on the back of a tour bus heading toward the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.
Grinning face of Tillie, symbol of Coney Island, on the back of a tour bus heading toward the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.

An extraordinary exhibit recently opened at the San Diego Museum of Art. It’s called Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008. Last Saturday, I enjoyed a very special tour, courtesy of my docent friend Catherine!

The exhibit features a collection of more than a hundred objects that depict 150 years of Coney Island’s amusement parks, boardwalk, beach and people. It includes paintings, photographs, videos, carnival posters, sideshow banners, carved wooden carousel horses, and a wide range of colorful, unique artifacts.

From its early days as a peaceful beach getaway for wealthy New Yorkers, to the rise and fall of amusement parks, years of decay, political wrangling, then modern renewal, Coney Island has been interpreted by artists through the years in a variety of surprising ways. Some artists portray an innocent playland for common people. Others, something more complex, and less innocent.

Most of the exhibit’s artwork centers on Coney Island’s legendary amusement parks. Many images resemble exuberant scenes from a carnival or circus. They’re full of energy, laughter, humanity, wonder–but often base, superficial, disturbing, despairing. Many painting are dark, almost gaudy with a crowded press of people seeking pleasure. A symbol adopted by Coney Island–the unnatural, exaggerated grin of Tillie–seems to be a taunting reminder that the purchased thrills are artificial. The grin is strangely maniacal and mindless, one part Joker, one part Cheshire Cat.

Fantastic imagery abounds in the exhibit, which is sure to delight many kids. They’ll see huge cyclops heads, videos of romping midgets, a banner promising a sideshow freak with inhuman tentacles. The adults will see images of lust, insatiability, scattered litter, dripping blood.

I suppose we humans like to be both excited and terrified.

One Impressionist painting by the important American artist William Merritt Chase shows a landscape of sunlight and natural, unspoiled beauty; the egg tempera painted canvases of Reginald Marsh are dark, crammed with unabated appetite, bold kinetic energy and human expression; photographs by Arthur Fellig (Weegee) show people crowded onto the beach like fleshy, happy sardines.

Personally, as I took my amazing tour, I saw life’s wonderful jumble and a sample of our world’s endless variety. All the emotions, the complexity–but mostly I recognized the sunlit memories of ordinary good-natured neighbors heading to the beach and boardwalk, and some exciting, brief amusements, on a sunny weekend day.

This isn’t a typical art museum exhibit. It’s more like taking an instant journey to a place you already know. A Coney Island in your mind. And your vivid experiences in the San Diego Museum of Art will make the journey seem very real.

Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008, has come to San Diego from the Wadsworth Athenium Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. This special exhibition continues through October 13, 2015.

Here are just a few things that you’ll see…

Reginald Marsh, Wooden Horses, 1936, Tempera on board. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Reginald Marsh, Wooden Horses, 1936, Tempera on board. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Pip and Flip, Twins from Yucatan with World Circus Side Show, Coney Island, 1929, Photographic reproduction. Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia Collection.
Pip and Flip, Twins from Yucatan with World Circus Side Show, Coney Island, 1929, Photographic reproduction. Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia Collection.
Jeanie, Living Half Girl, 1940, Sideshow banner. Collection of Ken Harck.
Jeanie, Living Half Girl, 1940, Sideshow banner. Collection of Ken Harck.
Mort Künstler, Coney Island, 1953, Gouache on paper. Collection of the artist.
Mort Künstler, Coney Island, 1953, Gouache on paper. Collection of the artist.
Barnum & Bailey Circus Water Carnival poster, Coney Island.
Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, the Great Coney Island Water Carnival poster.  Thrilling and daring feats of every description!
Arnold Mesches, Anomie 1991: Winged Victory, 1991, Acrylic on canvas. San Diego Museum of Art.
Arnold Mesches, Anomie 1991: Winged Victory, 1991, Acrylic on canvas. San Diego Museum of Art.
Joseph Stella, Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras, 1913, Oil on canvas. Yale University Art Gallery.
Joseph Stella, Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras, 1913, Oil on canvas. Yale University Art Gallery.

The San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park is simply jammed with fantastic, provocative Coney Island art. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  So go see it!

Coney Island, Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008, at the San Diego Museum of Art.
Coney Island, Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008, at the San Diego Museum of Art.

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