Medium: Oil on wood panel
Size: 85" x 48"
~Back in September of 2002, on the one year anniversary of 911, my wife Teresa and I knew the bar would be very busy that day. McSorley’s has always been a place of comfort to firefighters after memorial services for their fallen brothers. But we knew this day would be different. And it was. From the moment we opened at 11am, firemen the world over and from almost every state in the nation started to enter the ancient swinging doors on East 7th street. And it didn’t let up until sunset. At 3pm, Richie Schmidt with Rescue 4 in Queens asked me if he could give a speech. “Of course, Richie” I said. ‘Can I stand on the bar?’ he asked. I wasn’t sure Richie’s 6’6” frame could fit between the top of the bar and the ceiling. Or if the old bar could hold his weight. I said, “Richie, how about you stand over here” and pointed to the middle of the bar where a solid and thick piece of wood props it up. At 3:43 PM, Richie gave the most poignant and beloved speech in our bar’s 165 year history. Immediately afterward and on Richie’s command, the bag pipes and drums came marching in. It was as full of a house as a house could be filled without a single dry eye in the place. Never in my life have I witnessed such love and gratitude for humanity. As Richie loudly proclaimed that day, “This is what the brotherhood is all about.”
As an artist, that’s something I’ve always strived to capture in my art. Later that day, I noticed a fireman, lost in thought, and leaning heavily against the wrought-iron-bar fencing that wrapped around the tree out front. As if that was all this fireman had to hold himself up with. How could anyone stand tall after such loss, I thought. A few months later, I did a sketch to commemorate that day and that solemn moment and knew instinctively that one day—because then was still too soon—I would return to this theme to work on a major painting that honors every single person killed that day. A painting that beautifully reminds us to never forget. And to cherish our first responders, men and women who exude courage, strength and resolve on a daily basis. God bless and thank you..
—Gregory de la Haba