The Scene at Ground Zero

Since news of Osama Bin Laden’s death was made public late last night, the streets surrounding Ground Zero were flooded with revelers.

“It’s awesome,” said 22-year-old Laura Cunningham, holding a Budweiser can while perched atop the shoulders of her 6-foot friend, Greg. “There’s no center to anything.”

“It’s weird to celebrate someone’s death,” she said. “It’s not exactly what we’re here to celebrate, but it’s wonderful that people are happy.”

It was just after 2 a.m. and young, drunken revelers were belting out chants of “U-S-A” and the pledge of allegiance. Large American flags were waved. Cunningham said this boisterous celebration was the “closest thing to being insanely happy and united.”

Standing outside the mosh pit, on Church Street, facing a bank of television cameras, were 21-year-old Peter Paulson and 20-year-old Andrew Gottstein, both in immaculate white Navy uniforms.

“It is part of history,” Gottstein said. “We had to do it; be part of it. “

The pair traveled from the Merchant Marine Academy in the Bronx, for the occasion.

When the planes, under bin Laden’s orders, flew into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, Paulson and Gottstein were in sixth and fifth grade, respectively.

“I felt terrible,” Gottstein said, “because I couldn’t do anything about it. And now it’s just amazing. I’ve never been prouder to wear the uniform.”

The ground was littered with empty beer bottles, crushed Four Loco cans and torn open cases of Budweiser. At one point, a man sitting on top of a pay phone got the crowd to cheer “USA aint nothing to fuck with,” modifying a popular Wu-Tang Clan song from the late early 1990s. Later, on top of that same pay phone, were two men in red kilts. Blowing into bag pipes, they belted out the song Amazing Grace.

That quieted the still-rowdy crowd. Many people took out their cell phone cameras to capture the song. Among them was a young blond woman in a black tank top with the words “War is Over” written on it.

“I just kind of feel that death shouldn’t be celebrated and neither should war,” said Dayna Bauman, a 20-year-old Pace University student, from New Jersey. 

Her dad, who works in media, was in Lower Manhattan on September 11th, 2001. Picking her up from school that day, her mother told her “Your father is in New York and they’re blowing it up; we got to go get him!”

Bauman’s brother, 23, is a member of the Air Force unit tasked with rescuing wounded soldiers from the battle field. He just finished a tour of Bagram, Afghanistan.

“I hope that when people come here to try and find closure,” said Dayna, “they find some forgiveness too. And stop blowing each other up soon.”

Down the block, at the corner of Park Row and Ann Street, 36-year-old Hasib Pertraw of Afghanistan (“Oh, call me John,”) was setting up his coffee cart.

He called today “A dream come true.” Flashing a toothy smile as he unloaded donoughts and bagels, he said, “Oh the mood? Relaxed now everybody. They got what they went out for. It’s a great victory. They got what they wanted.”

The Scene at Ground Zero