The Much-Prompted Impromptu Memorial

Exactly how spontaneous was the spontaneous shrine erected last week on John F. Kennedy Jr.’s doorstep? Last Sunday afternoon, Chatterbox was walking through TriBeCa and decided to pass by the impromptu memorial that she had been hearing so much about on television. There wasn’t much to see: a gaggle of onlookers milled around the block and a few dozen floral bouquets rested on the stoop. Above them, four or five hand-lettered signs had been pasted to the side of the building. What was most unusual about the scene was the phalanx of reporters aiming microphones and cameras at the onlookers.


When Chatterbox arrived home, the news shows were still broadcasting from the scene. Reporters described the “outpouring” of emotion at the makeshift shrine, mentioning the address over and over again: 20 N. Moore St., 20 N. Moore St. The accompanying videotape used close-up shots and slow pans of the not-entirely cluttered stoop; the camera lingered over the flickering flames of memorial candles and the droplets of water clinging to the flower petals. What had appeared in person to be a loose gathering now looked like the altar of a Mexican church on All Saints’ Day. It also looked suspiciously like the memorials that had sprung up in Tel Aviv after Yitzhak Rabin’s death and in London after Princess Diana’s death.

By late last week, the scene at 20 N. Moore St. matched its televised accounts. Neighborhood delis ran out of flowers, and NYPD officers were telling onlookers to “say a prayer and move it along, please.” The hill of bouquets had become so mountainous that it had to be carted off to a local children’s hospital and the candles so many that they started a small fire.