NEW YORK CITY -- There is a binder at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum that holds the names of the nearly 3,000 victims, listed chronologically by birthday.
Every morning before the memorial and museum open to the public, a volunteer copies the page for that day from the binder and goes to a refrigerator to remove one white rose for every victim who would have celebrated a birthday that day.
The stems are cut two inches below the leaves, the volunteer then walks out onto the plaza and places the rose on the first letter of the last name or a middle initial on the parapets surrounding the memorial pool. Two pictures are taken of the rose and name — one with the pool in the background, the other with the skyline. The Birthday Rose photos are emailed to family members.
George Mironis, a museum volunteer, asked for that morning responsibility on the days he works.
“I feel very, very honored doing that,” said Mironis, a North Bergen, N.J. resident who escaped from the 48th floor of his North Tower office 15 years ago. He began working at the museum in April 2012 as a way to heal as well as honor the friends and co-workers he lost in the terrorist attacks.
The idea to place the roses came from a volunteer who is no longer at the museum.
“It was a very good suggestion,” said Mironis, who often fields visitors’ questions about the flowers.
He looks in the binder to the days when he is not scheduled to work. If there are 10 or more birthdays, “I tell the director, I’m going to come.”
On a recent Sunday morning, he traveled from North Bergen to downtown Manhattan, placed the roses then returned home to New Jersey and went to church, he said.
The roses are donated by Mikey Collarone of FloraTech, a downtown florist. Mikey Flowers, as he is known to many, was in the area the day of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and said he ran to help but had no medical training. After that experience, he worked to become an emergency medical technician. On Sept. 11, 2001, he watched the first plane hit as he was driving to work. He pulled over, grabbed his medical bag and ran to help.
“I experienced all the people coming out of the buildings and jumping and all of that stuff,” he said. “When the South Tower had fallen I was trapped in Winter Garden [Atrium], but I made it out.”
He stayed for about two weeks to help with medical recovery then started to feel the mental and emotional effects, he said. At a nearby firehouse, he sought out a counselor who recommended he go back to Ground Zero and “try to reinvent yourself as something else other than what you were doing and see what you can do,” as Collarone remembers it.
He ended up maintaining the pop-up public memorials for the Port Authority. Eventually he started cooking for the workers, bringing ziti and roast beef into the pit, he said.
“I wanted to help, always to help,” said Collarone.
So when a volunteer suggested flowers be placed to note victims’ birthdays, the museum staff went to Mikey Flowers and asked how much it would cost to buy the roses from him. Collarone didn’t hesitate.
“It was an opportunity for me just to give again,” he said. “I was being very selfish, because it made me feel good. … I don’t know how anybody can even accept money for a service for something like that.”
Twice a week he goes to the flower market and picks the perfect roses. They need to have a big head but thin stem. When he finds them, he returns to the store where he or his staff “conditions” them, cutting them short so the heads open up and making sure they are hydrated. He then brings them to the museum, where they wait in a refrigerator until a volunteer comes for them each morning.
Recently, Collarone received an email of thanks from a victim’s wife who had asked museum staff about the birthday roses. This is his way, he said, to continue helping.
“When I drive by, I can see from the road, the white roses on the names,” said Collarone. “I’m still connected there.”