Only days after 11 September attacks, the ribbons came out. Patterned after numerous other campaigns using looped ribbons of assorted colors, people began pinning them to their shirts or jackets as a form of solidarity. They were known sometimes as "9-11" or "loyalty" ribbons.
Commemorations with some type of pin or other accessory are nothing new. Black armbands have been a symbol of mourning for decades. In the United Kingdom on Remembrance Day (called Veterans' Day in the USA), people still pin on red poppies to remember fallen veterans. The practice recalls Remembrance Day's World War I roots and John McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Field the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row..." The stanzas recall the fields where these flowers grew and where soldiers fell and were buried.
The yellow ribbon -- often placed on a tree or a house -- has gone up in the US during the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis, Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and nowadays in "Operation Enduring Freedom." This symbol comes from the 1972 song "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Around the Ole Oak Tree," a prisoner's request that his love put the title item around a tree as a sign for him to see as he is released. The song further was derived from a folktale told in penitentaries about an inmate who asked a town to tie a white ribbon around an apple tree as their sign if they wanted him to return home.
The first 9-11 ribbon may have appeared as early as 12 September. After hearing Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles Diocese ask people to light a candle in memory of the dead on the 11th, a graphic artist, Robert M. "Bob" West, created a commemorative graphic and posted it on the Net. It was an animated GIF with a white candle tied with a red, white and blue ribbon, and the date of the tragedy.
West's graphic was reproduced by Mobile, Alabama television station for 12,000 window stickers. He also reported visitors from 50 nations at his site.
On 14 September, West wrote: "The original Candle & Ribbon ... was sent to a list of 84 friends and family members. The letter was forwarded by those wonderful readers, and by their readers, and so on, in the great tradition and grassroots power of the Internet. Thousands have visited, images have been downloaded and placed on Web sites, and links to this site have been created."
The mutation into a wearable looped ribbon occurred in a few days. At the time, looped ribbons had been prominently used for various causes for more than a decade. One of the best known was the bright red ribbon, for AIDS awareness. Singer-songwriter Paul Jabara had started this symbolism via the Red Ribbon Campaign in 1991 (he eventually died of AIDS himself). Celebrities wore them on their lapels to awards shows, and they evolved from plain ribbon to pins, some so elaborate they had jewels.
Another common ribbon campaign used pink ones for breast cancer awareness. The Internet itself had the Blue Ribbon Campaign against content censorship.
With the practice of looped ribbons already prevalent, a 9-11 symbol was a logical step. The pins were quick and easy to make, and in their physical form either consisted of individual red, white and blue ribbons layered and looped, or a single red, white and blue ribbon folded. Some people further adorned them with patriotic pins, such as little American flags, the Statue of Liberty or bald eagles.
At the same time, people and groups like Bob West, Lycos, Inc. and the Cyberangels Internet safety organization, created their own ribbons. The designs varied, but most had the US flag colors in common. Images varied from layered ribbons to stars and stripes patterns. The date "09-11-2001" was popular.
Lycos, Inc. ribbon
One variant was a purple ribbon displayed by Directorytoday.com. The Webmaster stated: "Purple is the combination of the strength of red and the tranquility of blue. It means nobility of purpose, leadership, teaching and loyalty. The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have been killed or wounded in action against an enemy."
The cloth ribbons took a rapid leap to metal pins. These were available as "tack" pins with a single pointed post back for wearing on lapel or coat, and a pin back. Cloisonne (enameled metal) lapel pins were popular, with tri-color ribbons replicated. Some of these added 9-11 icons, such as the Twin Towers, Pentagon and, in one case "93" for the flight number of the jet that crashed in Pennsylvania. Others added American patriotic symbols such as eagles, as seen in the cloth varieties. Still others had pin backs and recreated the ribbon in Austrian crystals. Other symbols, such as angels, were added, as well as New York police and fire badge and patch replicas.
The 9-11 ribbons were the tip of a patriotic iceberg, as well. Chain department stores had to phone their warehouses to ship out flags, bunting and other items usually stocked for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Old Glory dominated racks of merchandise from October 2001 and beyond, either as flags of various sorts to clothing, bumper stickers and pins. People drove about with flags fluttering from the roofs of their cars or plastered on the bumpers or windows. Tiny flags were taken to rallies and memorial services.
If the flag were not replicated, then it would be stars and stripes designs on shirts, jackets, slacks, hats and women's accessories and jewelry. The flag-waving fashion persisted into 2002 as people continued to heal and get on with life, though began to taper as 9-11 passed into history.
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