Grieving Mother Fights for 9/11 Tree Memorial

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Last week, the first of 400 trees recovered from the shadows of ground zero arrived at the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum after being carefully tended in a New Jersey nursery.

But one lone tree has been overlooked in a New York City park, without even a marker to note that it survived the national tragedy.

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The red maple tree was saved from 333 Rector Place and later dedicated to the memory of a 26-year-old investment banker who, with his Wall Street colleagues, had witnessed the planes fly into the twin towers and was killed in an overseas car accident a few months later.

Jeremy Palley didn't die in 9/11, but the fate of this once frail tree whose identity is lost in the city's Carl Schurz Park, has compounded one mother's overwhelming grief from losing her son.

For seven years, Iris Palley has not been allowed to place a marker to recognize the tree, now strong and beautiful, as a relic from 9/11.

As Sept. 11 rolls around once again, and many Americans are crying out about the insensitivity of building a mosque so close to where 2,600 died, who has a monopoly on grief? Is one mother's loss greater than another's, no matter what the circumstances?

"It's not about Jeremy," insisted Palley, 62, and vice president of Sotheby's International Realty. "It's about the special history of that tree."

The tree was planted on a slope near a playground where her son played at the Upper East Side park.

"It soothes me when I go there, and it's not just about my grieving. It's anyone who has lost somebody and is grieving," said Palley. "I just think it's disrespectful and it makes me feel diminished. A tree is a living, breathing thing, and this tree is a real survivor."

Some park officials worried that they were being portrayed as"hard-hearted" and questioned the origin of the tree.

"We are always respectful and careful with things like this," said Judy Howard, head of the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy, the nonprofit group that maintains the public park.

"The tree has been placed in a wonderful area, and we've always understood that it came from down there," she said. "Although I am not sure what it means to be a 9/11 tree."

What Is a Ground Zero Tree?

"It's not a matter of allowing people," said Howard. "We don't have plaques on any of our trees that are donated in memory of someone."

Howard said the board hoped one day to develop an online registry to acknowledge those gifts, but for the most part, others who donated trees in memory of loved ones were satisfied.

Jeremy worked in DoubleClick's corporate development group from 1991-2001. He was getting his MBA at the international Insead business school in France and died when the car he was driving crashed into a tree one early morning, just before his graduation May 18, 2002.

"He died instantly," said Palley. "He was an incredible child and a really lovely human being. He was really too good to be true."

But her grief has been long and prolonged. "I was in such horrible pain aching for him," said Palley.

She even hired a private detective to find out the circumstances of the accident, but it still remains a mystery.

Jeremy, a 1999 graduate of University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, was a young superstar at the downtown internet firm DoubleClick.

The company's chief counsel , Elizabeth Wang, befriended her younger colleague, whom she said she always relied on for "good advice." They worked together on investment deals.

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