Johnny B. Good’s Diner owner Mike Diemer flips through the drawings children drew at his diner in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The staff at the restaurant placed hundreds of drawings on the walls as a tribute to the first responders, the victims and their families, and the military personal who have stepped up in the years since. Diemer still has most of the drawings, which hold deep meaning for the native New Yorker who moved to Steamboat Springs 23 years ago.
Drawings at Steamboat restaurant leave lasting impression after 9/11
Watch Johnny B. Good’s Diner owner Mike Diemer talk about place mat drawings.
Steamboat Springs In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, most of America grieved with tears and silent tributes. But inside Johnny B. Good’s Diner, children used crayons and imagination to record the impact of those days and how the unthinkable events of that September morning had touched their lives, shaped their heroes and changed their worlds forever.
“Our drawings were a tribute to those who helped,” said Barbara Lezin, now 22. “The drawings show how we all stood together and comforted each other in that time.”
The drawings by Lezin, her twin sister, Alexis, and younger sister, Valerie, were the first of hundreds created by children visiting the ’50s-style diner on Lincoln Avenue.
The young children’s emotions poured out onto the back of place mats while they waited for their meals to arrive. They were proudly placed on the walls of the diner in the months following the attacks. The images reflect the mood of a nation reeling from the loss of thousands of victims.
Today, nearly ten years after the attacks, Barbara Lezin and her sisters are surprised that those drawings endured to become a lasting tribute to the victims and first responders.
“It started with little kids drawing messages to firefighters, and it just kind of snowballed,” Johnny B. Good’s owner Mike Diemer said this week as he flipped through the drawings he has saved.
“It was never structured, and it just kept going through the ski season. We had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of drawings by children from across the country.”
Diemer said children always have created art on the place mats, but in the days following Sept. 11, 2001, the theme of the drawings changed. The images the children created said more than words and conveyed an honest and lasting impression of America in the days following the attacks.
Many of the drawings show planes crashing into the World Trade Center, others depict the brave firefighters who responded, and most display a pride in our country that could not be knocked down.
The tributes touched Diemer, who is a native of upstate New York. He had family and friends in Manhattan the day thousands were killed in New York, on Flight 93 and at the Pentagon.
“I guess I did the drawing for those who lost loved ones and those who helped on that day,” Alexis Lezin said. “I thought the men and women who went into those buildings to help were amazing and cool. But it was a scary time. I wanted to understand why it happened; I wanted to understand it.”
Diemer has held on to most of the drawings, which he stores in boxes and pulls out on the anniversary of Sept. 11. Despite living in Steamboat Springs for the past 23 years, New York still holds a special place in Diemer’s life.
“Those attacks took New York out at the knees,” Diemer said. “We did everything we could to help. Luckily, we were blessed with the diner, and that gave us a venue to do things to help.”
The diner also gave Barbara, Alexis and Valerie Lezin and hundreds of other children a place to express their feelings and display them for all to see. Valerie Lezin, 19, still recalls that she drew a heart with an American flag in the middle.
“It’s funny that something as small and random as drawing a picture can grow into a tribute that was that big and meaningful,” she said.