Oakland Ghost Ship fire’s victims memorialized
In a small mortuary in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, they remembered a young artist with a laugh that roared up from deep in her belly and dragged everyone else in the room into hysterics.
The funeral for Ara Christina Jo, 29, Saturday morning showed the wide scope of humanity shattered by the Oakland warehouse fire.
The 36 people who died in the Ghost Ship warehouse on Dec. 2 had converged from Berkeley and Claremont and Lakewood, from Ohio and Iowa and Massachusetts. And the backwash of grief followed their paths back home.
The funerals and memorials were just beginning this weekend. More than 150 people gathered to mourn Jo, who grew up in Thousand Oaks and Anaheim before moving to Oakland to be an artist a decade ago. Artists in jeans and boots or lime-green suits sat with Korean family and friends in funereal black.
“When she would laugh so loudly ... sometimes I didn’t know what I was laughing about,” recalled Jo’s church youth counselor, Rev. Ryan C. Lee.
“Even if you never met Ara, chances are you heard her,” recalled her friend Jeanette Lin. “To Ara’s parents, please know Ara brought so much joy to me and so many others. Thank you for bringing her into the world.”
Jo was an artist, a dancer, “a karaoke legend,” a try-anything person who would be late because she fell into a deep conversation with a long-lost friend she just happened to spot on the street. “Let serendipity be your calendar” is how one friend put her philosophy.
Jo worked at the Ink Stone, an art supply and printing shop in Berkeley, and curated a gallery called Sgraffito in Oakland. But she had myriad other projects.
The night of the fire, she had gone to the Ghost Ship to give “$5 bang cuts” at the party with her friend, Jennifer Kiyomi Tanouye, who was offering elaborate nail polish designs.
On Monday, Jo’s parents flew from South Korea, where they had returned to live, not knowing her fate.
At the memorial, her mother, Yoo Sook Jo, recalled how a bus ran over Ara’s ankle 10 years ago.
“I am thankful we had ten more years with Ara, because she could have died that day.”
Her cousin, Grace Kim, said Jo was the “purest person” she knew.
Jo was an artist, a dancer, “a karaoke legend,” a try-anything person who would be late because she fell into a deep conversation with a long-lost friend...
“She doesn’t have one ounce of jealousy in her body,” she said. “Ara never passed judgment on anyone or anything.”
On Friday night, several hundred gathered at the Oakland Museum of California to pay tribute to the dead.
Oakland artist Chris Treggiari helped design a memorial adorned with the names of the 36 victims. A replica ship — its three masts missing sails — sat atop electric candles on a wooden altar.
Framed messages and candles were placed on top of wooden stools around the memorial, with notes such as, “He inspired a hell of a lot of people….”
“We just wanted to create a sacred space,” said Treggiari, an adjunct professor at the California College of the Arts. “We just wanted to get people talking and thinking and sharing.”
Treggiari worked with Ghost Ship victim Alex Ghassan on a video installation called “Oakland, I want you to know...,” displayed over the summer at the local museum.
They worked side by side for more than four months, interviewing people for the documentary that covered issues like demographic change in the city of more than 400,000.
“He was an extremely hard worker, and he had a great, incredible eye and his compositions were really beautiful,” Treggiari said. “We spent a lot of time together, and we had a lot of laughs. It was a pleasure to spend however many months together.”
“I want to extend strength and courage to the artist community,” Fogarty said.
Just after 7 p.m., there was a moment of silence that was only interrupted by the sound of a drum and children’s voices. Hundreds of bubbles filled the air outside the museum while those in attendance held candles.
At the end of the two-minute reflection, someone let out a cheer: “God bless Oakland!”
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