As I write this post, the television is on in the next room, and a special report is playing about September 11, 2001. I don’t need to see it again, it’s bad enough to hear it again. I saw it with my own eyes, and watching such an event on tv is nothing like seeing it in person. That day and the days after are burned into my mind, and I can see and feel it like it was yesterday, let alone ten years ago.
I lived in Jersey City, NJ, working for a firm which had offices on Broad Street, just a few doors from the New York Stock Exchange; up the street from Goldman Sachs and right around the corner from the World Trade Center. I had lived in Manhattan for a dozen years, and our little community in Jersey City, right on the Hudson,with a marina and nautical feel, was an ideal break from the City and afforded me and my beloved dog Napoleon some space and peace. Until that day.
On September 10, 2001, I went to my office on Broad Street, taking the PATH train a block from my apartment two stops to the sub-basement of the WTC. I stepped off the PATH at 9:01 am and made my way up through the Concourse to the street level, and to the tree-lined plaza opposite, where there was a Brooks Brothers and other stores, food vendors with carts, and where the business people gathered for lunch, chess or to enjoy the sunshine on nice days. Then I got one of those cosmic messages that one can not ignore, a very strong feeling, and it was clear and fully formed: This is the last time I will see this place. Taking in the casual atmosphere of the plaza, I had an initial thought that I was going to die that day. Seriously. I went to the office, carefully picked through my day, and on the way home stopped at the Strawberry store in the Concourse of the WTC and bought the jaunty red mohair hat I had admired in the window for several weeks. If this was the last time. Why not. I still have that hat.
I decide to work from home the next day, and took Napoleon for our usual morning walk along the boardwalk and the long pier in front of our building just before 9am. Something changed my mind, too many dogs or something. Good thing, or I would have seen it happen. We did not walk the length of the pier, but went home, and shortly after, heard the most tremendous, thundering sound (the second impact; the first one was while we were in the elevator). Napoleon went nuts with the intensity of the reverberating sound. Clearly, something had happened. There was an apartment building being built down the street; had it collapsed? Napoleon and I went outside, to see that the many dozens of construction workers had abandoned their work and were walking in the street en masse towards their cars; the construction project was intact. Then I looked up and saw this~
My scans of the ten year old photos did not work out for this post, so maybe for the 20th. These are my digital photographs of the original photographs, so sorry for the quality, but you will get the idea. We had this cute faux lighthouse along the River, here juxtaposed with a burning tower. Life interrupted.
There were hundreds of us gathering along the Hudson, watching. Some with radios, shouting updates, “a plane has hit the Pentagon!” “two bombs have gone off at the Supreme Court!” “A plane is missing in Pennsylvania and may be heading for the White House!” We had no idea what had happened or what was going on. There was chaos; phone lines were overloaded and so I could not reach my family by phone or cell to tell them I was not in lower Manhattan as usual, and around noon I managed to get someone in our HR department in D.C. to call my parents. Helicopters were landing along the River (below); most of us stood in silence, watching.
The North tower; oh the smoke~
I could see, with my naked eye, the flames, people trapped in their offices, hanging out the windows, waving makeshift flags, jumping and falling. Bodies tumbling and turning in a free-fall on the way down, sometimes in pairs, holding on to each other; these are the most horrific images in my mind; it is a long way down and they seemed to take forever to travel the height of the Towers. Horrific. At first we wondered if they couldn’t get to the roof, but the heat would have been intense, and the smoke was so thick~
The smoke, oh my goodness. You have never smelled anything like it….a combination of burnt flesh and burnt plastic for several weeks. We were advised to close our windows to keep the smoke out, while the Ferry boats came back to NJ filled to capacity. Neighbors in our building never came home that day. It was crazy. Life shut down. We stood around watching and then suddenly, the South Tower fell. Could not believe it! Never! We never thought the Tower would fall! Impossible!
We expected that the fire would burn up and out, and hoped that those in the Towers were able to make it down the multiple elevators and stairs in the building. I thought about the times I went to Windows on The World on the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower for dinner or business events. You can’t imagine the view from the 107th floor. I can’t imagine having to walk down from that floor.
But the North Tower was still standing….until it too fell. Another incredulous moment. To this day, I still don’t believe it is possible. Have you seen the online film Loose Change? Yes, it was exactly like that, it was like a controlled demolition.
Could the Towers have fallen that fast on their own? I am skeptical. But the fact that it happened, and that it happened so fast was not be be believed for those of us who lived there, and looked at the Towers many times a day for years and years. They were a symbol of New York City, a symbol of commerce and success and permanence. In the fiercest storms, they stood, solidly at the southern tip of Manhattan. Making your way to the top with the series of elevator banks, being on an upper floor and feeling the building sway a little in strong wind was an experience. And suddenly, they were gone~
And in their place, there was even more smoke, coming across the River.
I think I stayed home for three or four days, mostly on the computer. Lower Manhattan was closed so we could not go to work. I could hear the F-16s making loops in the sky. Our neighborhood was advised not to go out and to stay away from the smoke. When I was finally able to cross the River, I couldn’t believe the sight. Here is the Winter Garden, and you see the steel girders sticking out of the side of the building on the left, like toothpicks. I took this pic from the Ferry; I crossed the River by Ferry for months looking at these steel girders before they were finally removed.
Within a few days, I was able to go right up to the site of the Towers; which had been reduced to a smoldering pile of very compact rubble a few stories high. I don’t know why I didn’t have a camera that day; a few days later I think the site was blocked off because I tried to get back and was not allowed. But I still see it all clearly in my mind. I see that last wall that was standing, with the signature curves of the World Trade Center. You would have thought the debris would have gone all over, but in fact it was all very neatly piled up, again, looking like a demolition more than a collapse. I walked the streets of lower Manhattan on the way to my office, and everything was still coated in layers of fine white dust. It was like a nuclear winter; stores I had been in a few days earlier had big picture windows with everything inside covered in dust. Meanwhile, the rubble continued to smolder; this is from the little Ferry that went across down by Paulus Hook~
The Missing Person flyers were posted everywhere. And I mean everywhere; with photos and stories and pleas to find loved ones. More sadness every time you saw one. It was hard to take it all in; we walked around a little bit in a daze, in amazement of how things had changed in the course of a morning. There were memorials all along the River on the New Jersey side~
This event, this disruption, this uncertainty, left us all feeling very down. I have dealt with post-traumatic stress, like a depression, from these events. I remember standing on Broad Street in front of the building about 10 days later, talking in hushed tones with my colleagues. Suddenly someone yelled at us, and a charred computer keyboard came from the sky (or the top of another building) and landed with tremendous force two feet from me. There were constant reminders that our lives had changed.
The smoke was eventually gone, but oh my how the skyline had changed.
At night was when you really looked for the Towers. In their place, we had the two blue beams. They were very pretty, but again they were reminders, and it just made us feel sad to look at them~
Here from the Ferry, crossing the River at night.
I was offered a transfer to California a few years later, which I jumped on as I was ready to move on and ready to get away from the constant memories and reminders of 9/11.
Sorry, I’m stopping there. There is more that could be said, but even ten years out, seeing these images again is enough; well, maybe it’s too much, for me.
I hope you will each pass the ten year anniversary of 9/11 in your own personal way.
Post Script: If you don’t already follow, please be sure to visit Pamela at The House of Edward blog. Did she write THIS POST today just for me, I would swear she did. As the French say, au fil des ans…over the string of years, how many happy memories do I have? Tons. How many sad? Few or at least fewer. I make a point to fill my life with joy, with people I treasure, with positive energy, and there are oh so many wonderful memories. Why should I let this single event of 9/11/01 impact me so? The magnitude, yes. There is a reason I left NYC, and there is a reason I have not looked at these photos above in five years. I choose to focus on the positive and the good. Except that on that day, the bad was not avoidable. Thank you, Pamela, for correcting my focus, and bringing me back to the joy and goodness that life has to offer~let’s make some more happy memories, and move on, shall we?