Good morning, it’s been ten years…no need to say anything else. The words September Eleventh just reach my ears like a stone. It is strange, but many of the WTC survivors and the victim’s families refer to that day in using the words. September 11th. The numbers: 9/11 just seem to simple a way to describe such a sorrowful day…a jarring cold way to designate an important date. That September morning was beautiful…the sky was clear and blue, and there was that warm Indian Summer feeling in the early morning air. We lived in Newtown, CT…on Sugar Street, in a big white house that was built in 1900. The house used to be a nursery, called Key Rock Gardens, and the grounds were full of ornamental trees and perennial gardens. I was outside that morning, my husband had been gone for three hours…catching that 5:40am Metro North train out of Bethal, that took him down to Stamford. From there the train headed toward New York City, and after the hour and a half train ride, he would arrive at Grand Central Station. On to the subway, the 4/5, going downtown…to the Trinity Church/Wall Street station. Then he would walk up a couple blocks to Liberty Street, next to the World Trade Center Complex.It was a Tuesday, and the Amish Market would have been in full swing along the large concrete walkways at the World Trade Plaza. Before we moved to Connecticut, when we lived downtown in Hanover Square, I would take our kids to World Trade Plaza and we’d meet their father there for lunch. Tuesdays were special, we would grab something from one of the vendors at the market and take our lunch to a small area, just behind the towers…We would sit on park benches, surrounded by ponds with water gardens and raised beds that held beautiful flowers. Oh yes, that September morning was beautiful…I was watering the plants that were outside along the front of our house…when I heard the sound of a loud jet engine. I looked up and saw a huge jet flying real low over our house. I was familiar with that sound, growing up in Tampa our house was right in the path of the jets that would land at the International Airport, so the jets would fly directly over our house. You could hear the engines and see the big wheels, in the down position… It was strange so see this plane flying so low over our house on Sugar St., we did not have any airports nearby where a jet that big could land…and what made it even more odd, was that the wheels were still up in there compartments….and the compartment doors were closed shut. I shut the hose off and went into the house, I was concerned, I thought the plane was having problems and that was why it was flying so low. The kids were playing in the sunroom, Disney’s Fantasia was playing on the VCR when my husband called me from his office. He had forgotten his cell phone at home that day…but that was not why he had called. He told me to turn the TV on, a plane had flown into the North Tower, or Tower 1 of the World Trade Center…his corner office was just across the street and overlooked the towers. I was on the phone with him as I watched CNN’s Paula Zahn, filming her first show from the rooftop when the second plane hit the tower…it was strange, I saw the big fire-ball, but I had heard the speeding jet over the phone…loud, like a fighter jet flying low, buzzing a beach or a mountain…as it flew into the South Tower, also called Tower 2. He told me the people who worked for him were going to try to leave the office, but several of his brokers went to see if they could help…he wanted to make sure they came back to the office and that they were safe, before he left the building. That was the last time I spoke with him. My kids and I watched those buildings fall. Then we waited. I knew his office was so close to the falling Towers, there was a strong possibility that he was in extreme danger. We thought the worst. He walked in the door later that night after 7:30, covered in ash and dust, after running from the debris cloud as the second tower fell. His building was damaged when the towers fell, and three people from his office were killed.
He said the worst thing was watching groups of 20 to 25 people holding hands jumping from the burning building. He saw people fall and burst into pieces as they hit the cement or landed on the large light poles that were in the plaza. He found a heavyset woman lying in the street, when he grabbed her wrist, she had no pulse, he said she must have had a heart attack as she ran. These are just a few of the things he has told my father. It’s been ten years, and he still will not talk to me about the things he saw, but I am there when he has the nightmares. They don’t come as often now, but they still seem to break through his sleep during this time of year. One thing is strange since that day ten years ago… you would be amazed at just how many times he takes a look at the clock, and the time is 9:11. He says it is God’s way of reminding him of that September day. We cannot forget what we saw that day. We cannot “get over” what happened on that day ten years ago…and I will tell you, it is very upsetting to see articles and op/ed pieces in the press that tell us to leave 9/11 behind. No. We’ll never get over it.
There were two targets, Washington and New York. Washington saw a great military institution attacked, and quickly rebuilt. In Washington people ran barefoot from the White House and the Capitol. But New York saw a world end. New York saw the buildings come down. That was the thing. It’s not that the towers were hit—we could have taken that. It’s not the fire, we could have taken that too. They bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 and took out five floors, and the next day we were back in business. It’s that the buildings came down, in front of our eyes. They were there and proud and strong, they were massive, two pillars at the end of the island. And then they groaned to the ground and there was a cloud and when people could finally see they looked back and the buildings weren’t there breaking through the clouds anymore. The buildings were a cloud. The buildings were gone and that was too much to bear because they couldn’t be gone, they couldn’t have fallen. Because no one could knock down those buildings.
Those buildings, jetting out of the skyline. You could see them from almost any angle in Midtown and Lower Manhattan. They watched over us. They protected us.
When you ask New Yorkers now what they remember, they start with something big—the first news report, the phone call in which someone said, “Turn on the TV.” But then they go to the kind of small thing that when you first saw it you had no idea it would stay in your mind forever. The look on the face of a young Asian woman on Sixth Avenue in the 20s, as she looked upward. The votive candles on the street and the spontaneous shrines that popped up, the pictures of saints. The Xeroxed signs that covered every street pole downtown. A man or a woman in a family picture from a wedding or a birthday or bar mitzvah. “Have you seen Carla? Last seen Tuesday morning in Windows on the World.”
I remember seeing these posters and notes that were put up all over Manhattan…it was so hard to walk by these makeshift signs…those lost faces of families looking for their lost loved ones. Holding on to the last bit of hope, that they made it out alive and were somewhere in the city and just could not make it home.
The Pompeii-like ash that left a film on everything in town, all the way to the Bronx. The smell of burning plastic that lingered for weeks. A man who worked at Ground Zero told me: “It’s the computers.” They didn’t melt or decompose, and they wouldn’t stop burning.
But the human remains did decompose. My husband would smell death every day for weeks as he went back to work just a day after the towers fell. People would line the streets as the first responders would head into the pit. They held up signs, gave out bottles of water, and waited…
The old woman with her grandchild in a stroller. On the stroller she had written a sign in magic marker: “America You Are Not Alone, Mexico Is With You.” She was all by herself in the darkness, on the side of the West Side Highway, as we stood to cheer the workers who were barreling downtown in trucks to begin the dig-out, and to see if they could find someone still alive. […] Many heartbreaking things happened after 9/11 and maybe the worst is that there’s no heroic statue to them, no big marking of what they were and what they gave, at the new World Trade Center memorial. But New York will never get over what they did. They live in a lot of hearts. They tell us to get over it, they say to move on, and they mean it well: We can’t bring an air of tragedy into the future. But I will never get over it. To get over it is to get over the guy who stayed behind on a high floor with his friend who was in a wheelchair. To get over it is to get over the woman by herself with the sign in the darkness: “America You Are Not Alone.” To get over it is to get over the guys who ran into the fire and not away from the fire. You’ve got to be loyal to pain sometimes to be loyal to the glory that came out of it.
So many of those people who died in the towers have never been found, they just incinerated into dust that was blown over the city. Even in Newtown, Connecticut, for days after the buildings fell, ash and dust was falling from the sky. It was like being near a large wildfire, when you see those papery ash particles float down like bits of snow. As of January 2010, only 1,626 of the 2,752 victims had been identified. No. We cannot forget…
Eric O’Connell/courtesy of HBO
Nobody who remembers Sept. 11 wants to relive it. And that makes the profusion of 10th-anniversary specials blanketing television throughout the weekend daunting to contemplate, let alone watch. Seeing those images and hearing all those stories is a painful exercise at best, cathartic only in the sense that repression is worse. What happened that day was unimaginable, and, 10 years on, so is not going over it, again and again.
There are many archives and photo projects that I would like to mention. The September 11 Photo Project
The September 11 Photo Project began as a community response to the tragic events of last fall. The Project grew out of a desire to preserve the culture of the outdoor, makeshift shrines that sprang up in public squares and in front of firehouses throughout the city. Anyone wishing to participate was invited to give up to three photographs with accompanying text, which were hung in a donated gallery space. The Project’s philosophy is simple: To display without exception every set of photos and written statements that are submitted, and to welcome all those who wish to view them. The Project is unique in its approach—each participant, not the organizers, selects the pieces that are displayed, and all are included in the firm belief that no entry is better than any other.
The September 11 Photo Project put the images it received into a book, you can click on that link and see sample pages. It is now a permanent exhibit of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Collection of the New York Public Library. September 11, 2001, Documentary Project – (American Memory from the Library of Congress)
The September 11, 2001, Documentary Project captures the heartfelt reactions, eyewitness accounts, and diverse opinions of Americans and others in the months that followed the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93. Patriotism and unity mixed with sadness, anger, and insecurity are common themes expressed in this online presentation of almost 200 audio and video interviews, 45 graphic items, and 21 written narratives. The day after the attacks, the American Folklife Center called upon the nation’s folklorists and ethnographers to collect, record, and document America’s reaction. A sampling of the material collected through this effort was used to create the September 11, 2001, Documentary Project. This collection captures the voices of a diverse ethnic, socioeconomic, and political cross-section of America during trying times and serves as a historical and cultural resource for future generations.
National September 11 Memorial & Museum | World Trade Center Memorial Below are some links to items and artifacts that are part of the exhibit in the museum, stories, pictures and oral histories…Museum | National September 11 Museum
Like a chair that was donated to the museum, and the story that goes with it:
Lower Manhattan Resident Kathleen Gupta Kathleen and Udayan Gupta’s Battery Park City home overlooking the World Trade Center was severely damaged on 9/11. Listen to Kathleen Gupta speak about residential life in lower Manhattan before and after September 11 and why the Guptas decided to donate a chair from their apartment to the Museum’s collection. Listen >>
I want to end with this, Pieces of demolished World Trade Center aboard Mars Rovers | Human World | EarthSky
The planet Mars is now home to a piece of the demolished World Trade Center in New York City. A decade ago, engineers working with NASA turned a scrap of aluminum recovered from the site of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks into cable shields. The shields now protect rock abrasion tools on two Mars Rovers, named Spirit and Opportunity. These quiet tributes to the victims of 9/11 left Earth in 2003 and 2004.
The story of how aluminum from the demolished towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) wound up being incorporated into the Mars Rovers is an interesting one. The tale involves robotics engineer and Rover team member Stephen Gorevan. He was riding his bike in lower Manhattan when a plane hit the WTC on September 11, 2001. He told NASA:
Mostly, what comes back to me even today is the sound of the engines before the first plane struck the tower. Just before crashing into the tower, I could hear the engines being revved up as if those behind the controls wanted to ensure the maximum destruction. I stopped and stared for a few minutes and realized I felt totally helpless, and I left the scene and went to my office nearby, where my colleagues told me a second plane had struck. We watched the rest of the sad events of that day from the roof of our facility.
When the engineers went back to work,
…they were frustrated by not being able to assist with 9/11 volunteer efforts. So, Steve Kondos, who was, at the time, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineer working with the Honeybee team, came up with the idea of embedding some kind of “interplanetary memorial” on the Rovers:
To carry out the idea, an early hurdle was acquiring an appropriate piece of material from the World Trade Center site. Through Gorevan’s contacts, a parcel was delivered to Honeybee Robotics from the mayor’s office on December 1, 2001, with a twisted plate of aluminum inside and a note: “Here is debris from Tower 1 and Tower 2.” Tom Myrick, an engineer at Honeybee, saw the possibility of machining the aluminum into cable shields for the rock abrasion tools. He hand-delivered the material to the machine shop in Texas that was working on other components of the tools. When the shields were back in New York, he affixed an image of the American flag on each.
The Rovers have been on the surface of Mars since early in the last decade.
Spirit ended communications in March 2010. Opportunity is still going strong, and its rock abrasion tool is being used to explore a large crater that the rover reached in August of 2011. Gorevan noted:
It’s gratifying knowing that a piece of the World Trade Center is up there on Mars. That shield on Mars, to me, contrasts the destructive nature of the attackers with the ingenuity and hopeful attitude of Americans.
Sometime soon, both the Rovers will fall silent. But their aluminum tribute to 9/11′s victims will survive on the cold surface of the desert world Mars for millions of years to come.
Have a safe and reflective day, I will be spending it quietly with my husband and our children…remembering what happened that day and remembering the people who lost their lives in Washington DC, Lower Manhattan and a field in Pennsylvania, and thinking about those love ones they left behind…families that are still waiting for some part of them to come home.
“Leaving New York” It’s quiet now And what it brings Is everything Comes calling back A brilliant night I’m still awake I looked ahead I’m sure I saw you there You don’t need me To tell you now That nothing can compare You might have laughed if I told you You might have hidden A frown You might have succeeded in changing me I might have been turned around It’s easier to leave than to be left behind Leaving was never my proud Leaving New York, never easy I saw the light fading out Now life is sweet And what it brings I tried to take But loneliness It wears me out It lies in wait And I’ve lost Still in my eyes The shadow of necklace Across your thigh I might’ve lived my life in a dream, but I swear This is real Memory fuses and shatters like glass Mercurial future, forget the past It’s you, it’s what I feel. You might have laughed if I told you (it’s pulling me apart) You might have hidden a frown (change) You might have succeeded in changing me (it’s pulling me apart) I might have been turned around (change) It’s easier to leave than to be left behind (it’s pulling me apart) Leaving was never my proud (change) Leaving New York, never easy (it’s pulling me apart) I saw the light fading out You find it in your heart, it’s pulling me apart You find it in your heart, change… I told you, forever I love you, forever I told you, I love you I love you, forever I told you, forever You never, you never You told me forever You might have laughed if I told you You might have hidden the frown You might have succeeded in changing me I might have been turned around It’s easier to leave than to be left behind (it’s pulling me apart) Leaving was never my proud (change) Leaving New York never easy (it’s pulling me apart) I saw the life fading out (change) Leaving New York, never easy (it’s pulling me apart) I saw the light fading out (change) Leaving New York never easy (it’s pulling me apart) I saw the life fading out (change)