We are New Yorkers with personal connection to the events of 9/11. Licensed by New York City, we are professional tour guides interested in sharing the stories and context of the events surrounding this day. Please note we are NOT the National 9/11 Memorial. In partnership with the 9/11 Memorial, we provide guided tours daily. These tours provide a richer experience to understanding the events of that day and the 9/11 Memorial.
This is the principal memorial commemorating the 9/11 attacks of 2001 and 1993 WTC bombing. It is located at the site of the former Twin Towers that were destroyed. The 9/11 Memorial features two enormous waterfalls and reflecting pools, each about an acre in size, set within the footprints of the original twin towers. Its design conveys a spirit of hope and renewal, and creates a contemplative space separate from the usual sights and sounds of a bustling metropolis.
"On 9/11, I was working as a news reporter for a financial magazine. I arrived at the office near Penn Station at 10:45 am, walked into the newsroom, when a co-worker shouted, "The World Trade Centers are gone!" I said, "That's impossible!" He exclaimed, "Look out the window!" I looked outside and could not believe what I was seeing - black smoke rising from where the Towers once stood. Minutes later, we were told to evacuate the building. When I walked onto the street, U.S. jet fighters were flying overhead. I was so relieved to see American war planes. If you were in Manhattan that day, you were filled with dread and uncertainty.
The 9/11 Memorial is called Reflecting Absence to symbolize the loss and absence that was caused by the destruction of the World Trade Center. There are nearly 3,000 names inscribed on the parapets surrounding the Memorial pools. Some of the names include people who I interviewed for news stories. When I visit the Memorial, I stop by their inscriptions and spend a few quiet moments reflecting on their lives."
"I am a life long New York City resident and worked in banks on Wall Street, after acquiring degrees from the Pace University Luben School of Business, NYU Law and Series 7. During a financial downturn, I managed parts of the World Trade Center Observation Deck starting in April 1996.
I was working at 222 Broadway, a few blocks from World Trade Center, on the 11th floor the morning of 9/11. St Paul's Chapel was the only thing between my view of the towers. I was in my office when the first plane harpooned the North Tower at 8:46am. While watching the flaming building from the trading floor, I attempted to contact the observation deck to make sure they left immediately. At 9:03 the second tower was struck with the resulting blast slamming the building, bending in the windows, followed by the concussions of the sound, and then the transfer of energy through the rock which shook the building. With no plan on what to do when planes hit towers, decisions were made and our floor was evacuated.
On the street level outside it was a stream of chaos: emergency vehicles, people standing in shock, crying, pointing. The smell of burning materials and debris flying in the air was coupled with not knowing what else may be coming to destroy us. People ran into stores to buy disposable cameras. Over the next 45 minutes, I observed people letting go from the top of the North Tower, the horror from the crowd and the sound of the victims impacting the surrounding structures was heard over the chaos and emergency vehicles. I felt sick. I went back into the building where plans for evacuation to the disaster recovery site in NJ were under way. I didn't see it happen, but that was when the South Tower collapsed. We heard people scream more planes were attacking.
After shaking from the intensity of the sound for what seemed too long of time, the ground bounced. The entire line of structures along Broadway vanished behind a 1,000 ft high wall of what people were screaming was "poison gas." I ran and was overcome by the warm swirling debris that covered and "pushed" us along. Breathing through the smoke was difficult, but it wasn't poison gas as some suspected in the chaos. Finally I was in the clear. The debris cloud turned whitish grey and was being slowed by the buildings and the cloud blew south-east with the wind.
The overwhelming realization the South Tower had failed took about five minutes for me to begin to accept. Trying to make sense of the now empty area did not come easy. The North Tower was still engulfed in smoke and flames. I did not believe the buildings would fall prior to that. Crowds of "refugees" all bumping shoulders were moving north away from buildings. Subways were being shut down. Responders were coming through the moving crowds to get to the now doomed sight. As I moved north, I did not see the North Tower fall at 10:28. It was not until I was walking over the Williamsburg Bridge with thousands of others, did we see the sight devoid of buildings. The sound and sight of F-16 fighter jets crossed the sky. Too little, too late. It was the most defeated I have ever felt.
I came back to visit the area a month later. Three levels below the street, my subway platform contained debris from the towers. I observed the workings of St Paul's Chapel across the street. The entire area was covered with debris, damaged, and toxic. I watched the slow take down each day. In January the area was opened to the public after the fires were extinguished.
I volunteered as a recovery worker various times at the "Taj" , to the North of the site where the Goldman Sachs building is on Vesey and West Streets. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, some bronchitis but also underwent 5 weeks of radiation treatments at Sloane Kettering Memorial for an under skin lymphom
I went to bed in my Hell's Kitchen apartment about 6am and didn't wake up until the phone rang at 11:30am. My wife at the time answered and, from the conversation, I could immediately tell that something terrible had happened, the extent of which I couldn't fathom until I turned on the TV and witnessed the nightmare that had happened just three miles to the south of me. The World Trade Center had been attacked and was now gone.
The feeling of disbelief still haunts me to this day. How could something as permanent as the Twin Towers collapse? It shook me to my very core. The area of Lower Manhattan was closed for four days as was the New York Stock Exchange. Goldman's offices were also closed. When subway service resumed on Saturday, I made my way downtown to see the destruction for myself. Upon exiting the subway the first thing that struck me was the smell. The cloying smell of burning rubble and steel but mixed with the very pungent smell of nearly 3,000 decaying bodies. A smell I will never forget.
Work resumed on Monday but nothing was ever the same again. The smell of death eventually faded but the fire burned under the rubble for 3 months and was a daily reminder of the horror that happened there. A metallic taste mixed with powered gypsum from the imploded drywall was on everyone's tongue.
Two weeks later, while coming home on the subway at midnight from my shift, we stopped at Chambers Street Station and I felt a cold chill come over me. I looked up as saw a National Guardsman step onto the train with a very large automatic rifle and strapped with ammunition. He stood in the doorway, looked left and right, and stepped back onto the platform. The doors closed and we continued on. The new normal had begun.
I'm very proud of our country and of NYC for the resilience we showed in the aftermath of these debilitating attacks on our freedom. When I see the new World Trade Center 1 filling the skyline I become emotional. The "Freedom Tower" stands not only for the greatness of America, but it is also a headstone for the lives lost there on that fateful day.
"I was a photojournalist in my neighborhood of Brooklyn when the planes struck. I had to get into Manhattan quickly and figured the best way was to ride in with the firemen from my area. But as off-duty firemen hopped on in addition to the normal crew, there wasn't enough room on the truck. I got in my car figuring I could follow the firetruck but this too was impossible. Finally, I got a ride over to Manhattan in an ambulance that was heading over from a local hospital, as thousands were crossing the opposite way into Brooklyn to escape the chaos.
At this point the buildings had collapsed, and I began photographing near the site. I was pushed away by police near 7 World Trade, a burning building next to the Twin Towers that later collapsed. My assignment brought me uptown to St. Vincent's hospital to cover the care of survivors. Hundreds were on the closed avenue waiting to donate blood for the injured, but noone came. It was eerily quiet, and looking south, there was only dust.
I spent the rest of the day in lower Manhattan going from firehouse to firehouse to hear word of the companies. Despondent firemen, redeployed from other firehouses to these Manhattan sites, repeated over and over, that they had no word from their colleagues. I learned the next day that at the firehouse where I attempted to get a ride in their truck, none had returned. They all perished. In all 343 NYC firefighters died in the attack on the World Trade Center."
I started working as a freelance photojournalist in 1981. I was hooked on pursuing that career after photographing in Poland during the first Solidarity uprising. Early on , I began to work frequently with Newsweek magazine, which eventually led to a contract as a Contributing Photographer, which I maintained for 10 years. In the course of my work I´ve travelled around the world for Newsweek as well as for other major publications and non profit organizations. Perhaps the most satisfying of my assignments was to cover the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. I covered everything from the U.S presidential elections to famine in Sudan.
Starting the the late 1980s, I started photographing and writing books for children and have published a dozen titles. In 2003 I made a feature length documentary called "Gotham Fish Tales", about the marvelous and mostly unheralded fishery of New York City. The story is told through a winning set of intrepid anglers of all stripes, mirroring the diversity and energy of what one would expect from New Yorkers. The film was well received by film festivals and ran for two years on the Sundance Channel.
I came to tour guiding in New York City from a lifelong interest in the history and ways of the city. The other piece of this is my background as a photojournalist and author, where my task and mission and pleasure is to tell stories. Whether in images, words or film, that is what I like to do best."
"I remember what a beautiful day it was waking up, and how bright blue the sky was. It was a cool out, not the normal hot summer that it had been for the past three months. I was typing a reflection paper due in class that day when my best friend's mom Instant Messaged me on AOL asking to me to look out my dorm room window to see if the World Trade Center was bombed. I remembered that happened in 1993, so was very surprised by her asking and went to our common room.
I went out to our common room, to see the North Tower on fire. There were two other classmates there both saying the report was a small prop-plane that went out of control. I ran back to my room to let my friend's mom know that we were both okay (also to tell my parents), and the North Tower was on fire. By the time I went back to our common-room that had a panoramic view of the New York Harbor, there were more students. Some in towels (it was 9am on a college campus), many in pajama pants just waking up trying to find out and make sense of what we were seeing.
Then we knew. A second plane flew right into the South Tower, cutting right into it. The explosion looked like something out of a live-action movie- only this was real. Standing there, we sadly knew it. I ran to my room, packed a small bag, and went to find my best friend in a different dormitory. I ran across a path and she was on her way to see me. From that hill we could still see the towers on fire. I saw boats coming down the Hudson river and parking themselves up against Manhattan. I would later find out how important these boats were.
From that hill my friend and I watched the towers come down, feeling the ground tremble."
On September 11th, I awoke to my phone ringing followed by a message from a friend in Ohio requesting me to call her back right away, as well as my parents, to tell them I was okay in light of what just happened. At the time, I was working as a Broadway performer in the revival of 'The Music Man', and 3 months pregnant with my daughter in an apartment in Uptown Manhattan. What just happened, I wondered? With coffee in hand, I turned on the TV as Two World Trade Center was hit. I watched the television in disbelief as the two towers collapsed. I walked outside to the Hudson River just after the attacks, and saw the smoke rising from the burning ground zero. All around my neighborhood I saw people walking to the nearby park, which led to the Henry Hudson Bridge, hoping to get out of Manhattan and into New Jersey by walking- fearing more attacks on Manhattan might be on the way.
There no Broadway shows that night. All Broadway shows were canceled for the few days thereafter. When the city returned to work on Thursday, free tickets were given out to families of first responders, to tourists who were stranded in New York, and anyone who needed a couple of hours of respite from the shock, worry, and desperation. "God Bless America" was sung after our final bows at the end of our shows for the next week. What we all went through is beyond words, hard to describe, and almost seems like another lifetime.
Mary Illes is a professional singer and actor who has appeared on Broadway, most recently in 'The Phantom of the Opera', has toured nationally, and has sung with orchestras around the world such as the New Haven Symphony and the Vienna Philharmonic.
"On September 11th, 2001 I was 12 years old and in my second week of 7th grade at a public middle school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I remember I was so excited for the day because I had band first period - my favorite class, all 4'11" of me played the tuba and we were going to learn how to oil the valves on our new instruments. As I mentioned (during the tour intro), it was also a beautiful day - I usually took the city bus to school, but that morning the weather was so nice I walked. After first period, we were brought down to the auditorium for an assembly about the dress code, and at the end of the assembly they announced "if your parents work in the World Trade Center, please stay here." A murmur swept through the auditorium and I turned to the person next to me and said, "Oh, I know! They must be planning a field trip," and then we went up to our next class. It's funny, in the museum, they have a copy of the NY Times from that day and on the front page there is an article about school dress codes - I found that really eerie when I saw it. Anyway, not more than 15 minutes of class had gone by when they announced over the PA system that we were to come down for another assembly, which seemed odd because you never have two assemblies in a row in school. That assembly is where they told us that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.
I don't think anyone, students or teachers, could process or comprehend this at that moment (I don't think anyone anywhere in the world could), so we went back to class where my teacher continued to teach - I don't think he knew what else to do with a room full of 35 twelve years old but he couldn't get through more than three sentences before they started calling names over the loudspeaker name after name of kids whose parents were there to pick them up. Now, two things about being a kid in New York City, by twelve you are probably going to and and from school by yourself, it's not typical that you would need to be picked up by your parents, and you may also not go to school terribly near where you live. I had friends in my class whose families were in Queens or the Bronx, and since I lived only a mile away I figured my parents would be among the first there.
As the hours crawled by and names kept being read (our school had close to 3,000 students), it felt like we were all waiting to be saved and I was wondering what was taking my parents so long- when was it going to be my turn? Suddenly, it hit me that my mom was on a plane. My brain immediately jumped to the worst case scenario. I am extremely lucky that it was not the worst case scenario, but she was on one of over 255 US bound flights diverted to Canada when US air space was closed that day. She, along with about 6,000 others, landed in a tiny town called Gander Newfoundland which has a population of around 7,000 and an airport that normally sees just a few flights per day. The airport was so over capacity that it took them 19 hours to get off the plane. I have to mention that the people there were wonderful - they put food out on the ice rink because it was the only place in town large enough to keep food cold for that number of people - and they made up beds everywhere they could, including on church pews. My mom had an generous gentleman offer her an air mattress her first night, which she refused because she did not want to seem privileged above anyone else, and after one night on a church pew she went and found him again and got the air mattress. She was stuck in Gander for one full week.
Back in New York City, it wasn't until around 3pm when my doorman asked my father where I was that he realized he was supposed to come and pick me up. To his credit, I’m sure he had a lot on his mind that day- and he knew where I was and that I was safe. We lived on 93rd street, over 8 miles from the World Trade Center, and that night we stood on our roof with our neighbors and watched the smoke coming up from the buildings."
"On the morning of September 11th 2001, I woke up just like any other day. I worked on the 15th floor of 10 Exchange Place in Jersey City, a skyscraper on the Hudson River right across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center. I remember how nice of a day it was- about 70 degrees with a nice breeze. Sometimes early September in New York can be sweltering, but that day was as pleasant as they come. I arrived at my office, the trading floor of National Discount Brokers Capital Markets around 8:30 and started my normal pre-opening bell duties. Around 8:45, all the TVs on the trading floor started reporting that a plane had struck the North Tower. This was surprising, but no one panicked. With all the tall buildings in NYC, collisions with planes do happen from time to time. Everyone assumed it to be an accident involving a small, single-engine plane. The floor-to-ceiling windows of our conference room had a direct view of the towers so we all ran to them to see for ourselves. Only a few minutes after getting to the windows, we watched, all of us struck silent, as the second plane screamed towards the South Tower. Not only could we tell that it wasn't trying to avoid the building, but that it was accelerating. The explosion when the plane flew into the tower was almost blinding, and we could feel the shockwave hit the windows and set them vibrating. We could hear the rumble from across the river and see as pieces of steel and glass flew out of the South Tower into the clear blue sky.
In a split-second, my entire office went from stunned silence to frantic action as the fire alarms sounded. My colleagues and I ran back to the main trading floor to make sure everyone knew what was happening and to find close friends or family members to be sure everyone began evacuating. Some of us helped older coworkers down the 15 flights of steps though we couldn't move that fast as the entire 30-story building's occupants came rushing into the emergency stairwells. It took almost 15 minutes to make it out to the street, and when we did we found all the streets surrounding our building jammed with people. Everyone just stared at the now-enormous smoke plumes pouring out of the tops of the Twin Towers. The breeze that was so enjoyable earlier that morning now picked up the thick, black smoke and carried it out over New York Harbor towards Brooklyn. It was a scene that was truly incomprehensible, the stuff of nightmares right in front of our faces. The definition of unbelievable.
After what seemed like hours but was in fact only a few minutes, Jersey City police officers began instructing us to start walking. Some people asked them, "Where should we go? Where is there to go that's safe?" The police, like the rest of us right at that moment, had no good answers. None of us blamed them for this. They merely stated that all transit had been shut down and that the concentration of people in the area was dangerous. Not only had all transit been shut down, but so had car traffic. Officers were telling people to turn off their cars in the streets, take their keys, and join those of us already walking. They would be contacted later about retrieving their vehicles. Another thing I saw that day that made me question my own sanity. It didn't take much to get us all moving away from our little cluster of skyscrapers, because if the World Trade Center could be hit like that, right in front of us, what else could go wrong today? What else might be coming that no one could anticipate? Most people began walking north towards Hoboken, as there were few choices. No one walked quickly. We all kept turning around to look at the Towers hoping that they would be back to normal, that the events of the last hour had been some kind of collective psychotic episode that had passed. Of course, that didn't happen.
By the time I reached Hoboken, about three miles from where my journey started, I was alone. My coworkers had peeled off gradually from our group to head where they maybe had family or friends nearby. I was heading to Union City, a further 4 miles up the Hudson, and no one else was going that way. It was from the riverfront in south Hoboken that I watched the South Tower collapse. I had taken a pause to get a drink of water and once again stare at the absurd scene in Lower Manhattan. It had never entered my mind that the buildings would come down. We had discussed it on our walk, and no one really thought that collapse was a possibility. We all agreed that they would probably burn for a while more and then be able to be repaired. So among the many shocks I received that day, one of the largest was when I watched the upper floors of the South Tower fall onto the lower floors and begin the cascading collapse that turned the building into so much dust and rubble. On video, it takes seconds, but in real life, it took an eternity. I felt as though I could see individual beams bending and giving way, that I could make out individual dust grains as they rained down from over a thousand feet in the sky. Of course I couldn’t. But the mind plays tricks when it is stretched to its limits.
It was in Hoboken that I managed to find the only working pay-phone I'd find all that day. I called my mother to let her know my aunt and I were ok (we both worked for the same firm), and that I was heading home. I couldn't get through to anyone else on the pay-phone, and others who tried to use it didn't have much better luck. Cell-phones were useless. I tried until my battery died to get through to my girlfriend (who is now my wife) but it was futile. She was in Lower Manhattan, south of the World Trade Center, and there was no way a signal was going to get through but I had to keep trying. People watching the tragedy unfold on TV on the other side of the world were better informed in some ways than those of us actually near it. After the phone call, staying in one place felt strange, so I continued on, trying to make it home.
I had made it to the hill that led from the banks of the Hudson up to the top of the Palisades, where Union City is located, when I turned around once more to look back at the unbelievable. Having watched the South Tower come down, I was fervently hoping that at least one of them would survive, that whoever had done this wouldn't take them both away, along with all of the people I was sure were trapped in the tower that was still standing. Unfortunately, that was the moment the tower gave way. In almost an exact repeat of the South Tower's collapse, the upper portion of the building fell briefly then impacted the lower, setting off the dreadful, but now strangely familiar cascade of steel and glass and stone. Again it happened in slow motion, and tears were streaming down my cheeks uncontrollably.
I had never felt such a profound sense of loss in my life, and my mind didn't know what to do about it. It wasn't normal crying, with the accompanying sobs and runny nose. They were tears of incredulity, of sorrow for friends I knew who were down there, for friends whose wives or brothers or sons and daughters were down there. I've always had a fierce love for New York City, and watching icons of the skyline that I had stared at and longed to be a part of my entire life, having grown up in New Jersey, was overwhelming. I took it personally. Those tears were of anger as well. I had no information but what I'd seen with my own eyes and the five minutes of TV I'd watched at the bar where I'd found that pay-phone. In a way, that made the anger worse. There was nowhere I could direct it, no one to lash out at, nothing to be done about it. Nothing to do but keep walking.
I walked another two miles alongside the river. On top of the Palisades in the town of Weehawken, is Hamilton Park. The park runs along the top of the cliff and normally gives spectacular views of the entire Manhattan skyline, but that day, no one was looking anywhere but at the huge plume of smoke and ash pouring out of the Financial District in Lower Manhattan. As I walked the final miles to my apartment, I passed through huge crowds of people who had gathered at the park. I saw a full range of emotions as I walked. Since I evacuated my building, I felt I had gone through a full range of emotions myself. There were people in tears hugging each other for comfort. There were people who had that blank, unbelieving look that I had become very familiar with earlier that day. And there were people who looked at my face and understood, and returned my stare with a knowing nod or handshake. By this point anger had fully taken over for many people. It seemed the progression for many people was similar to mine: disbelief, followed by sadness, then anger. But we all loved each other at least a little bit more than we did the day before.
The rest of that day was a blur of friends coming over to check on me, endless newscasts and speculation, casualty numbers going ever upwards, not a little bit of Jack Daniel's, and worst of all, the interminable wait for my girlfriend to get home, or at least to get some word. She had to walk from Battery Park up to W. 60th St., and make her way onto one of the last ferries leaving for New Jersey. It wasn't until about 7:30 or 8:00 that she finally made it home, and I could finally really breathe. Some parts of that day are fuzzy or blurry, but some others are unfortunately very clear. Mine is just one story among millions from that day."
"At the time of the 9/11 tragedy, I was working at NYU Downtown Hospital (now NY Presbyterian) as a supervisor of registration and intake for three departments- the Emergency Room, Admitting Department and Ambulatory Surgery Unit."
John is a native New Yorker, well versed with the history of the city and passionate about sharing that knowledge with others. John has worked in several fields and has worn many hats but his longest career has been 12 years spent in Healthcare and Healthcare Finance, most recently as a manager of patient accounts for NYU Langone Medical Center. His last years in that position were spent in an office located at Wall Street, during which time he witnessed, from the heart of the financial district, the reaction to the nation’s economic crisis and the phenomenon of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
A lifelong traveler, John took it to an extreme in 2012, left his job, gave up his apartment, put all his belongings in storage and, with his journalist girlfriend (whom he would marry after their return home), traveled the world for 15 months, visiting a total of 36 countries. That experiment in nomadism, and wonderful experiences had in all the foreign lands visited, inspired him to get involved in tourism and welcome visitors to his hometown. As a result, he started BQE Tours, a walking tour company specializing in Brooklyn and Queens.
John lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two cats; from their living room window they can see One World Trade Center rising in the distance.
I was working a block from Grand Central in Midtown for a finance firm on September 11, 2001. We had two employees downtown on the New York Stock Exchange. Our staff all had family and friends working downtown as well. When the planes hit, my first order of business as an HR employee was to make sure that everyone either downtown or not present at the office was accounted for and safe. It was tall order of business with the phone lines jammed.
As the aftermath of the attacks that just occurred unfolded, I remember James, an employee, who wanted to go downtown to find his brother. I had to look him in the eye to tell him that him going would add to the fears of his mother who already knew that one of her sons was in danger. I also remember our receptionist Sandy bursting into tears of relief when her son was able to finally reach her letting us know he was ok.
Two hours after the planes hit, the building's security manager announced over the intercom to evacuate due to bomb threats called into Grand Central Station just a block away. Upon evacuating, I was relieved to find my sister waiting for me at the bottom of the fire escape stairwell. My sister and I were unable to get home since the trains were not running. We walked to my boss's apartment and watched the news on television in disbelief.
In the evening, I was able to get a subway ride home to Brooklyn. As the train came out from underground to cross the Manhattan Bridge over the East River, the few of us passengers on board all stood and went to the windows to look at the now permanently changed skyline still fuming with smoke.
Two days later I returned to work in a city that had completely changed. Military soldiers with machine guns lined the street in Times Square as I walked to my office. We were evacuated again that day due to more bomb threats at Grand Central. Subways were shut down again. In 2000 I worked in the South Tower as a temp and I was supposed to fly out of Newark airport, where Flight 93 departed from, on September 12th and I can't help thinking how lucky I was and still am.
I was sleeping in on September 11, 2001, and was awakened at around 9:15am by the sound of fire engine sirens- lots of them. I looked out of the apartment window, out into the gorgeous Indian summer day, and saw a stream of firetrucks racing downtown. A big plume of thick smoke was visible in the sky as I looked south from 24th street. Judging by its size, I figured it must have been in a nearby neighborhood.
I left the apartment without listening to the news, figured I’d catch it in the car on my way to work. More fire engines pass as I headed down the highway towards the Financial District. Finally I turn on the news- and it was hard to make sense of what I was hearing about planes slamming into the Twin Towers, “The city was under attack?” I drove onward on confusion.
As I approached downtown, near the Brooklyn Bridge exit, I saw the World Trade Center towers. The sight was appalling- wreathed in flames and surrounded by hellish black smoke against the clear blue sky. I stopped. Sitting in my car barely half a mile from ground zero, I saw the South Tower fall. The opaque wall of dust spewed from the collapse and came nearer and nearer, block by block.
I was terrified that the North Tower might fall in my direction. As the smoke and dust cleared, I saw that it was still standing. Everything and everybody outside on the street was coated with dust and debris. I instinctively knew that the most useful thing to do was to pick up my wife and kids and make sure they were safe. I turned around, headed back uptown, and got off the highway near their school at 23rd Street just in time to see the North Tower collapse. Watching it all unfold over an hour and 45 minutes was horrendous--but I also knew how profoundly lucky I was to not have been there.
Weeks later I thought about the firetrucks on the highway--and understood most of those brave individuals hadn’t made it back home. It was a relief when the fires were finally extinguished after burning for weeks. The pall of smoke over downtown finally faded as well. I still think about the bright summer sunlight in the Plaza. Sometimes I dream about wandering through the mall that used to be under the WTC Towers. It’s been a while since I’ve scanned the horizon looking for their familiar shape and been startled that they’re not there though—and that’s also a relief. I look forward to having all the new buildings look as familiar.
I am a native New Yorker, born and raised in Brooklyn, and have spent my adult life in NYC. As a young girl I rode the subways with my father on weekends for a day in "the city". One afternoon, when I was about 8 years old, I looked out the subway window with my hands pressed up and my nose almost touching the glass, staring in wonder at the skyline of Manhattan. That skyline has always caused my heart to skip a beat. But on this particular day, which I remember as if it were yesterday, I noticed two buildings that were partially constructed and looked pretty big to me, even amongst all the other buildings. I asked, "Daddy!!! What's that?!" to which he replied with perceptible pride, "Honey, those are the twin towers of the World Trade Center. They are going to be the biggest buildings in the world." My dad was a World War ll veteran and expressed his pride in being an American in many ways. I can still hear his reverent tone that told me right away this was something very important. Each weekend we had a game of looking to see how tall those buildings had gotten, which was taller, and which would be finished first.
Years later, two days before the attacks, I was in Greenwich Village with my brother, another dyed in the wool New Yorker having a cappuccino at a cafe as we lazily discussed our options for the day, “Let's do New York like we are visiting for the first time! Statue of Liberty? Empire State Building?” Then he disclosed that he'd never been to the top of the Twin Towers. “What?!” I all but insisted that's what we would do, but then he begged off, "Let's just relax and enjoy the afternoon."" I will never ever forget what I said to him next. "You're right. Let's just take it easy. Those towers are always gonna be there."
On September 11, I awoke to a delightful break from the sweltering heat and humidity we had endured all summer long. I was singing at a nursing home, a distance away from the Financial District, and had begun engaging with the residents in the dementia unit when a nurse ran in saying, "A small plane just hit the twin towers!" We ran to the TV and watched in horror, along with 2 billion other people, as the second plane hit. This was no accident. All I could think was "Wow, it's going to take a long time to repair this damage." My heart broke in a thousand different ways as I watched what happened over the next hour or so. The Activities Director said I could go home if I wanted to and that the residents on the Dementia Unit would not really know the difference. Those words struck a nerve in me. I wanted to stay. I wanted to have a few more hours in a room full of people who did not know the world just changed.
Recently a lady asked me if I get upset to see people taking pictures at the Memorial. Nope. I just know that somewhere at some time or another there is a little girl on a subway car looking out the window in wonder at our skyline and asking her father, "Daddy!! What's that big building there?" And he can answer with even more pride today "That is One World Trade, honey, one of the tallest buildings in the whole world." That makes me happy.