The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers dramatically remembered on the Fifteenth Anniversary of their destruction as they were on the First Anniversary back in 2002.
The final installment of this series begins with the very end of that darkest of days that changed Life and History, since September 11th was just the starting point for the grim forces of imposed change which thrust themselves upon the American people, especially those who resided in the city of New York at that time.
Throughout the rest of the day other friends convened at my friend’s place in the West Village with everyone updating each other on their own particular experience this most surreal of days had provided them. As dusk began to emerge, the day’s events hit me all at once and I was consumed with a physical exhaustion the likes of which I had never felt before. I parted ways with my friends and began my eastward trek to my neighborhood of Little Ukraine in the East Village.
Twistedly, despite democracy and the American ideal being brutally attacked and two of the largest buildings known to Modern Man disintegrating into ruins before the eyes of the world, the weather continued to remain flawless with crystal clear clarity as the Sun sank into the Hudson River that night.
Passing through Washington Square, noises began to echo coming from due south of where I stood of rigs, cranes, and booms being transported and assembled at the site of the destruction which from that night onward would be referred to as “Ground Zero”. Search and emergency crews frantically worked at a superhuman pace that first night since it was assumed numerous victims were still trapped within the mountains of rubble. No one would have ever imagined the grim reality which revealed only a mere 20 people in total would be pulled out alive from the deadly debris. Rescue golden retrievers and German shepherds literally became depressed due to there being not a trace of human life to be found causing firemen to bury themselves in the dust and dirt in order for the dogs to feel as if their presence wasn’t all for naught.
While crossing the Bowery as I walked further eastward I beheld a sight that was both horrific and hopeful at the same time. From one of the posh outdoor coffee bars which had been springing up in that area at that time, people were casually sitting outside beneath their umbrella’d cafe tables as they nonchalantly conversed while sipping their amaretto cappuccinos and dipping their biscotti biscuits.
As I turned back to catch a glimpse of the sunset, my breath was taken away and not just because of the brilliant splashes of orange, yellow, red, and fuschia of the setting Sun across the early evening sky. Beyond the café, rising off in the distance like a stage curtain backdrop were two huge plumes of smoke, one for each destroyed tower, billowing up and over the East River.
I still can’t make my mind up as to whether that sight was representative of Mankind being one big entity of oblivious self-centeredness or whether that striking view of immense juxtaposition was a living embodiment of the saying “Life goes on.”
A final memory from the remaining hour of that darkest of days. In my piece, “September 11th – My First 36 Minutes” I mentioned how my 6th floor walk-up apartment on East 6th Street had the best possible view of the Twin Towers from both my bedroom window and the rooftop directly above. Upon finally arriving home that night, I immediately closed my bedroom curtains before even turning the lights on, since I couldn’t face the reality of my view being permanently altered, never to return. But much like the unique sounds which occurred in the lobby of the building where I worked and from the jet fighters which flew overhead in the West Village, a third audio experience occurred just then, that trite but true, I have heard neither before nor since.
The noise was so unfamiliar and alien, I was forced to throw back the curtains to find out where it was coming from and more importantly, what it could possibly be. Huge clicks of metal followed each other over and over in a synchronous pattern that was crisp but boomingly loud. Whatever it was, this thing sounded absolutely massive and with the noise growing ever larger, it was definitely coming closer rather than further away.
When this third and most foreign of sounds finally revealed itself I was rendered speechless. Moving from west to east across 6th Street was an army defense tank larger than my entire studio apartment. Despite its size and keeping in mind there were no moving vehicles allowed on any of the streets, the army green tank with single white stars painted on both its sides moved at a stealthily fast pace as it turned the corner to go south down First Avenue despite that street’s usual south to north directional.
As I watched this not to be believed war vehicle roll past my building, the presence of my long deceased father suddenly materialized behind me saying:
“Remember every detail of what you’re seeing, son, because you are witnessing History, itself.”
So true, Dad, so very true.
Vividly Recalling 9/11’s Aftermath
September 11th was just the starting point of a slew of extraordinary challenges and heartbreaking difficulties New Yorkers had to face during its aftermath. Challenges such as rampant suicides, anthrax letters (the company I worked for at the time were recipients), and bomb threats made to other hallowed Manhattan landmarks such as the Empire State and the Chrysler Buildings caused even further confusion and overall angst to the chaotic world New Yorkers were forced to reside in following the attacks.
Amidst all this, I had to pass through heavily guarded military and police barricades each day and night since I resided south of 14th Street at that time.
However two personal memories stand out during 9/11’s aftermath which cannot be overlooked and should be mentioned.
Filing Reports and Offering Assistance at the NY Armory
The neighborhoods of the East Village, West Village, and Gramercy Park all converge around 14th Street at an area called Union Square and its adjoining park. Those who lived or visited New York City during the months which followed 9/11 can never forget the significant role Union Square Park played in its aftermath since it was a public park that remained open to the public and located closest to Ground Zero. Metal fences were erected around the park’s entire perimeter and all energies were focused on those who were missing and those who were known to have been already lost.
Photo copied images with headers which read “Have you seen my husband/wife/son/daughter/uncle/aunt/niece/nephew, etc. They were last seen on 9/11 on 81st floor of the South Tower, if seen, please call the following phone number.” Some notifications were laser printed in color with hyper-pixelated photos, others were blurry black and whites hastily written by hand.
Along with the vast number of missing person notifications there were nearly as many death announcements displaying a photo copied image of the deceased person with their name as the header and their birth and death dates written beneath their picture.
Almost instantaneously, Union Square’s metal fences were completely covered with these notifications which sought the whereabouts of those who were missing and announced the demise of those who had died. Accompanying these notifications and announcements along the fences were items of every kind such as flowers, miniature teddy bears, balloons, and multitudes of American flags.
For those who were there, Union Square was an unforgettable aspect to 9/11 that was both endearing and devastating to behold.
Following the attacks the city became filled beyond capacity with volunteers from all over the country offering their assistance but with nowhere to stay in Manhattan. Notices were posted throughout the city asking New Yorkers to do their part and open their homes as lodging for the many helpers, volunteers, and aid workers from out of state. Arranging to stay with some friends on the west side of town, I went to the designated place to register my apartment as official lodging and/or shelter – the 69th Regiment Armory located on Lexington Avenue and 25th Street.
This imposing Gothic government building may have been technically located at 25th Street but a cue of people stretched around the corner and continued unbroken down 3 full city blocks all the way to 22nd Street. After nearly an hour of standing in line, a blaring megaphone could be heard in the distance:
“Please be aware this line is for filing Missing Person reports ONLY. If you are offering lodging, you are in the wrong line and must go to our temporary housing office located inside the Armory on the 2nd floor. I repeat this line is for filing Missing Person reports only.”
I was the only one in the wrong line.
This meant every person standing in a line that stretched along 3 city blocks was there to file a missing person report for a relative, friend or loved one not seen since September 10th. It was only then that I recognized all parties close by having their own “Have you seen?” notice on their person.
The notice held by the man standing ahead of me in line permanently altered me.
In his hands was a photo copied image of two identical twins that couldn’t have been more than 21 years old. These fresh faced congenial sisters wore matching outfits of a white button down long sleeved silk blouse and black business slacks. They book ended themselves by leaning in towards one another with their outer hand resting on their hips at a sharp angle and their chins resting atop their inner hands. Both girls had naturally white blond hair and looked directly at the camera with beaming grins on their carefree faces. Beneath the picture read the following:
“Have you seen my twin daughters? Both started temp jobs on the 91st floor of the North Tower on September 10th and they have not been heard from since.”
I was so taken aback and hypnotically engrossed staring at these two lost, never to be found twin sisters that I didn’t at first notice the man who was holding the notice looking directly at me.
More like looking through me.
Although he was observing me as I rudely gawked at the picture in his hand, his eyes were utterly void of life. When I came out of my stupor to notice he had been watching me the entire time, I awkwardly fumbled to say something which I thought would be along the lines of begging his pardon for my lack of manners, instead what came out was:
“I……ummm……guess I’m in the uhhhhh wrong line? I’d better ummm get going”.
The father of the missing twin sisters said nothing and turned away. His ghost-like, lifeless eyes are impossible to ever forget.
The Memo Bush
From the moment the Twin Towers fell, their destruction drew tourists from far and near. With the subway hub directly below the World Trade Center being obliterated from the attacks, numerous visitors would get off at the red line subway stop at Broadway and clamor towards a cramped partial viewing spot to get a limited glimpse of Ground Zero.
For the first few weeks after the attacks, I couldn’t even look towards the direction of downtown since not only were the Towers very much gone, the smoke from their destruction lingered in the atmosphere like a Grim Reaper with no manners.
But on a rainy Friday afternoon towards the end of October I was overtaken by the need to visit Ground Zero myself.
Emerging from the subterranean subway steps, I was amazed how many people had crammed themselves at the tiny space designated to view the wreckage site from a far distance. As mentioned in Part II, I was well familiar with the area given I used to work there. Thus when I came upon the bottleneck of tourists, I removed myself from the crowds and simply headed west.
Walking westward I reached Rector Street and thankfully not a soul was around and I was left alone to my thoughts. As I traversed the neighborhood which lay beneath the shadow of the Twin Towers, I could immediately tell which buildings were directly affected by their destruction and which ones were spared. The buildings located within each Tower’s directional path when they fell were still covered in debris and dust while directly across the street a similar sized edifice would be untouched and in tact. I can remember walking past a building with a glass entranceway that from inside from floor to ceiling was filled with dust. If not for the glowing letters “ATM” emanating from the upper surface of this false sand box I never would have guessed I was walking past the entranceway of a bank.
As the winds began to pick up speed to match the driving rain, I came upon Ground Zero’s western most corner. From the position I was now in, a far bigger and wider view could be seen of the destruction site and its countless activities. The men and women I witnessed were beyond inspiring. Despite the autumn rain coming down hard, these people kept at their tasks as if it were a cloudless sun filled day.
While shifting to get a better view, my leg bumped next to what I thought was a pile of papers, however the scraping of my ankle revealed there to be a bit more than just that.
Unknowingly I was standing next to a bush. A bush that looked as it if it had been shot at point blank range by a cannon comprised of memo papers, fax cover sheets, signed contracts, and the like. This one piece of shrubbery was festooned with every kind of hard copy paper document imaginable. Its branches were skewered with roughly 3-10 pieces of paper per branch.
On closer inspection, despite being doused by the pouring rain, the memo bush was completely covered in a thick white-beige crust. It then occurred to me this insignificant little plant was entombed with layer upon layer of dust when the Towers had fallen along with being inundated by the countless pieces of paper that went up and out throughout the vicinity.
Despite my location being a good 4-5 city blocks away from where the Towers once stood, these pieces of paper from within those destroyed buildings had ended up where I was standing. In the pouring rain I kneeled next to the little bush and peeled away the following:
Articles 37-45 of a contract from Eurobrokers, a financial investment firm that was located on the 84th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower.
Although encased in a thick hardened layer of dust the document was fully in tact with just a small tear from where it was skewered by one of the bush’s upper branches. At the top of the document in the center read the company name “Eurobrokers“. Upon further research, I learned that Eurobrokers was a financial investment firm located on the 84th floor of the South Tower, one of the nine floors completely destroyed from the direct impact of Flight 175.
The same direct impact I had witnessed with my own eyes as the darkest day unfolded on a pristine morning in mid September exactly 15 years ago today.
“Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember I have the duty to reject despair.” – Elie Wiesel
Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.