“I Was In The Police Academy At The Time…”
“I was in the Police Academy during the events of 9/11. The days after were some of the most surreal moments of my entire life. I was 23 at the time and have spent my entire life in the Bronx and NYC. I saw a lot of great things, horrible things and hysterical things that could only be understood by New Yorkers. But this….was something I have never seen.
A few notable things that will always stay in mind. First, the Olive Garden in Times Square was open only to First Responders, Con-Ed, construction workers and people working at Ground Zero (or the pile, as it were).
Second, was the sheer amount of DUST that just covered freaking EVERYTHING. It was literally everywhere. I can remember driving over the Brooklyn Bridge a few days later and seeing the crater still spewing dust everywhere. It was…unsettling. We were issued face masks when walking foot posts or doing traffic.
Third, was the west side highway. For weeks after the incident, people lined the road on both sides with signs saying ‘God bless our cops, fireman…etc.’ The sheer outpouring of love from the community was unlike anything I have ever seen before. The whole highway was littered with people ‘high-fiving’ cops and fireman. It was incredible.
Fourth, was The Jacob Javits Center. It became the check-in center for donations and volunteers. This is where you came if you were an Iron Walker Construction, Plumber, Electrician or just a regular joe who wanted to volunteer their time or blood (for The Red Cross). The parking lot across the street was where all the donated clothes and items were piled up. There was so much stuff…hats, shoes, socks, clothes, pillows, food, snacks, water, flashlights…anything you could think of had its own pile. I myself needed to swap my boots because mine had melted from being on the pile for too long.
I worked for about a month straight, 16 hours every day in the city. It was all anyone could talk about. Everywhere you looked there was something 9/11 related….magazines, newspapers, playing cards, EVERYTHING had 9/11 on it. It was all anybody talked about in coffee shops, police cars, newsstands, firehouses, etc. I remember when I got my first day off I went up to Cross County in Yonkers and just sat in the middle of the shopping area and watched people go by. No one had a mask on. No one spoke it about. Despite the fact that Yonkers is 45 minutes North of NYC, it wasn’t the topic of every conversation. I couldn’t believe that people weren’t talking about it, comparing theories, or trading bullcrap pictures that were showing up on the internet. They were just walking around, eating pizza and shopping. Part of me was angry and upset because it seemed that these people just didn’t care. But my girlfriend at the time reminded me that these people did care, it was on their minds, they just weren’t surrounded by it every second of the day. They weren’t sitting in the echo chamber that NYC had become.
I have a little folder in my closet that has newspapers, magazines, cards that were given to me, photos I took, and anything else 9/11 related.
What’s really weird is a few years ago, I was training a few rookies and was having a hard time connecting with them while training and I really couldn’t figure out why. It was pointed out to me that my trainee was 9 when 9/11 happened. That’s when it dawned on me just how long ago it really was…”
The One Day He Decided Not To Work From Home
“I was in Canada at the time. I was pulled from school during lunch and told to come home immediately. I thought I was getting to go home because it was a half day, but none of the other kids left.
I got home to hear my mom sobbing on the phone. I had never seen her cry until that day and quickly found out that my uncle had gone to work at the Twin Towers that day. He normally works from home.
The next couple of hours were filled with my parents running to the phone each time it rang, hoping to hear something, anything, from my family in the US. We finally got a phone call, from my aunt telling us that he was in the hospital. He had jumped from the 7th floor when he realized there was no way he was going to get out in time. He luckily landed in a pile of bushes, and I’m unbelievably lucky to still have him today.
Unfortunately, he has had several surgeries due to a broken back and has severe PTSD that he has not been able to get over yet. He never talks about it, but I know he frequently gets nightmares where he sees people falling from the towers in front of him- basically a flashback to that day.
Being a country away, it was terrifying for us to even hear on the news. For someone to be physically there, I could only imagine. For any of you who lost someone that day, I can only give my condolences and say that I hope that loved one’s soul is in a peaceful place today.”
Not Everyone Had The Same Experience
“My experience was a little different.
The day after I had signs on my window that people taped up saying, ‘Go home, terrorist.’ My door was covered in trash and everywhere I walked I’d get stares of fear and hatred. A common bond that people talk about that developed in New York didn’t apply to everyone. Yes, there were quiet walks but they were alone.
I went to volunteer at a local kitchen that was making sandwiches for the volunteers at Ground Zero and was turned away because they didn’t want my kind’s help. It was the most alien I’ve ever felt in the country I was born in. I was unable to show or express my hatred for those who did this, or help those who were affected. I was not alone either. Since then, I’ve visited numerous 9/11 support groups of where people had the same experience as me. We weren’t given our chance to grief because the bigots of the city decided we weren’t fellow countrymen.
So what was the city like after the attack? Full of fear, sadness, and a feeling of overwhelming loss.”
He Needed To See Ground Zero To Say Sorry
“My husband was a bike messenger in NYC. He was 27 and foolish. He smoked too much weed the night before and overslept. Since he lived across the island, he knew he wouldn’t make his first stops. He called his other messenger buddy and asked him to cover his morning route. The first stop was the World Trade Center Tower 1. His buddy didn’t make it out alive. My husband still hasn’t forgiven himself.
The day after was empty. Quiet and empty streets, with low voices. No laughter. No music. No hustle and bustle. People moved around, but it seemed without direction, like on auto-pilot. It smelled like iron and flesh for a long, long, time.
He proposed to me in Central Park 8 years ago…but refused to take me near Ground Zero.
We finally went last year to the memorial. I’ve never seen the World Trade Center, even though I lived in Pennsylvania. The footprints are enormous. I stood there and touched the etched names, and got angry at someone laughing nearby. My husband had this…hollow look on his face the entire time. But he needed to see it. He needed to be there and say sorry.
We will never go back.”
“When We Got Back To The Apartment, My Mom Broke Down Sobbing”
“I lived downtown, but that evening we were absolutely banned from going below 14th street so we decided to take the last working subway to my grandmother’s house in Queens where we could spend the night.
The next morning we went back into Manhattan to try to go home. The streets were deserted as we moved deeper into the exclusion zone. Checkpoints by the cops dwindled from a ton of people at 14th to practically zero at St. James Place. The city smelled of fire and iron. Despite being a clear sunny day there weren’t any birds around (not even pigeons).
The power was out all downtown so when we got to my building we needed to climb 23 stories in pitch blackness with only candles. Leaving the city was the best choice for us, but I just remember the quiet of no cars on any street and the layers upon layers of what I now know was toxic dust. Mostly asbestos. It’s estimated that all the people that got caught in that dust cloud are very likely to get cancer now. Almost every Firefighter from that day has developed cancer from the dust they breathed in.
I remember my mom was worried the whole night that I’d left the window open and the apartment would be covered in dust (I’d thankfully remembered to close it that morning) and when we got to the house after what felt like an eternity of climbing and my mom saw how everything was still clean she broke down sobbing.”
It Was Surreal
“It was surreal. My girlfriend at the time was in grad school at Columbia and was basically stranded for a week since cabs and the subway weren’t operating.
I went to a vigil at Washington Square Park a couple days after. Everyone was silent and holding candles.
The entire city smelled like burning plastic for weeks after. I’ll probably get some sort of respiratory ailment in the coming years…
Days after signs started going up for the missing. Every bus stop, light post, and fence had them. After a while when it was apparent they weren’t finding survivors they became depressing reminders, but no one would touch them. The city finally said ‘we’re taking the signs down’ months later and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was relieved.
I walked home across the island and down 2nd Ave instead of taking Broadway because I had zero desire to walk next to the Empire State Building. I had to carry mail around to prove that I lived below 14th Street. I knew people who lived below Houston who couldn’t go home and were freaking out because they had pets.
The weirdest thing was running into Steve Aoki in the east village on Sept 11 (I used to see him around, it was just weird because he got famous later). He was running around interviewing people and asking them what they thought. Everyone was shell-shocked. Back in the day he used to sing in punk bands and was super political before he got into DJing. We grabbed food and were both stunned.”
“We New Yorkers Are Tough”
“I’m a New Yorker. Born and raised in Brooklyn for all of my 42 years, minus 4 when I moved to Florida.
The day of and after 9/11 blended. I was working in downtown Brooklyn and even if you didn’t know what had happened, you knew when the city flipped its switch. I remember seeing the throng of people coming from across the Brooklyn Bridge, but what made the biggest impact those first 48 hours was the overall city atmosphere.
Not only was the city physically quiet, but there’s was such a stillness you felt in the people around. Papers and such from the Towers were still floating around and could be found in the backyards going into Brooklyn and Queens.
The smell…oh my God, I will never, EVER forget the smell for my city. You got the smoke and the soot and dust……but you also got that ‘barbecue’ smell that just stopped you in your tracks cause you knew what that was. Even to this day, when walking around and I pass people’s yards having a BBQ, it still stops me for a nanosecond.
Then there was also that feeling of not knowing…not knowing what exactly had happened, what was currently going on, and what else could possibly happen. The stillness of not having cell phone availability and very limited tv added to the quiet. Us as Americans had always been so secure in ourselves and our standing in the world that an event like this was inconceivable. It didn’t matter that every hour on the news showed war and attacks and bombings in other countries that were their everyday norm. It was inconceivable to begin to apply those possibilities to ‘US.’ There was NO thought ever that those could happen here. But that day proved us wrong. That not everyone in the world perceived the US as the harmless, but sometimes meddling and annoying goody-two-shoes.
Eventually, we went on with our lives, but for those who are still around who were there back then, I think we all keep a more subconscious eye over our shoulder and even while still enjoying our lives. It’s a shadow that gets tucked away for the time being. In a city like this, of so many people, there’s a huge turnover. For visitors and new residents, the awe and respect of that event is just a moment in history for them so they are establishing their new rhythm here.
I ended up moving out to FL by the end of 2002. I think the stress of that shadow became too much for me. But I couldn’t completely stay away, I ended up moving back in 2006. I’ll admit, it’s still hard to go into that area of lower Manhattan for me.
We New Yorkers are some tough critters though, and we’ve shown that we’ll still keep the world moving. Those first 48 hours shook us up, but shown why we’re a unique breed.”
Things Were Never The Same
“I was 16 when it happened and I was attending school in Manhattan and living in another borough. I wasn’t able to get home on the 11th, but luckily my friend’s mom signed a bunch of us out and took us back to their apartment in Washington Heights for the night. I know a lot of people had to sleep in the gym on the gymnastics mats.
On the afternoon of 9/12, they reopened the streets above 14th St including the bridges, but I don’t remember whether tunnels were open or not. It was quiet and no one was really going anywhere. There were very few cars on the road and very few people walking around. None of the carts and sidewalk businesses were out. My friend walked me to the C train and I had to take a really circuitous route that involved many transfers and the F train before finally making it to the R. The trains were really empty and ran smoothly. You could tell which cars had been downtown for a while after that because of the thick, white dust that was in their crevices.
It wasn’t so bad the first few days because we were all in shock. The bad stuff was in the weeks and months following. Traffic was closed below Chambers St for a long time. The N, R, Q, and W lines didn’t run downtown until New Years and the 1/9 didn’t run down to the Ferry for a year or so. The National Guard was in the streets and would check ID randomly and ask you why you were there. It was eerie walking through downtown Manhattan and the only vehicles were the humvees and trucks for the guardsmen. There was a horrible smell in the air for months. At the 42nd St Station, the escalators were completely covered in Missing Person posters and that wall was covered all the way from the N/R to the bottom of the escalators. Gradually they came down as people were identified or found, but it persisted for months.
Two to three weeks later the funerals began. Police and firemen honor their own with a bagpipe procession. The sound carries for miles and Manhattan is not a big island. In the cool autumn mornings, we could hear every funeral procession up and down Broadway. I can’t stand bagpipes. The funerals lasted for months as people died from their injuries or were located. Every day seemed impossible. Every day seemed a miracle. One of my teachers never was the same again. Something in her broke when those towers went down. She didn’t teach another lesson after 9/10.
I saw my dad cry for the first time about two weeks later. He used to work there. The people he recruited from his old company to his new company credit him with their lives. Their old company was on the 68th floor. I went to the Christmas party as a little kid and sat on Santa’s lap on the 108th floor. It was so lavish they gave a toy to every kid that came. We went to watch fireworks on the July 4th when I was 5. My dad got me the big chew bubblegum that was like ten pieces in one and I tried to chew it all at once. We looked down to watch the fireworks bloom and die above the harbor, impossibly large. He was there for the 1993 bombing, I was so confused when I got home from school and he was already there. When I was 3 or 4 the nursery school I went to had a playground on the roof. I’d look out over the harbor, point my little finger out through the chain links and say, ‘My daddy works there!’ I was so proud. He was the first person I thought of when I heard the buildings were hit. He watched them fall from his new office on Water St.
Things would never be the same again.”
The Most Unsettling Part
“Nobody seems to mention that we didn’t know it was over.
We didn’t. It was unsettling.
We all were hopeful that there would be thousands of people pulled out of the mess. There were ambulances from 15 states lined up at the old St. Vincent’s hospital for what seemed like a mile from Greenwich Village to the tunnel. They were just sitting there idle waiting for the call to action that never came.
We were all scrambling to give blood. It all went to waste.
The city’s unsung hero/heroes were the guys in the F-16 circling the skies. We knew that nothing further was going to hit us from above.
On 9/11, I, and one other person were on the street in Times Square at 8:00 PM, which is when curtain call is. One other guy. One. It was surreal and I’d do anything to be able to print out the image that is burned into my head from realizing that it was exactly 8:00 PM and it was just him and me in view.”
The Skyline Was Clouded By Smoke
“I was like 5 or six and going to school in the Bronx. We got a message over the PA system about a plane hitting a building. In retrospect, my teacher did a good job keeping us all calm. Soon enough, there was a message about a second one, but it was delivered by a faculty member going around updating everyone.
My dad worked construction in the city, he could’ve been at any of multiple sites in the boroughs. We were told our parents would be picking us up from school and soon enough my dad came for me. I asked what happened because I didn’t really get it, he pointed to a column of smoke on the Manhattan skyline and said, ‘I don’t really know. A plane crash.’
My mom was stuck in Manhattan for a while, safe, but I don’t remember for how long. We lived on the Yonkers/Bronx border, so away from the real area of effect. But the city as a whole was different, even outside of Manhattan. To be perfectly honest I don’t remember being that scared, not once I knew my mom was okay. I didn’t have a concept of radical terrorists at that age. I remember being sad because I saw on the news a lot of people were dead or hurt, but to me, as a 5-year-old, it meant I was out of school. I knew a lot of people with parents in the NYPD or FDNY, so I’d hear stuff from them, that’s how I learned more about what was going on. I remember being nervous to go back to Manhattan for a while. I didn’t know how extensive the damage was, in my child-mind I had assumed the whole place was damaged (at that age I didn’t even know what the World Trade Center was, despite having been to it).
The clearest memory I have is of my dad pointing to the skyline at the cloud of smoke.”
The Little Things That Made A Big Difference
“I remember that there was smoke rising into the air for weeks afterward. You could see it in the daytime.
I also remember one sort of bright spot that cheered me up at the time. They had fenced off a really wide perimeter around the World Trade Center site, where only rescue crews could go in. It went up as far north as Canal Street if I recall correctly, and that is where civilians could see fire trucks, police trucks, and other work crews exiting ground zero.
There were a bunch of people lined up along the street with signs, just to cheer and applaud the workers coming out. Those guys on the trucks looked — well, like what you would imagine. Dusty, tired, haunted faces. Then they would drive out past the fence and be greeted with cheers, and people shouting out words of encouragement, and their faces would brighten for a little while.
There were so many people prepared to volunteer and donate blood right after 9/11, but they were turned away. There was only room for a limited number of volunteers, and there sadly wasn’t any need for blood. But I was so proud of my city because there were people determined to at least lift people’s spirits if they couldn’t do much else. There were people willing to wait in the street for hours just to put a momentary smile on the face of a rescue worker. I never forgot that.”
An Explosion Of Patriotism
“There was an explosion of patriotism almost overnight. I remember that within a few days there were American flags on every house on my block, and a humongous mural was painted on the handball court near my house in the first week after 9/11.
As far as the day after, specifically 9/12, I remember the entire city was on lock-down. There was no public transportation, and everyone was on edge. I was in high school, and so school was closed. Something people don’t realize is that most television channels were broadcast from the World Trade Center, and so there was only one TV channel that worked if you didn’t have cable (channel 2 I believe). It took several days before they moved other channels to the Empire State Building.
In the weeks after, there were a lot of changes. My high school hosted a different high school from Lower Manhattan, and so all of our classes were shortened by 7 minutes, and school started at 7 AM instead of 8 in order to accommodate them. I can’t recall anyone griping about the inconvenience. The city’s true character came out, and it showed itself to be warm and inspiring. It is a shame that a tragedy like 9/11 needed to trigger it.”
The Walls Were Filled With Missing Person Notices
“The city had a smell like a soldering iron. When we walked downtown you had surreal, deserted streets full of dust and papers, blowing down them like tumbleweeds. They were papers from people’s World Trade Center offices that had just collapsed.
Then in the hours and days after, walls started filling with homemade missing person notices, as people tried to find their loved ones, each pleading for any information at all. Just endless walls of faces of thousands of missing or dead people that had simply gone to work and never returned.
It wasn’t clear how many died, estimates at the time said 50,000 people based on the World Trade Center occupancy numbers. There were hopes initially of finding survivors but it slowly became agonizingly clear that there were almost none left alive in ‘the pile.’
There were national guard troops with weapons patrolling the streets, not so much reassuring at that point, as a reminder that any sense of normalcy was suspended.”