I was living in Brooklyn, and at home the morning of 9/11. As the years have gone by, I’ve found myself working or living within a stones throw of Ground Zero. I’m lucky that I didn’t lose a loved one that day, unlike so many others. But the skyline alone is a daily reminder of that day. Here is my view of 9/11.
8:46 a.m. and 9:02 a.m. Time the burning towers stood: 56 minutes and 102 minutes. Time they took to fall: 12 seconds.
On that morning, I was glued to the TV news – even though the Twin Towers were visible from the corner of my block. You could see the Twin Towers from just about any block in any borough of New York City. They were twice as tall as any of the tallest skyscrapers in the financial district. It wasn’t until the towers fell that I finally ventured outside… the giant smoke cloud was already coming over the tree tops on my block. Ash was gently and invisibly falling in the street, collecting on top of parked cars. I saw for the first time people walking down the street covered head to toe in ashes, moving step by step in a daze. As I got closer to the East River, I saw the steady stream of people in the distance escaping over the Brooklyn Bridge from the horror – they weren’t running – they were walking, in shock. I started taking photos – but couldn’t and wouldn’t photograph any of the people who had just experienced something unimaginable. I focused on the smoke as I walked from Boerum Hill over to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade…
I was shooting film during this time – well before digital was affordable and accessible. When I got my photos back… I couldn’t believe it. There is, what appears to be, an image of a face in the smoke right above where the towers once stood less than 30 minutes before…
The bridges, tunnels and subways were closed for a while… I can’t remember how many days. But when we were allowed back in I rode my bike over the Brooklyn Bridge and went down to Ground Zero. It was a devastating scene… it was loud and quiet at the same time. They were still hoping for survivors in the rubble. No one was talking… no one could believe what they were witnessing. I held my camera over my head and tried my best to document the aftermath.
It was tragic. Emotional. And it was still burning. Fumes wafted over to Brooklyn from Ground Zero for weeks… the smell was so horrible… the only way to describe it would be a disgusting concoction of burning plastic, fuel – but it was worse than that. As soon as I would smell it in my apartment I would run around and close all the windows. I’ll never forget that smell.
After leaving the destruction downtown, I went up to Union Square which is where I started seeing all of the Missing Posters. They were everywhere…. everywhere… all over the city… including the subway stations in Brooklyn. I stopped to read them along the sidewalk and burst into tears – the faces and the pleas for help from loved ones were overwhelming. A woman ran up to me and put her arms around me… she was from one of the many Prayer Stations that were set up around the neighborhood. People needed to gather and Union Square was one of several locations. A couple of days later I joined others at the massive evening prayer service at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
- Total number killed in attacks (official figure on 9/5/02): 2,819
- Number of firefighters and paramedics killed: 343
- Number of NYPD officers: 23
- Number of Port Authority police officers: 37
Four years later, I found myself working at World Financial Center, the buildings across the street from The World Trade Center. WFC are the damaged buildings in the background in the photos. It was here that I had an office window that looked down into Ground Zero and where I heard the stories of co-workers who were there on that fateful morning. I would look down into The Pit each and every day for the next several years…