Jean McGavin, 2009
The bus was late. It was my daughter Glynnis’s first day of 6th grade. She had missed the first few days because of a fever so she was terribly excited to be heading off to school that day. Nathaniel had already spent a few days in 4th grade but 4th grade is about as fun as school can be so he was equally excited to finally see the bus arrive. We had a succession of dreadful bus drivers. They would get lost, leave the kids at the wrong corner in the rain, sometimes they wouldn’t show up at all. This was a new driver so I was concerned that he might go the wrong way and make the children even more late than they already were. I swallowed my worries, waved bye-bye with a big happy smile and hurried home to complete a deadline for work. I had planned to go to the twice weekly Farmers Market at the base of the Trade Center. I loved the market. In what had been before the bombing in 1993, a parking lot at the base of the Towers, the market offered this wonderful fantasy that I could have a little bit of the best of bucolic farmland while living in the epicenter of the financial world. Every Tuesday and Thursday, as long as the weather permitted, farm trucks packed with local produce and baked goods caused 50,000 well-heeled, movers and shakers, masters of the universe, to detour on their way to work at the top of the towers. I found iconoclastic poetry and redemption in that. I loved Battery Park City, the landfilled waterfront jewel immediately to the west of the Towers. There was no more beautiful neighborhood in the City and certainly no place I had ever known that offered so much free, and exquisite entertainment. Summer was like camp for grownups and kids alike. Every day there were wonderful free performances from the New York City Ballet to Pete Seeger, Norah Jones. There were free programs in the parks including soccer, baseball, art and crafts, chess, basketball and kayaking. There were Swedish festivals, ethnic dance nights, Christmas festivals and fireworks. The fireworks were amazing. Our apartment had huge windows looking out over the Hudson River, the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island. So many nights my children would climb into bed and watch fireworks before reading a bed-time story. The World Trade Center was where we shopped, where we ran to catch the subway to go uptown. It was in the Trade Center’s plaza where we enjoyed concerts and picnics and the bustling of thousands of people. For 9 years it was our backyard. But I have digressed. It is easy to digress now, thinking about how wonderful a place this was to live. So, after waving a somewhat worried farewell to my children I went to work in my home office. Very shortly after starting to work I felt it. The building shook. I knew that feeling from the 1993 bombing. On 9/11 I had had my blinds down to block the brilliant sun. I drew the blinds and looked at the street because this is where the commotion could be seen in 1993. I didn’t think to look up at the Towers. Things on the street didn’t seem wrong although people did seem to be in quite a hurry but I thought that they were just rushing off to work. A few minutes later a neighbor called and told me that a plane had hit the Trade Center. This time I looked up and saw the gaping hole, which in comparison to the size of the Tower looked more like a hole a small plane would have made. Next I received a call from friends in Tokyo who saw the news on TV and wanted to know if we were all right. I assured them that everything was fine. Then my sister called and I assured her that we were fine. I don’t know why I did not think of the implications of even a small plane hitting an office building. Even a small plane would mean certain death for hundreds of people, but somehow, none of that sank in. I did not think about leaving my apartment. I did not think about terrorism until another plane came screaming, right towards me. I was engulfed in the sound. I could not see the plane because the blinds on my south facing windows were down. It was just sound, deafening sound, roaring at me. My back was pressed against a wall and in a completely instinctual state of panic, I was trying to climb the wall to escape. Then the building shook again but I had not been hit. I was safe for the moment. I do not remember if I looked at the Trade Center after that. I don't think I took the time to look. I needed to get out. I do know that I decided to call my friend, Nira, who lived on the first floor of our building – I was on the 21st floor and fully expected other planes to attack and I wanted to be in a place from where I could escape. She told me her mother, who had just arrived from Israel the day before, was there with her son and that I could go and stay with them. I may have taken my purse but nothing else but I am not sure I even took that. Once on the first floor, my friend’s mother was not to be found. I went to the lobby which was filled with worried people – people wondering how to get their children, people who were supposed to be in the Trade Center for work wondering if they should go, people in a state of shock trying to make sense of their world when none was possible. I was wondering if the tardy school bus had safely delivered my children to school. I went back to Nira’s hallway and ran into a man emerging from the next apartment. I asked if he had seen anyone from Nira’s apartment and he said no but that he was leaving and advised that I do the same. My new acquaintance, Jack Siler and I headed to the lobby when everything turned black. There was debris flying outside and I assumed that another plane had hit our building. These thoughts happen as normal thoughts. These unthinkable events when you are in them become reality and somehow you continue thinking in somewhat ordinary ways about unthinkable things, even as your adrenaline is surging and you begin to act as though you have stopped thinking. People were scrambling and screaming, trying to get outside. People were running, grabbing their babies, leaving the strollers behind and running from the lobby into the disaster. I don’t know why everyone all of a sudden wanted to get out when it was about as scary and dangerous outside as it could possibly be. We did not know and had no way of knowing that a 110 story building had just collapsed and we were immersed in 110 floors of debris from toilets, computers, body parts, walls, paper, chairs, desks, carpeting, fiberglass, pcb’s, dioxins and asbestos. I remember thinking that this was a situation wherein I might actually die. I decided, made the conscious decision that I was not going to die - which is an extraordinary kind of a decision to make. I was going to stay rational and do what I needed to do to stay alive and calm and take care of my children. Jack and I decided that we would go back to his apartment. We closed all the windows, put down wet towels under the doors and at the sills. Then we turned on the TV and saw that the first tower had collapsed. The windows in this apartment faced away from the Trade Center so the only view we had on the disaster was on the tv. Then, as we watched, the second tower began to go and as the antenna fell from the top so did our power and our news. No more tv, radio and no cell phone. Outside our window a man holding a baby running from what we could not see coming, dodged under a domed piece of playground equipment. They disappeared in a blackout cloud of debris engulfing entire city blocks as well as any daylight and normalcy. We stayed in the building for hours. I didn’t want to leave until I felt that things had calmed down enough so that I could go uptown to get my children. Out the window I had watched as hundreds of people walked downtown, toward the end of the island, where they would surely have to board ferries to leave the city. I wanted to go uptown toward my children’s school. About 2:00pm when it seemed that a few people were walking uptown, we decided that things might be safe enough for me to venture out towards the school. First though, I walked up the 21 flights to my apartment to get a few things. I packed clean underwear and socks for the kids and me, my son's asthma medication, a raincoat and umbrella (to keep off the debris) and I put on shoes instead of sandals. I did not bring our cats or tortoises. Somehow, I thought I would be back in a day or so. Back in the lobby I ran into a young man who had a handful of crumpled dirty papers that he kept shuffling. He was panicked and dazed and kept saying that had to get back to The Market and asked if the stock market would be open tomorrow. I told him I didn’t think so. Then Jack and I went out into the knee deep debris. We still were unaware of the other planes involved, or that the Pentagon had been attacked. We didn’t know if there had been other attacks in the City and I worried that my children’s school, the United Nations International School, might be attacked. Once outside we were able to begin to take in the enormity of the disaster as we passed by the towering pile of smoke and rubble that had been the Trade Center. We walked only one block before being approached by a man from a tugboat who told us that Manhattan was being evacuated. I told him that there was no way that would be happening, that Manhattan is too big to evacuate. He told me they were going to try and that we did not have a choice, we had to get on the boat. I would not be picking up my children. The brave and gracious tugboat Captain, Rosie, who was blessed with a head of long red curly hair, tried her best to get me to another part of Manhattan so that I could get to my children but ultimately she was not allowed to go to port on Manhattan. She allowed me to use the tugboat’s phone to call my children’s school but I was not able to get through. We were being taken to New Jersey. At our first stop, as at all the ports in New Jersey that day, emergency showers had been set up for those caught in the debris - as had Nira’s mother and son after she ran to get him from pre-school. But we did not disembark. A bomb threat was shouted and we were immediately rushed out of port and Rosie rushed the tug back into the middle of the Hudson. She took us farther upriver to Weehawken where, after thanking Rosie, we climbed off the boat and stood, part of a huge crowd, like other masses of refugees, expelled from their homes, their work, their vessels, staring dumbly, wondering where we would go from here. —Jean McGavin, 2009 Links to more stories of 9/11/2001
1993 World Trade Center Terrorist Attack
Jean McGavin, 2010
February 26, 1993 My 2 year old daughter and 3 month old son had gone out with a babysitter, Nicole, to find some diversion from our 4 walls. Our neighborhood offered choices. There was the Winter Garden in the World Financial Center, with palm trees, marble floors and huge expanses of windows looking out to the Hudson River with its water taxis, ferries, the New Jersey shoreline, the Statue of Liberty and gleaming cruise ships as large as small towns heading in or out from luxury escapes from ordinary life. The Winter Garden also had ice cream parlors, a Godiva Chocolate shop, clothing stores, restaurants and very child friendly book and toy stores. Outside the Winter Garden there were several lovely playgrounds, gardens and sport fields as well as an absolutely gorgeous esplanade along the Hudson. Then, heading east via a pedestrian bridge crossing the four lane West Street, one entered the World Trade Center. Once across the bridge, it was just a few steps through glass doors to the Trade Center courtyard, a football stadium sized expanse of marble, a sculpture decked fountain and benches, surrounded by the tallest buildings in the world and offering respite from traffic and office work. Back inside and down the escalator in the Trade Center was a shopping mall, subway entrances and the entrance to the Path commuter train to and from New Jersey. From our apartment on the 21st floor, across the street from the World Trade Center, walking for 20 minutes in any direction but west would get you to any of these destinations. My children in a stroller pushed by an energetic young babysitter had a wide field to wander. I was on my exercise bike when the building shook. Even though I had never heard a garbage truck overturning, that is what I assume had happened. It was a sudden deep loud sound accompanied by a deep tremor and followed almost immediately, and for the rest of the day, by the scream of emergency vehicles. 1993 was pre-cell phone ubiquity. I had no idea where my children were within the 20 minute radius of their normal adventures. My husband had left a short time earlier to take the Path train to New Jersey. I turned on the TV and learned that the garbage truck crash was actually an explosion of undetermined nature somewhere underneath the Trade Center. Had my husband been on the Path at the time of the explosion? Were my kids in the Trade Center? Why hadn’t the babysitter brought them home yet? When my daughter was 6 months old she was found to have a huge and life-threatening tumor in her throat. It was only by being vigilant that we were able to save her life but as she became well I knew that I was going to have to be careful not to burden her with my own paranoia over every possible cough or scraped knee. I worked hard to pay attention to warning signs, not panic about them and then to verify the need for alarm. So, when, on February 26, 1993, my children did not come home and my husband did not call, I tried to remain calm. I knew there was no reason to go out looking for my children. With so vast an area to cover, finding them was extremely unlikely. I decided to stay put but the longer I waited, the less able I was to hold onto my assumption that my children, Nicole and my husband were safe. Two hours after the explosion - which we later discovered was a terrorist attack intending to demolish the World Trade Center – my children and Nicole walked in to our apartment. They were blissfully safe having no inkling that the explosion had even happened. They had been in the Winter Garden, in the lovely children’s section of Rizzoli Bookstore when the explosion happened. They didn’t feel the explosion. They weren’t evacuated from the building. The stores didn’t close. Nicole said she never heard the sirens but did notice that our street was a parking lot of emergency vehicles when they came home. My husband finally called from his office in New Jersey having arrived without incident. My family was all happy and carefree out in the middle of it all while I stayed home terrified. Eight and one half years later, a bright sunny September morning, in the same apartment, the building shook one more time, again my kids in another part of the city; this time convincing me that it was time to find a new home. —Jean McGavin Bethlehem, CT, 2010
3 Dreams Fulfilled
Lisbeth Leonard, 2011
Many years ago in casual conversation with my eldest granddaughter, I mentioned that tho I had lived 40 years quite near to NYC, I had had 3 dreams I had never been able to consummate. Though I had been to NYC many times beginning in high school when I took a one day trip with the Girl Reserves beginning at 11:00pm Saturday and back home Sunday 11:30 – sleeping when we able on the train both ways. The trip included an elevated train ride from Liberty Station to “Little Church Around the Corner” 29th Street and 5th Ave. where we celebrated service. Then a walk to Empire State Building and a visit to observation tower. The many rides thru NYC via Riverside Drive and upper Broadway, Grant’s Tomb and Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Lunch at “Susan Palmer’s Tea Room” on W. 49th Street. “Magic Key” broadcast at NBC at Rockefeller Center. Much window shopping – “Special Treat” at Schraff’s – more walking to 42nd and 7th Ave. where we took the ferry to Jersey City – Supper on train – long train ride home. Also made later trips to the museums, opera, Broadway shows and high tea at the World Trade Center at Windows On The World with my English cousin. So you can see I did everything except my dreams. One Day fairly recently I had a phone call from Allison to be ready for the “Trip”. First after the requisite trip by train from Darien to NYC. Then a carriage ride thru Central Park to the clip clop of horses hooves. A beautiful luncheon with all the trimmings at Tavern On The Green (which no longer exists). Lastly we walked the Brooklyn Bridge all the way, resting at welcome benches along the way and under the watchful eye of Allison for her 85 year old Grandmother. Who says dreams never come true?
Just Another Day - 9/11
Lois Keating Learned, 12/16/15
In September the air in New York City was fresh on this particular day in 2001. It was sunny and I wished I didn’t have to stay inside, down in a dark and damp cellar, filling half-pint jars with cucumbers and other vegetables for the Historical Association’s annual pickle festival. As it was our second largest money-maker (after the antiques show) it was important for us to raise as much cash as possible. Our expenses weren’t great — our two houses (built in 1660 and 1840 respectively) required some upkeep, but had no taxes as we were a non-profit, and the public library, where our office was located, didn’t charge us rent. We did pay our director as she really ran the whole organization and was in the office most weekdays for at least two hours and often was busy on some weekends, too. Her meager salary helped to augment her small retirement and social security monies We also used some of our money as a scholarship for a deserving high school student. We began these bottling chores at nine thirty that morning and decided to quit at 11:30 and finish up on another day. Since I only lived a block and a half from the Knights of Columbus hall where we were working, I had walked there and enjoyed getting back out into the fresh air. What a surprise greeted me when at home I turned on the TV to watch the noon news! Two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center sky-scrapers located in lower Manhattan, causing both towers to collapse and killing about 3000 people. Eventually, we learned these suicide pilots were from Arab nations and this was pay-back for our attack on Iraq. An ordinary day began the beginning of our fifteen-year conflict with middle-eastern Arab nations. It will forever be known as “9/11”.