On this day

Submission by robert dorn

9/11 Stories

Robert j. Dorn

One person’s recollection of Sept 11, 2001.
By Robert j .Dorn (Rev vers)

What is my reasoning for writing up my own story of events of that
morning? Is it because I am just tired of repeating to friends and
family the events of that morning? Yes. Is it because I am a historian
(of a minor scale) or because I think it’s an event that any ‘eye
witness’ should keep his/her memories of? Is it to sort it out in my
own mind and try to get through it? Yes, It’s all of these.

Firstly, I should explain that I work at 75 Varick (7th Ave.), now
called 1 Hudson Square, the building that stands ‘almost’ on top of the
Holland Tunnel, which, as of this writing is still closed. I am
approximately 9 or 10 blocks just north of the WTC area. I work on the
12th floor of the building, and my Library office faced the beautiful
view of the former Twin Towers to the South, and the Jersey City and NJ
shore to the west. I am a librarian at Audrey Cohen College.

At approximately, 9 AM morning I was on the Q train, in the middle of
the Manhattan bridge (for neophytes, this bridge is Parallel and just
north of its more famous neighbor, the Brooklyn Bridge) when an
announcer/conductor came on over the speaker saying, “plane just crashed
into World trade tower” [that’s the closest I can come his exact words
at the moment.]

Most of the people on the train, leaned to the left side windows and we
saw our first view of the towers – both of them – with large gaping
holes and smoke and small flames coming out of them. Several of us began
the flurry of small talk, trying to guess what had happened, no one
really knew for sure. Lots of speculation. The thought of buying a small
discardable camera came to me, and as we arrived in the Broadway station
at Canal Street, I bought the camera at the small little newspaper shop
there. As I exited the subway station at Broadway and Canal, I started
walking west on Canal Street (my usual route, currently, to work at
Varick St) towards the river. All during this time looking up at the
two towers on fire with all the plumes of smoke. this was about 9:10 AM
or so? At the same time on each corner I was taking pictures from
different vantagepoints at each corner. Already the crowds had gathered
at each corner with that awful look of unbelief on their faces. It was
my own expression of disbelief and awe at the same time. At this point,
I didn’t know what had occurred, and was hearing snippets of talk about
airplanes and ‘attacks’ etc. What I saw was the now familiar gaping
holes that I had described earlier. I was under the impression that
perhaps this was something similar to the 93 attack, and perhaps there
may have been some loss of life. I had no impression of the further
disaster about to unfold before my eyes.

It was maybe ten minutes or so (don’t’ quote me) when I noticed sirens
already sounding, policemen gathering on each corner, directing traffic
away from areas below Canal Street area. The people in my building seem
to have looks of haunted anxiety on their faces. I still had not seen
anyone else who worked at the college. I don’t remember whether I was
asked for ID as I entered the building, but as I got off at the 12
floor, got out and saw the Security officer, he was already shaking his
head and telling me that the building was being evacuated. Also, the
Vice President for Administration had come around the corner at the same
time. I do not remember what I asked them, except whether anyone had
gone/been in the library where I work. One librarian was mentioned,
whom they said was sent home. I later found out that she had seen the
whole event and the planes hitting the towers (which I was too late to
see). At that point I exited down the elevators and went out to the
street to gather more information. I had heard that there were
deliberate attacks on the buildings, but there was still a lot of confusion.

In a few minutes I crossed the street to take more pictures of the
burning disaster in front of me from the all too blue and beautiful sky
of that morning. By this time, many fire engines, Emergency vehicles,
Police cars and other emergency vehicles had rushed down Varick street
(lower 7th avenue) sometimes having to blast their horns or sirens to
get through the very confused menagerie that Varick street had become.
On the other side of the street, I saw one and then several
administration and faculty members of the college whom I acknowledged. I
crossed over when I saw my friend and colleague Steve from the College.

Within the next few minutes, Steve and I listened to several others who
had gathered on our corner, the rumors and other guesses at the origins
of this. The fires and smoke were still billowing out of the towers.
Debris was falling occasionally, and what I didn’t know at first that it
was not all debris but also people jumping to certain death to escape, I
suppose more certain and immediate death by the fire storms started by
the airliner fuel that we were later to learn was well over 2000
degrees. I was sure by this time that I had the story straight that two
airplanes had for some reason crashed into both towers and ignited them.
Somewhere between photos and following up rumors, we were interrupted by
a man who came running with a phone in his hand shouting that the
Pentagon had been bombed or attacked or something similar to what had
just happened here. I did not, could not, immediately believe him. But,
eventually my doubts were preempted and we knew it was true from other
reports around us. We knew no exact details and really did not still
know what had occurred.

Steve and I decided after standing around for some time, to go look for
a coffee house he knew which he thought would be open and where there
was a TV where we could get the news and find out more. After walking up
and over to Hudson street closer to the Hudson River side of town, we
found that the café was closed. We decided to head back and Steve
decided to depart and try to get uptown and home to Chelsea. I had
already heard that there were no trains or subways running and the
bridges were closed. In a while I would find out that most of this was
already true and soon, everything would be closed down, except walkways
for people to get across to Brooklyn or whatever borough they needed to
get to get home. I was sidetracked again by wanting to hear and see
more and take more photos. This was just minutes after the first tower
had just collapsed. There was much confusion, shouting, crying, but no
obvious violence. I crossed to the East Side of Varick in front of the
Chase bank, and noticed that I couldn’t see the two towers, but just the
North tower and a plume of smoke where the other had been. In disbelief
I asked the hysterical woman next to me, who was about the burst into
tears, where the tower was? She cried, “It just collapsed!” I stood
there in dumb disbelief and really not knowing what was going on in my
mind at that moment. I could only think of all the people who were
obviously in the tower. Of course they hadn’t had time to all get out!
There was a man with a set of binoculars who started talking about the
people jumping. I looked up and it was obvious that some of the specks I
was seeing amongst the debris were people jumping. Several people were
crying out at that point, and the woman next to me was still crying.
About a few minutes after that as I stood watching, someone yelled ‘It’s
falling!” meaning the second tower. I quickly took up my camera snapped
several pictures, still in denial of what I was seeing, but taking it
all down in film anyway!

There was much crying and moaning after that. The situation around me
just got worse and there was more and more confusion. I stayed around
for probably another half-hour or so, trying to ascertain more
information and whether there were any trains running and any way to get
home. Soon after that I noticed a truck driver with his truck and a
radio on parked on the east side of the street next to the Chase bank.
Several people approached the truck, listening closely to this vehicle
and radio. He confirmed the attacks on the Pentagon, but still no
specifics. I realized that many people including myself were in shock
and continued to try to understand that horrible sight of the falling
tower we had just witnessed. I still cannot believe it. Within 20 – 30
minutes I started asking people and MTA employees what was running and
decided to find a way to get home. I never expected I would be walking
the entire 8 or more miles to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, but I did.

At this point, the area began to look like a war zone of sorts. There
were many more emergency and police vehicles gathering into the area and
slowly, they seemed to be blocking people from going south below Canal
street, which is still the cutting off point.

Then I decided there was nothing more to be done, or certainly nothing I
could do. I lost interest in taking any more photos, and ascertained
that perhaps the bridges to Brooklyn were open to pedestrians. I started
walking with a slowly increasing crowd of ‘refugees’ (we really were
refugees at this point) east towards the Manhattan bridge which is just
parallel to the Brooklyn bridge. As I got closer to the bridge I began
to see the increase in crowds. I also noticed that despite the fact that
some people along the street had said that the bridges and all subways
were closed, the traffic and crowds were still going towards the bridge
and it seemed in the distance that the bridge had pedestrians and
traffic slowly going across.

I stopped once or twice to ask MTA employees who I saw blocking the
subway entrances, whether the bridge was open to walkers. All they could
tell me was that they ‘weren’t sure’ and I should go ahead and try. Once
or twice I glanced back at the sky above what once ‘was’ the towers in
the distance to see nothing but an increasingly large plume of smoke,
sort of like a small nuclear bomb had been detonated. Also, there was a
smoky, acrid smell in the air, which only increased as I approached the
bridge. I proceeded to the bridge entrance, and at first wasn’t sure
whether I had to bear right and go on the pedestrian entrance and
walkway or just walk across the bridge. There was a steady slow stream
of cars and trucks on my left also entering the bridge entrance, but
also a parallel line of pedestrians (‘refugees’ if you will) on the
right side, which I then decided to join.

As I walked, I watched the people around me. I was astounded at the
increasing amount of soot and debris covered souls who seemed to
definitely be exiting a ‘war zone’ or a bombed out area, depending on
how you viewed it.

I listened as I walked to several ‘stories’ of what had happened to
those refugees. I heard some scary stories of ‘mere escapes’. Soon about
1/4 of the way across the bridge I started talking to a tall
african-american gentleman, who had on a very expensive looking three
piece suit completely covered in debris and soot, carrying his work,
seemingly in his valise. As we talked he explained he had just escaped
by exiting the (south) tower because he had gone down to go to the ATM
across the street. If I remember correctly (not sure at this point) he
had left the area as he saw the second tower attacked and then saw the
first tower fall. My memory of our conversation at this point is rather
unreliable and I cannot remember details that well.

I ended up walking for another hour or more, intermittently trying to
flag a taxi, or catch one of the buses heading up Flatbush Avenue. All
of this was to no avail and eventually I gave up and decided, since a
gentleman had told me that Prospect park was only about 5 – 7 blocks
ahead (that didn’t make much difference to my feet at that moment) I
walked on.

One of the few uplifting moments of that disastrous morning was the
different groups of people lined up along Flatbush Avenue (this is
FLATBUSH AVE mind you!), giving out Water and soda for the walkers… or
should I say, ‘refugees’. We must have looked like that as we walked
slowly and quietly for the most part, across the Bridges towards our way
home. I stopped by a group of young conservative Jewish girls who were
handing out soda, and got something from them. This was the only
highlight of that day. I kept walking, observing the human collateral
from this attack. Finally, I reached Prospect Park, from the War
Memorial side and started walking through on the East side. As I walked
there were small groups of people who had obviously gathered together
for their walk balk, or perhaps just joined each other on the way. I did
not feel like talking much at that point, but merely wanted to get home,
perhaps turn on the television for the news and find out more.

This event will forever be impressed upon my mind and I can only think
of two other events which will have such significance; the day President
Kennedy was shot and my own father’s death when I was eight years old in
December of 1960.

I was there too

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My 9/11 story……


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