We Remember: September 11, 2001

World Trade Center September 11, 2001

Photo by Kate Larsen.

This Sunday marks 15 years since the horrific September 11th attacks back in 2001. Four coordinated attacks killed nearly three thousand people and injured twice as many. I had the realization the other day that there is a whole new generation of kids and teens out there who didn’t live through that terrible time, who didn’t know a life before. At least in my mind, there’s definitely a Before and an After. So I wanted to get people to talk about where they were and what happened.

I lived in central Illinois at the time. I had saved up and taken a year off from regular life to go live in sin with my husband Chris, who was my fiance in those days. Chris was at the bank with one of our roommates, paying the rent. This was the one week in my life I worked retail. I was scheduled to start training on the cash register that day, and as I was getting dressed I had the TV on. I remember seeing the footage of the first plane hit, and then the second. I was glued to my TV for as long as I could manage before I knew I had to get in the car and drive to work. I don’t remember anything about that day at work. The numbness set in the longer I thought about the magnitude of what I had witnessed. After I got home from work I heard that the police showed up at one of the research institutions on campus, checking things out because they thought it could be a potential target as well. You could see the building, just three blocks away, outside my bedroom window on the 4th floor. The rest of the year I slept uneasily thinking that we could be next.

I know a lot of people have a similar story: I was getting ready for work and I learned what had happened. But I knew there would be variations, and entirely different stories altogether. So I gathered some EPL staffers together and asked them to share the stories of where they were that fateful day. I would love it if you would consider sharing your story in the comments. We remember. We will always remember.

Linda
It began like any other day…. I got up and got my two kids off to school. My big goal of the day was canning my pickled garlic, and I had all my supplies ready – the brine, the jars, my canner, etc.  It is an all day job boiling each small batch of jars. About 10:30 I turned on the TV, just for some back ground noise in between batches, and I remember turning it on and the first image was a replay of the plane flying into the tower! My first thought was it was some kind of a weird disaster show… but then I realized it was real! My mind couldn’t register that it had happened! I think I was in shock along with the rest of the world for days.

Alan
I was in transition, moving from Boston to Chicago, but between homes, couch surfing with a variety of friends in states throughout the Midwest. When I woke that morning, after a particularly bad night’s sleep – no couch this time, just hardwood floor – I was in Bloomington, Indiana and I know this is cliché, but I thought I was still dreaming. Since that was my main concern, I was dreaming about the road trip, its ins and outs, adventures to come, and so forth. After I found out my brother, who lives in Brooklyn, and worked in Wall Street at that time was OK, I spent the next day, wandering the streets of this lovely college town as depressed and devastated as everyone else. It was only later I got word from friends and family back East that for example, Brian, a boy I remember coloring with in upstate New York had lost his life in one of the towers. There isn’t a day I don’t think about 9/11.

Tyler
I was in 4th grade on September 11th, and the teacher was reading us our daily chapter from whichever book we were working through that month.  I remember being really into the story and was very annoyed when the school principal came in, pulled our teacher aside and whispered something to her.  After the principal left, our teacher turned to the class and told us something to the effect of “the Twin Towers have been attacked”, even though to a class of fourth graders the significance was likely lost.  I remember thinking that I didn’t know what that was and that we should get back to reading the story.  It wasn’t until I got home and my mother had the news story on and I saw the repeated footage of people crying, the smoke, and the collapsing towers that it really sunk in what had happened that day and how serious it was.

Kim
A personal memory for me regarding September 11, 2001 actually happened two months later. A family friend passed away and in explaining to my nephew who had recently turned four that this person had died he asked “Did a plane hit her house?” It brought home to me how even the youngest children realized something devastating had happened to the country and now fear was part of their lives.

Emily
The morning of Sept 11, 2001, I had a late start time at work.  I kept hitting my snooze alarm, which was tuned to an NPR station. I heard fragments of news, “plane crash….,” “…..Pentagon,” “…..terrorism.”  I didn’t put all the bits together until my husband called from his office to ask if I could tell him what was going on. Rumors at his workplace were flying but no one seemed to have the full picture.

I headed to the TV room and turned on the news, and was shocked to see not one, but three buildings had been hit by hijacked planes; a suspected act of terrorism. I called my husband back: “It’s bad. It’s really, really bad.”  I took the quickest shower I could, threw on some clothes and hurried to my job at the Lake City Branch Library.

When I arrived, library staff were halfheartedly preparing to open the library, sniffling and clutching wads of Kleenex. By then, we’d learned about the fourth plane. We formed a circle, held hands, hugged, and talked for a bit, holding each other up. I encouraged staff to take turns stepping away from the library for a little while, to visit their church or place of worship, or simply go hug their families. Whatever their conscience was urging them to do.

Later, one of my co-workers made a tiny, black heart sticker to wear on my Seattle Public Library nametag. She thanked me for “being a sweetheart” on that tragic morning. I no longer work at the Seattle Public Library, but I still have that nametag with the black heart; it’s my souvenir from 9-11.

World Trade Center September 11, 2001

Photo by Kate Larsen.

Richard
I was working at the Columbus branch of the New York Public Library that day and we were getting things ready to open. The daily newspapers hadn’t been delivered (again!), so I went to the corner bodega to pick them up and soon realized something was very wrong. Everyone in the shop was intently listening to the radio and wondering aloud how a pilot could have possibly run into the World Trade Center on such a clear day. When I got back to the branch we began listening to the radio as well, we didn’t have a television, and that is how we learned of the horrible events as they unfolded.

While there was definitely a feeling of shock, confusion and horror at what was happening, the dominant concern at the time was oddly practical and personal for most of us listening: Where were the people we cared about and how the heck were we going to get home with the subway and most of the buses not running? I was technically in charge at the branch, due to a staff illness, so I had to confirm that the library would be closed that day, which took a surprisingly long time to do, and close up the branch so staff could find their loved ones and try to get home safely.

My wife was working in Midtown, in the shadow of the Empire State Building which made us both very nervous that day, and thankfully we were able to find each other and join the large stream of people for the long walk home together. We were lucky, in a way, since we didn’t have to cross any of the bridges to get home, but we did have to walk all the way to 188th street in Washington Heights, a distance of seven miles, where we were living at the time. Once home, with my mother-in-law who was on her first visit to New York no less, we were finally able to get out of survival mode and slowly take in the events of the day.

Kate
I had just moved from the East Village in Manhattan to Greenpoint, Brooklyn when 9/11 happened. I’d lived in New York for just over a year, and on Monday, September 10, had just come back into the City from a long weekend in the Catskills. I remember commenting on the drive back as we passed the World Trade Center that I hadn’t made it there yet (save for the subway stop) and that I probably should make a point to go to the viewing platform.

I’d also taken Tuesday, September 11th off of work to do some errands so I was not at my library in Manhattan that day – but if things had gone as planned I would’ve been only 12 blocks from the World Trade Center, or worse, on the subway running underneath it around the time the first plane hit. However, I was running late.

My husband went out to walk our dog and he rushed back in saying, “You have to come see this. This is crazy!” From the roof of our apartment building in Brooklyn we had a perfect view of downtown New York, so we went up; a few people from our building were already there. At that point both buildings were still standing. (I had my point-and-shoot film camera and snapped a few photos.)

I’ll never forget a French woman who was on the roof with us, cynically commenting about how stupid it was that not one, but two planes had somehow managed to fly into a building – “how could the pilots be so stupid?” she said. It was at that moment that I realized it had to be terrorism.

Both my husband and I were able to call our families and tell them we were okay before the phone lines went out. Then we sat down in front of the TV, and within moments of sitting down we watched first tower fall. We stayed in that same spot, stunned, all day and late into the night. The phone lines and cable quickly went out. You have to understand, this event wiped out services miles away from the World Trade Center site. Of course, in lower Manhattan things were much worse.

The cable company was able to reroute service back through the Empire State Building (where it’d been before the WTC was built), so thankfully we were able to get exactly one TV channel: NY1, the local 24-hour news station. And that was the only channel we had for a very long time – it may have even been months, I can’t remember now – not that having only one channel was important. It took a long time before we would’ve felt okay about changing the channel, or really doing anything other than watching the local news when we weren’t working. Things were very subdued.

On September 12th most of the NYPL branches were closed because transportation became difficult and staff just couldn’t get to them. But, the Library was justifiably proud to be able to open some branches, offering refuge and a place for people to just gather and be together and try to process what happened, and what was going to happen. Libraries have always supported their communities in important ways, but this was an event that showed the true power of libraries. Public libraries in New York became critical lifelines.

In the months that followed we watched as the City changed around us. Too many things happened to list them here– like the regular presence of armed National Guard soldiers at subway stops (imagine if armed guards were at every major intersection you drive through) to the peculiar odor that remained for months in lower Manhattan – but daily life changed drastically, and remained changed for years.

Where Were You? The Eruption of Mount St. Helens

It may be surprising to note that we’ve reached the 35th anniversary of the disastrous eruption of Mount St. Helens. On May 18, 1980, a beautiful Sunday morning was shattered by a 5.1 earthquake near Spirit Lake, starting a chain reaction that resulted in the explosion of the active volcano we have come to fear and respect. As stated on the USDA’s Mount St. Helens website:

The eruption lasted 9 hours, but Mount St. Helens and the surrounding landscape were dramatically changed within moments.

Everything I just told you is fact. And while I’d love to share some facts from my life surrounding this epic event, I was not yet born. Therefore I have pestered my colleagues into sharing their personal stories and memories of this momentous day.

rememberingmountsthelens

Mount St. Helens had been active for quite a while when I made a trip past it on the way to visit a friend in Washougal, WA. Near Longview, I dropped off a hitchhiker who said he intended to sneak into the red zone set up around the mountain. Two days later, back home in Bellingham on Sunday morning, a noise loud enough to cause waves in my water bed woke me up. My home was near enough to a railroad switching yard that I assumed it was connecting train cars that had jarred me out of sleep. Because I didn’t have a television, and didn’t listen to the radio that morning, it wasn’t until afternoon that I discovered that the noise that shook me out of bed was Mount St. Helens blowing up! I often wondered if that hitchhiker managed to sneak into the red zone and if so, did he make it out alive? After a hike in the North Cascades later in the year was cut short by ash fall, my hiking buddy gave me a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t come to Washington, Washington will come to you. Mount St. Helens.” I had it on my car for years until someone pointed out that the lettering had faded so that all that remained was “Don’t come to Washington.”
Theresa

When Mount St. Helens erupted, I was in Victoria, B.C. with my high school marching band, getting ready to perform in the Victoria Days parade. I think we didn’t find out about the event until returning home, which was in Des Moines (WA, not IA). There wasn’t much evidence of the explosion in my neighborhood, but the following September I headed to Walla Walla for my first year of college, and ash was still quite prevalent in that area. And to bring things full circle, we put together a very small marching band for our soccer homecoming game, and the other trumpet player (to be silly) wore a surgical mask (which were recommended after the blow up) while marching.
Ron

It was a beautiful sunny spring day. My mother and I were in church at Saint Mary Magdalene’s. Because it was such a warm lovely day, the church doors were propped open. Suddenly there was a loud Ka-Boom! We thought it was probably a sonic boom.  When we returned home we discovered that Mount St. Helens had exploded. I don’t know why we didn’t think it was the volcano right away when we heard the explosion. The bulge in the mountain was on the news every night, as well as the many interviews with Harry Truman at Spirit Lake Lodge.
Fran

st.helensYou might think the explosion of a volcano would leave a large impression on a young man, but sadly the eruption of Mount St. Helens was just a news headline for me in 1980 as I prepared to enter junior high school in the wilds of Wisconsin. Bouncing around in my self-absorbed pre-adolescent mind were songs like “Cars” by Gary Numen or “Refugee” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with little room left for significant geological and national news events. Oddly though, I do remember a rather dreadful direct-to-cable movie that came out a year or two after the event titled, St. Helens. It was your classic, and cheesy, disaster movie starring Art Carney as Harry Randall Truman, the lodge owner who refused to leave despite ample warning that the mountain was going to blow.
Richard

I remember that it was a Sunday and my fiancée (now husband of almost 25 years) and I were headed into an opera at the Seattle Center. It was Wagner, I believe. We saw an ash plume when we emerged. What’s that? It took a while to find out since in those days we didn’t have a mobile phone, of course. We had to go home and wait for the 5 o’clock news to find out that a volcano had erupted.
Leslie

My memory of that day is similar to thousands of others…I was working in the backyard in my north Everett home, and my 5-month-old baby was napping in the house. Suddenly I heard what I thought was the loudest sonic boom I’d ever heard! (I just knew that’s what it was because I’d grown up in Eastern Washington, where we heard these things all the time.) It rattled the windows and really shook me up. I thought those military planes weren’t supposed to fly that low! Boy, was I stunned over the next few days; every time we turned on the TV we saw more our state being choked with ash – ash that eventually made its way around the world. It was so sad, mostly for cities to the northeast of the mountain, and for mountain resident Harry Truman, who’d been interviewed repeatedly since the mountain started rumbling, and who refused to leave his home.
Chris

It was a Sunday, middle of the afternoon and my mother was driving us kids back home to Colfax from Spokane. The sky got really dark, like it was going to storm…and boy did it rain down this silvery white ash like snow. Our car, a little Corvair, choked on all the ash in the air filter and broke down. Luckily, the high school principal was just a few cars back and gave us a ride back to town in his big Suburban. When we got home, we had students from WSU camped out in our living room because they couldn’t get back to school. We ended up with over a foot of ash…we cleared it off the roof and sidewalks with snow shovels. I was in eighth grade at the time and the spring quarter ended then, on that day…Yippee, early summer vacation! The town where I grew up was in the Palouse, famous for our wheat fields and other agricultural products. Everyone was worried what the ash would do to the crops; in the end, it didn’t hurt them, and may have even fertilized them some. I remember we all had to wear these ash masks when we went outside. At first they were afraid that the fallout might hurt us (possible radiation or contamination), but when it didn’t, they let us kids play in the muck just like we played in snow. It was scary at the time but fascinating to watch on television.
Gloria

The weekend Mount St. Helens erupted my best friend had come up from Longview to visit me in Seattle. She got a phone call from her parents telling her the mountain had erupted and she should come right home before the road was cut off.  All predictions were expecting the I-5 Bridge to go once the massive flow of debris on the Toutle River met the Cowlitz River.  I was immediately frightened for my Grandma; she lived in Kelso just five blocks from the Cowlitz River and her neighborhood was right at river level.  The quick action of evacuation efforts got them out of potential harm’s way.  I had a number of other friends and relatives in that area, and in the path of the heaviest ash fallout; thankfully the only harm suffered was to their vehicles. I had been on an outing to Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake just a few years before. I had a vivid memory of what it looked like before the eruption, making it even more amazing to compare to the devastating images I was seeing on TV.
Anita

We were planning to go on a hike to the ice caves. It was before I was married to my now-husband Rob. We also were planning to go with two friends of ours. Rob called and asked if I had heard that Mount St. Helens had blown up (I didn’t have a TV, but it was on the radio). It didn’t seem real at the time. I know that sounds clichéd but at the time it seemed like the news media was exaggerating everything. That couldn’t be really happening, could it? So we decided that it wasn’t a good idea to go hiking that day, but we still went outside anyway—3 of us ended up over at my apartment. They weren’t saying right away that people should stay inside. Later that evening, it seemed, they were warning people to avoid going out in the ash. Anyway, we still went outside to investigate. You could see it in the sky that afternoon and for days afterward you had to go around wiping ash off of every surface. You could see it everywhere.
Kathy

Almost every summer, my father taught a summer session at UW on volcanoes and we traveled up from Colorado. Part of our summer trip up here was a stay near Mount St. Helens at Spirit Lake. It was a favorite childhood place of mine, and we continued to travel there as a family throughout my college years. I had been following the Mount St. Helens rumblings on TV. We were living in Panama and I was following this on CNN because of my childhood memories of going there. I was fascinated, glued to CNN and very upset whenever the armed forces TV service would cut away to something else. When I found out it blew up I learned it had forever changed Spirit Lake. My mother had said it was the most beautiful, perfect volcano in the world. It was all very, very sad.
Pat B.

I was a young wife and new mother living in the town of Carnation. I had just given birth to our eldest child Carla, born April 20th 1980. The thought that the world was coming to an end crossed my mind fueled by an excess of postpartum hormones. I don’t even think we had TV at the time nor did I need one to see the monumental plume. I was able to step out into our yard and see the ash dust. I would later be given a small vile of the dust that I held onto for years. We hope to visit Mount St. Helens this summer and see how life has returned in the aftermath.
Margo

I was only 3 at the time, but my mom said she went outside. We didn’t get a whole ton of ash on the ground at first, but she said it was really dark out. She said it seemed like the beginning of a snowfall, and that it was so freaky to see the sky that way. It was in the middle of a nice day and then the sky just got dark so very suddenly. She was always on the move so she didn’t spend a lot of time watching TV. So it came as a shock to see it happening in the middle of her day. She wasn’t scared, but was confused and wanted to see what was going on.
Jennifer H.

I honestly don’t remember the Mount St. Helens eruption. I just remember that massive tire fire that started a few years later. I went to North Middle and we couldn’t go to school after the tire fire since the ventilation system at the school sucked in all the fumes.
Kevin