U.S. Air Force
The "Tribute in Light" memorial on September 11, 2006.
Though the latest anniversary of the 9/11 attacks wasn't a multiple of five or 10, the memories felt more immediate this year, probably owing to several reasons.
This was the last September 11 of the 00s, an unnamed decade that in retrospect didn't really seem to start until that dreadful morning, recasting the young century in a decidedly troubled light. Similarly, the event is fading from recent memory, transitioning into an experience from an earlier stage of our lives, all the while acquiring the patina of definable, not just instant history. Finally, given the quadrennial cycle of American government, this eighth anniversary was the first of its kind politically, falling in the first year of a new presidential administration as the attacks did, a corresponding moment within the broader fin de siècle that the attacks helped define.
9/11 instantly became one of those "Where were you when..." historical moments for Americans. That day, its aftermath, and their encompassing effect upon the world thereafter were a primary spur to the emergence and acceptance of the online media environment that reigns today. It has been documented via testimony, video, debate, and commentary unlike anything preceding it, a historical moment that we simultaneously share and seek to share.
More oral history was shared Friday in a discussion on The Daily Page Forum, with participants recommitting their memories. The conversation was started by "Ned Flounders," who wrote:
Where were you eight years ago this morning?
I was working at my then-office on Dayton St. The first I heard of anything was when one of the other guys poked his head in and asked if I'd seen the news. I had no idea what he was talking about, but we dug out a TV from somewhere and set it up and watched for about half an hour, utterly shocked. Gradually all the other people in the office wandered in and we all started talking.
At some point I went back to my desk and tried to get back to work, but it was totally pointless. Then my wife called, and I decided to just take the rest of the day off. We drove out to the countryside beyond Verona and sat around under a friend's apple trees, trying to make sense of how such horrible things could be happening on such a beautiful, peaceful day (anyone else remember what a gorgeous, crystal-clear blue sky we had that day in Madison?)
In the days that followed I spent way too much time watching, listening to, and reading the news, but on that first afternoon of the 11th I was just grateful for the ability to turn it all off and go away from the rest of the human race for a couple of hours.
How about you? What do you remember?
A cascade of responses followed, from people who watched or listened to the events unfold from TVs and radios on the UW and Edgewater campuses, in MMSD classrooms, other workplaces and homes around Madison, as well as a prison in Winnebago, a cabin near Hayward, and beyond. Here are some of their memories.
"Henry Vilas" wrote:
I was teaching a social studies class for high school seniors. We were watching a documentary on Stalin (the assigned reading at that time was Orwell's Animal Farm). Our principal came to the door to tell me about the first plane hitting the WTC. The teacher in the next room turned on the classroom TV and soon the second plane hit. I ended the movie and moved my students into the other classroom. The school staff spend the rest of the day trying to convince our students that the Wisconsin Capitol wouldn't be the next target.
I knew my wife was at home by herself so I tried to call her. The phone lines were jammed and I couldn't get through. When I finally got home, we watched the news all night and wondered what was going to happen next.
Standing at the circulation desk at the correctional treatment facility in Winnebago, WI, handing books back to inmates. My assistant came around the corner a few minutes before 8 and said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I think I said something like, "Jesus." Not thinking that it could have been deliberate and aggressive, she left the room and I went on with business.
Cut to 15 minutes later or so. We're still operational, but rumors are flying about bombs in box trucks on Pennsylvania Avenue and fires at the Capital (DC, not Madison: things weren't that crazy). This is what happens when you work in an environment where information technology is second to gossip. By 10, we were already in a vacant classroom, inmates locked down, watching the towers fall.
I slept through it. I still feel strange about that, but fact was I was in college and didn't have class until 1pm that day, so naturally, was sleeping in. Around 9:30 one of my roommates knocked on my door and frantically told me that we were "under attack."
That woke me up pretty quick. We all gathered around the TV and tried to puzzle out what the heck was going on. We stayed glued there for a couple of hours, and then I went to campus for class, which our teacher promptly canceled. I remember hearing that several fellow students who were in the National Guard and the like had already gotten calls, some in the middle of class, ordering them to active duty. It was very surreal.
Went to work that night and they'd closed the place (without calling employees to tell them, of course), and drove down the Beltline gawking, stunned, at all of the flags at half mast and the empty skies.
I do remember how clear and blue it was that morning. I had arrived at work unusually early (because I was up unusually early) and quite tired (we had a six-month old at home who didn't like to sleep at night) and happened to notice the sky as I walked into the building.
By the time I got to my desk, the first plane had already hit (I overheard people talking about it as I sat down) and I immediately thought that it wasn't an accident (which is odd, because I don't recall being concerned about terrorism at that time).The company I worked for at the time had its headquarters in Boston, so I do remember some folks in HR at both sites scrambling around in a bit of a panic (via email) trying to find out who might be traveling that out of Boston (no one was the answer).
When the second plane hit (and there were a bunch of planes still in the air), I decided that I'd rather wait for the end of the world at home with my family (I took a friend with me). As we were driving, the reports of a fire at the Pentagon were first coming across the radio and I recall looking out the window of my car expecting to see a plane headed my way.
I was only planning on working a half-day anyway as I had a friend coming up from Chicago to meet the baby (and he was freaking out over his cell phone because there were concerns about the Sears Tower being a target and people were scrambling to get out of the city). We have some interesting videos from that night of him playing with my daughter (she is roaring with laughter), but in the background you can hear (and sometime see) the TV recap of the day's events.
I remember it being a nice, sunny day and that I was unhappy to be working in the cubicle farm. A woman who sat by me came in late and told us she just heard on the radio that a plane hit the World Trade Center. I was thinking she meant a small, private plane and that maybe the pilot had a heart attack or some medical emergency. Sadly, over the next 15 minutes the details started emerging and my work didn't matter anymore.
Someone rolled a TV from one of the meeting rooms into the break room and people crowded in to watch the news. I remember hearing gasps and other sad, shocked reactions when the first tower collapsed. Some people hugged and I remember having a cynical thought that one of the HR sticklers would probably have them in their office to remind them about sexual harrassment policy. Nobody knew what to say. Nobody among the leadership dared tell us to get back to work. After the second tower collapsed, I saw the senior VP standing at someone's cubicle speaking into the phone. He called the loudspeaker number and told us that our company had an office in one of the towers but there was no news so we should keep them in our thoughts and prayers. He told us that he was clsoing our office and we would figure out our work dilemmas at a more appropriate time. We stayed closed the day after. When I left the office I was driving down Pleasant View Road and I was overcome by everything and I pulled over and cried a bit. I rarely cry.
Another aspect about that day that has stayed with me was finding out that a friend was doing business on the phone with someone in the first tower when the plane hit. He heard the noise over the phone. The woman in the WTC made a comment that whatever it was didn't sound so good and begged off the call. Fortunately she was on a lower floor and got out.
I was working at Madison Newspapers. In our department (not one of the newsrooms), we were alerted to it by our co-workers who arrived late enough to have heard about it on their car radios. We found a rickety old portable TV and turned it on.
It's interesting how frequently you hear the same things from so many people's experiences. We too allowed ourselves to hope that the first impact was some sort of unimaginable accident, right up until the second impact was reported.
The second impact had been recorded, and was replayed repeatedly. I still remember the implausible sight of the airliner just disappearing into the skyscraper like it had been absorbed. If I'd seen such a thing in a movie, I would have ridiculed it as poor special effects work.
When the impact on the Pentagon and the wreckage in Pennsylvania were reported, the real sense of horror crept in. There was no reason to believe these attacks weren't going to take place in cities from coast to coast. I remember the receptionist at the front of one of the newsrooms crying; a friend of mine (one of the paper's editors) and I tried to reassure her that things would somehow be all right, even if we had no tangible reason to believe it ourselves.
I had a troubled, fitful night's sleep that night. My radio was on; I used to leave music playing softly all night, but this night the station carried a nationwide news feed instead, and as I was trying to fall asleep, I kept hearing gruesome descriptions of the terrorists' likely M.O. while seizing the aircraft.
It was such a beautiful day in Madison. I remember really enjoying the weather as I was waiting for the bus down to my morning class, Business Law with Prof. Bruce Harms. It was my favorite class of the semester and I was in a really great mood that morning. Class would have started right after the first plane hit, and I remember Prof. Harms briefly announcing at the start that he had been told there had been a terrorist attack on the East Coast, but he didn't know any details and I suppose I didn't think too much of it at the time. After class I jumped on the bus back to my apartment, and I noticed people talking gravely but I had my earphones on was still oblivious. When I returned to my apartment all of my roommates were out, and instead of turning on the TV or radio I read a magazine in my room with a CD on the stereo and the windows open, letting in the nicest breeze. I remember thinking how great of a day it was shaping up to be. At around 1:00 I had a quick lunch and I was getting ready to head back down to campus for my afternoon class, and then I remembered what Prof. Harms had said earlier. When I turned on the TV the first image I saw was the north tower falling.
I still went to my afternoon class, though I don't know why since not many people showed up and all anyone was talking about was what happened. Rumors were flying around the room, and it seemed that no one knew what had really happened. After class I walked over to my friends' house on Mound. We had a tradition of going to BW3's on Tuesday for wings and beer, and this night was no different. I remember sitting in the basement at a table with about eight or ten of my friends, quietly and seriously discussing the events of the day over a pitcher of beer. To this day I'm still conflicted on the matter, because it wasn't like we were celebrating or having any fun, but having a few beers with my friends on 9/11/01 just doesn't seem right. I think we were all clinging on to the familiar routine, and we certainly weren't the only people in the bar that night.
I do recall one specific conversation I had with my friends that night. Of our group I suppose I was considered the most knowledgeable on current events and foreign affairs, in part because I've always taken an interest in such things, and also because I was taking IB 200 at the time - meaning I had a subscription to the Financial Times newspaper (I've still got the 9/12/01 edition in a drawer somewhere). My friend asked me if I thought there would be a war now, and I replied that there would be at least two that would come of the events of that morning.
8 years ago today i was a teaching assistant at a school in Madison. Before i went to work I was standing on my balcony at probably 6 in the morning smoking a cigarette. It was still kind of dark but also kind of light-a kinda lavender color in the sky. It was so calm and pretty. It is really weird what happened next. An airplane flew over head and I thought, as I dragged on my cigarette, how nice it would be to be on that plane and head somewhere else. Like maybe to a vacation spot. I just remember that thought lingering in my mind.
Then off to school. I second hour class I was assisting a student and another teacher informed me about the pentagon. Things are a bit of a blur though I still recall my jeans and powder blue cardigan sweater w/ a white tee underneath...someone pulled a tv into the classroom and we all sat dumstruck staring at the screen. Even the wild misbhaved kids were shocked into silence. I cried in that classroom. The next hour was gym class for the student i had to shadow that day. The tough as nails gym teachers went on as normal. The kids were playing football outside. I just sat on the grass near the field and could focus on nothing but the silent sky. I remember being scared a lot after that. Scared of being alone at home when it was dark. Scared of noises.
I also remember pointing out the irony of some of the people in the World Trade Center who smoked deadly cigarettes had to have been downstairs and outside of the building. Did their smoking really save their lives that day....?
I now work at a hospital, live in a different place, I no longer smoke, i drive a different car, have a different significant other, have so many things different and changed but the images of the buildings and the debris in the streets will be forever lodged in my brain. That will never be different.
I cannot believe 8 years have gone by.
My husband and I were up at a vacation rental on a lake about 20 mi from Hayward. The place had a TV and VCR, but no cable/satellite or antenna. We did bring a laptop with us as there was a phone at the place and figured we could dial up through our work connection if we needed to.
Sept. 11 was the 3rd day of our trip. I woke up really early, was bored and turned on the TV. All I could get was a really snowy Fox station showing cartoons. I decided to dialup and surf the web for a while and came across a brief news item on Yahoo that said something about a small plane hitting one of the towers. I turned the TV on figuring that if it was any big deal it'd be on the news. The station was still showing cartoons. I turned the TV off and made some coffee. About an hour or so later, I turned the TV on again. I could see a news report was on, but couldn't make out anything. I scrounged around for anything that I could use as a makeshift antenna for the crappy little TV. Found an old hanger and managed to get a better picture and could finally hear the newscaster announce that the pentagon was hit. I was stunned, to say the least. Then he mentioned the towers again and that's when it really sunk in. I ran into the bedroom where my husband was sleeping and woke him up, saying something like "the country's under attack". He didn't get what I was saying and I kept trying to explain until he finally came into the living room and saw what was on TV.
We dialed up on the laptop, but couldn't get to any of the news sites, too much traffic online. It took about an hour to get Yahoo and find out all that had happened. We found a radio and listened to NPR the rest of the day.
My sister was supposed to fly back from Helsinki that day and my dad was working for an airline and was also flying. So, I spent most of the day trying to figure out where they were. My sister finally reached me in a panic wondering what was going on. She could only get CNN International and wanted to know what we knew. I tracked down my dad in Chicago at a hotel where they had moved the flight crew after grounding the flights.
We ended up going home 2 days later. It was weird to drive home and see all of the flags up around the neighborhood. The other thing I remember was how quiet it was. No one was outside doing yardwork or hanging out. Later it was interesting to hear stories from coworkers about what their experience was that day. Their experience was so different in that they gathered in groups and knew what was going on from the start. For us, it was a mixture of fear and frustration trying to figure out what was going on and being away from all of our family and friends.
I was on a bus on the way to work. I overheard a young woman on her cell phone talking to her boss(?) or someone at work saying "What, what happened?" She starting looking around, unbelieving and I finally asked, "what's going on?" and then she told us that her boss/coworker had said that planes had flown into the WTCs and they thought they were terrorist attacks. Weird to think that so soon after it happened it was being reported that way - maybe it's just my memory? In any case, I remember getting to work and I think yet another old TV had been pulled from somewhere and people were huddled around it - or it could have been a PC on CNN. Mostly just remember a lot of us huddled into one cubicle watching the horror unfold.
In the days after I remember checking in with friends and family and thinking we/the US had truly lost our innocence and sense of invulnerability - people died on our shores in an act of war/terrorism. So much that has happened since then has just reinforced that institutions will not protect us from the evils of the world. Government, business and religion have all failed - all we have is one another - and that is incredibly tenuous. It's a scary world - and I didn't really think that before 9/11/01. I know it's not as bad as it has been historically - "nasty, brutish and short" et al - but it's not so good and you'd think we would have gained some wisdom over the millennia.
That's nearly a dozen stories, out of more than a score in the forum discussion and hundreds of millions (if not billions) of others held by people around the world about that day.
My own memories are similar to many of the others shared in the forum discussion. As I was preparing to head out the door for work, my first out of college, I flipped on the TV right before 8 a.m. Central Daylight Time, looking to catch the forecast for what from my window looked to be shaping up as a clear, beautiful early autumn day. After a few minutes on The Weather Channel, I flipped a few stations down to CNN to catch some news, and started curiously watching what seemed to be a very strange aviation disaster.
As I recall, the screen showed an image of smoke billowing out of the North Tower, barely 10 minutes after it was hit, shot from what seemed to be a camera on board a helicopter. The anchors and on-the-scene reporters were trying to keep up with events at and around the Towers, trying to get a bead on what happened, and speculating about how and why a plane, as yet of undetermined type and size, could have struck the building. And then out of nowhere, the airborne camera captured a fleeting image of Flight 175 hitting the South Tower and the resulting explosion, and the curiosity turned to horror.
I sat down, and watched that awful morning unfold, as seen through various live broadcasts that preempted regular programming on more and more stations. I flipped frantically between the cable news stations and the networks, transfixed as word came of the Pentagon attack, then watched the image of one tower going down, and then the other, amidst reports about the crash of Flight 93 and the subsequent response by the FAA and the rest of the government to the situation.
It was mesmerizing, this frightening spectacle, and I couldn't turn off the TV. Thoughts on the scale and implications of the tragedy raced through my mind, with its historic nature and potential consequences compounding the dismay.
By 11-ish, though, I had enough, and needed to get outside, get to work, and connect with people. I left my downtown apartment and walked a couple of blocks to the bus stop on State Street. The scene there, on the 200 block along which still sat the old Madison Civic Center and flanking businesses, was eerie. Small clusters of people stood everywhere, under storefront awnings, on the sidewalk, even in the street itself, talking to each other and on phones in hushed voices and with stony faces. My bus arrived, nearly empty, and I climbed on board and was lost in my thoughts on what seemed an instantaneous ride to my job on the near west side.
Upon arriving there, I went into my boss's office, and apologized for being late. He told me it didn't matter: "It's not every day that we go to war," he said, or something close to that. I sat down at my cubicle, powered up the computer, and spent the rest of the day online, following the news, posting on forums, and emailing back-and-forth with my mother, who in turn was in communication with my aunt about the whereabouts of my cousin, who lived in the Financial District barely more than a block from the World Trade Center. Mercifully, he was safe, and we learned bit by bit about his witnessing the disaster and escaping Lower Manhattan. Meanwhile, I watched as online discussion and debate burgeoned, adding to the cacophony where I would. The media consumption continued, as I followed the ongoing coverage into the night and on through the days, weeks, and months that followed.
It was all a blur, passing by swiftly, as have the ensuing eight years.