January 12, 2020

Article at Graham on Authory

New York after 9/11



New York

has seen

better days


Magnitude of disaster

is a grim reminder

of U.S. vulnerability



Special to The Item


Editor’s note: Graham Osteen is editor and publisher of The (Hartsville) Messenger, and former executive editor of The Item.


New York is a resilient place.

America’s greatest metropolis has survived fires, riots, epidemics, blackouts, stock market crashes, violent social unrest and horrific crimes. It has been destroyed in more books and movies than any city in history.

What Gotham faces now – a massive cleanup and the raw horror of some 4,800 innocent civilians slaughtered in broad daylight – serves as a symbol of what we face as a country. The nation has a big mess on its hands, and there are no clear or easy answers. Resilience is imperative, and New York’s response will continue to affect America’s psyche on many levels.

I traveled to New York last Saturday morning by train from Washington, D.C., arriving around noon. Midtown Penn Station seemed normal enough, and the pace was typically hectic.

I proceeded on toward Lower Manhattan, the area in which the World Trade Centers once stood. Things changed very quickly.

There is an approximately 16-square block area that is  demarcated by police barricades. New York City police officers stand guard at each possible entry point, and National Guardsmen patrol the entire perimeter. There are several areas around the site that permit public viewing down streets.

Thousands of people were congregated around the perimeters, trying to catch a glimpse of the damage. Vendors sell pictures of the Twin Towers and New York City Fire Department shirts and hats emblazoned with the now familiar “FDNY.”  The atmosphere, however, is not like the vendor areas of the Garment or Theater districts. It’s more like a religious experience. People who made this pilgrimage are quiet and considerate of one another as they trade places in front of the barricades and make their way around the makeshift memorials. They read the cards, look at the pictures and move slowly. Many cry. The police and Guardsmen are polite, helpful and firm when they have to be.

There were several people handing out religious material. One brochure, titled “(remembrance) fallen but not forgotten,” features compelling photos and text that deal with hate, loss, faith and the power of God’s mercy. It’s available at www.911Recovery.com.

The clock on the tower of St. Paul’s Trinity Church Chapel, just a block from the rubble at the corner of Fulton Street and Broadway, is frozen at 9:55 a.m., the same time the South Tower collapsed. The church serves as a command center for police and emergency workers.

The entire area is still thick with concrete dust and ash – it’s in the air in various degrees throughout the day – and the evidence of dust and destruction is on buildings and windows a full month after the attack. I suppose residents and local public officials take it for granted, but visitors don’t. It’s a mess everywhere you look, and many people wear surgical masks as they go about their business. Police escorts take local residents past barricades to their apartments or places of business.

Then there’s the smell. The most consistent smell is that of burned metal. It’s similar to the aftermath of a house fire, but more consuming and metallic. There are other smells present as the winds and the temperatures of the day change, but these are unfamiliar. One can only imagine.

I stayed until almost dark, ending up down on Wall Street, below the site. It was essentially deserted, and countless businesses are closed indefinitely. Private security guards keep watch and a few police officers patrol, but it was like a ghost town. I walked several blocks before finding an open street and catching a cab back uptown.

On Sunday morning, my wife and I went back to the site at sunrise. We started at the New York Stock Exchange and backtracked the previous day’s route. There were very few citizens walking around, only police, Guardsmen and many workers. Trucks moved steadily in and out of the designated streets, carrying huge, twisted steel beams and giant slabs of concrete. The efforts seem almost futile in the midst of such massive destruction, but the grim determination of the people working on the site and around the perimeter is obvious. They’ll get it done.

Early that Sunday morning, our cab driver on the way downtown was a black man named John Wilkes. He has been driving cabs in New York City for 26 years, so he thought he’d seen it all.

On the morning of Sept. 11, he dropped off an Asian man at the World Trade Center, and it was less than an hour later that he saw both towers blazing from four blocks away. He had a customer who wanted to get closer, but Wilkes refused.

“I don’t have to go down there,” Wilkes told the man. The customer got out and started walking.

““It didn’t make good sense. It was mass chaos,” he said. “Thousands of people were in the streets. All the bridges were closed.”

He made his way out of the area, through the Midtown Tunnel, and went home to Queens, where he lives with his wife, a banker.

“I was born here,” he said, “but my father is from Virginia. I went to high school and college there.”

Before Sept. 11, Wilkes said he averaged two or three trips a day to the World Trade Center, and on an average day he moved 30-40 people around New York. The volume is now less than half.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “There’s still a lot of smoke and debris, and the odor is terrible when the wind blows.”

“People aren’t happy,” he said. “One Arab cab driver had his taxi burned. There are lots of Afghans, and you don’t know who’s who. A lot of people won’t pick them up.”

I returned to Washington Sunday afternoon and drove by the Pentagon. In many ways, the devastation there is more disturbing because it’s so clearly visible. Seeing planes taking off from Reagan National Airport is something no one takes for granted anymore. Before it was just part of the Washington landscape.

Americans have always answered the call, and we are doing so again. We have no choice.



Construction workers are dwarfed by the rubble of Four World Trade Center, one of the smaller buildings in the World Trade Center complex that was demolished by the fall of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11.


Crowds gather at a police barricade in New York last Saturday to view the devastation.


Children from all over the world have sent cards and posters that can be seen in makeshift memorials all around the World Trade Center Complex.


Police and National Guardsmen keep watch at perimeter areas 24 hours a day, and escort local residents and business owners past the barricades when necessary.


The clock on the tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral is frozen at 9:55 a.m., the same time the South Tower collapsed.


Thousands of enormous steel girders, twisted by heat in the collapse, are removed by trucks from the site throughout the night and day.


The attack on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., has received less attention than the attack on the World Trade Centers, but the devastation there is terrible, and it’s clearly visible to passers-by.