By: Greg Mitchell
One day last week, a few E&P staffers took a lunchtime stroll down Ninth Street, past the natural-food shops, the Starbucks, and the chic junk stores, looking for a photo gallery somewhat out of place in the trendy East Village. Surely this is the only storefront on the street with 9/11 memorabilia in its window — and the only one visited in recent months by both Janeane Garofalo and Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson.
It’s a gallery run by New York Post photographer Bolivar Arellano, who is featured on page 24 of this issue. You pay $2 at the door and step into a small room where nearly every inch of wall space is covered with pictures taken on Sept. 11 by newspaper photographers. All but two of the photos (showing a severed hand and a mangled body) are for sale, helping the operation to net more than $50,000 for families of 9/11 victims.
Many of the images still have the power to transport you to that day far better than any prose, each worth more than the usual thousand words. As a media-saturated American, you think that you’ve seen them all, and then you notice a photo (taken by Arellano himself) of a World Trade Center “jumper” nearing the end of his fall, not like so many others — with arms extended, as if trying to fly — but with his arms wrapped tightly around his chest, head bowed, as if in prayer, calmly awaiting his fate.
Elsewhere in the gallery, we found, among other objects, the shoes worn by New York Daily News photographer David Handschuh that day, still coated with thick WTC dust, as well as a picture of a Raggedy Ann doll at Ground Zero — next to the doll itself.
Then we walked, a little shaken, back to our office. Like others in the VNU editorial edifice, we work closer to Ground Zero than nearly any other magazine staffers in New York, and perhaps that’s why we have brought a special passion to our post-9/11 coverage the past year.
Every weekday morning, when I finish my commute by exiting the subway at Astor Place, nothing but empty sky greets me looking south down Lafayette Street. Until a year ago, I saw something quite different filling much of the same sky: the twin totems of the World Trade Center, welcoming me above ground in Manhattan.
Compared with the stories you may have read earlier in this issue, my own Sept. 11 story pales, but it informs everything I write and feel about the tragedy. That morning, I was midway to Grand Central Terminal on a train when the conductor came on the public-address system and said, “A plane has just hit the World Trade Center.” And, sure enough, straight down the Hudson, there was one of the Twin Towers smoking. Then, a few minutes later, pulling into Grand Central, came another announcement: “You’re not going to believe this, folks, but a plane has just hit the other tower.”
My first thought was: “What floor does Jon Albert work on?” I recalled it as being horrendously high. I had just talked with my friend the previous night. He was a board member of the local Little League, I was a manager. I had coached his son for several years, and wrote about Jon and his boy in a recent book.
Only much later, when I learned the flight paths of the two jetliners, did I realize that as I was training along the river, the hijacked planes were speeding directly overhead. Nearing the city, I might have even heard one of them.
After arriving, I spent the next three hours trying to reach our office, more than 30 blocks south. I took a cab for a few blocks, then traffic stopped. I walked back to Grand Central thinking the subways might be running again. They weren’t, and Grand Central had been evacuated. Like other New Yorkers, I staggered around in a daze for an hour. Then I trudged to the office. As I got below 14th Street, I could see the mountain of deadly smoke covering that patch of blue sky that once embraced the towers. I was a veteran of ground zeroes, having spent a lot of time in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but this was here, this was now. Swirls of acrid dust blew in my face — pulverized concrete and (I imagined) human residue.
Well, I reached the office, somehow got home that night, could not return the next day as everything south of 14th Street was sealed off, but dodged the police lines on Thursday to help get the issue out, on time: a small miracle. To do it, we had to ignore the disturbing smells from outside that often filtered through our ventilation system. Our first cover was all black with “September 11, 2001” in white type. My friend Jon Albert still hadn’t come home. The following week, we ran on the cover a picture of Aris Economopoulos, a photographer for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., barely escaping the ruins of Ground Zero, still clutching his camera. Now, nearly a year later, we dedicate this week’s issue to all the Jon Alberts of 9/11 — and the courageous journalists who have made us feel and understand what happened to him and nearly 3,000 others that day.