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The September 11 Digital Archive

Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Smithsonian “September 11:
Bearing Witness to History”

     Story of September 11
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Contributed by: Stacy Markus
Contributor's location on 9/11: New York City
Contributed on: 2 August 2002

How did you witness history on September 11th?

My husband, Jason and I were asleep when my mother in Michigan called to ask us how far we lived from the World Trade Center. Jason had a friend, Tom visiting from out of town and had taken the day off of work from the Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). They had been out late the night before after the Yankee game had been cancelled due to the thunder storm. When I finally woke up and looked at the television and the smoking towers, I asked Jason what movie was on and why my mother was calling, that was approximately 9:05am. I spent the next couple of minutes trying to grasp what was happening. I immediately called my father's cell phone to make sure he wasn't there for a meeting. When he assured me that he was safe in the Virgin Islands and he knew about the small plane that hit the Tower, I screamed "no, Dad, there were two, we are under attack!" That was the first time any of us had heard the word "attack" and it shocked me just as much as it did my father, Jason, and Tom. After that, we sat down to watch the television. We watched as the first tower fell and then, in my shock, I decided that would be a good time to take a shower in case we had to evacuate our apartment 4 miles away from the devastation. While I was in the shower I heard Jason yell when I asked what happened, he said the other tower fell. I think it was too much for me, it didn't make any sense so I went back to washing my hair. When I finished my shower, something started to sink in, Jason's colleagues were at the towers when they fell. Jason works for the OCME and is part of a team that goes to crime scenes to collect evidence. Jason called his office and discovered that a team was sent to the Towers, and nobody had heard from them since the collapse. The next couple of hours were spent trying to locate family in the city and buying bottled water and canned goods. I could see the smoke outside my windows and allready a reporter was calling from Jason's hometown of Omaha to talk to an Omaha boy in New York City. I still don't think things made sense to me at that point. Slowly my apartment became a resting spot for friends and family that either couldn't get home or didn't want to be alone. When Amtrak trains started running again, Jason took Tom to Penn Station so he could be with his family in Rhode Island. I ventured out into the streets to stock up on cash and coffee. I had to walk twenty minutes in order to find an ATM with cash and even further to find a restaurant that could sell some coffee to me. While I was on my way home with my coffee I realized that it was 4:00pm and there were neither cars nor people on Madison Avenue. I could walk in the middle of the street and there were no cars to honk at me. We found out later that evening that every one of Jason's colleagues made it out alive. A couple were seriously injured, one was hospitalized, but they were all alive. Jason and I woke up early on Wednesday morning because Jason was asked to come in early to start helping with the victim identification process. I can't remember how I spent most of that day, I somehow ended up in our favorite Italian restaurant with my sister, Kelly, who witnessed the second explosion from the street. I remember seeing young Muslim girls walking toward the big Mosque on 96th Street and wondering what they were thinking. We then went to the house of our other sister, Cheryl. Her husband, Jim, had watched the first collapse from Battery Park and his shoes that were covered in dust were sitting by the door. I tried not to think too much about what Jason was doing that day. We had to turn off the air conditioner because the dust was coming into the apartment from outside. We had to hold wet cloths over our noses to breathe because the smoke stung our throats. I will never forget the smell of that smoke and the way my eyes watered for a couple of days. When Jason returned, we could see by his face that he didn't want to discuss his day. We let Jason take his time before he shared his experiences. When he did, it was really hard for me to grasp what he said. I listened and hugged him, but I know I still didn't "get" what happened. The next week went like this: By day I would watch the news, field phone calls from friends and family all over the world who wanted to know what New York was like and how Jason was holding up. It seems like I heard from everyone I knew in my entire lifetime. I made a lot of phone calls looking for ways to volunteer during those days. I couldn't find anything to do, agencies were inundated with volunteers all they needed was money which I didn't have. In the evening Jason would come home with his "morgue clothes" in a plastic bag, I would put on rubber gloves and wash them in bleach. He would then tell me about his day and I would tell him who called. One evening Jason came home and told me that his name had been on the list to go out with the Crime scene team on September 11. I can't describe how I felt when I realized that not one of his colleagues escaped without an injury of varying degrees. I immediately counted our blessings that Tom came to visit and Jason took the day off of work. I was so fed up with not being able to help that Jason contacted the Attorney for the OCME and asked if I could help with anything and put my three years of law school to work. The next day, exactly one week after the disaster, I started volunteering with the OCME. I was issued a badge and immediately given the assignment of researching how a death certificate could legally be issued in the State of New York when there was no proof of death. Since I was now working with Jason, I was able to see first hand the temporary examination tents that were set up on E 30th Street. Even though I was standing right there witnessing examinations, seeing the refrigerated trucks, smelling death, I was still detached emotionally. After the special circumstances death certificate application process was set, applications started coming in by the hundreds to the family center at Pier 92. I then spent a lot of time at the family center collecting applications and then transporting them back to the OCME so the people from FEMA could start entering the names into the databases. Over the next couple of weeks, I became accustomed to the presence of sharp shooters on roof tops, being inspected by soldiers with automatic weapons, having a mask handy because sometimes the smell of death would be too strong, being in the presence of FBI agents, refering to the Salvation Army food trailor as "Cafe Sal", discussions on whether the Salvation Army or the Red Cross has better disaster food, the photographs of the missing posted everywhere I went, and the numb feeling I got whenever I thought about why I was there. It seemed to me that the entire city was one big disaster relief effort. Then I realized that the rest of the city was starting to do normal things again. It was me who was surrounded by disaster relief. How could I deal with what happened when I couldn't get away from it? I spent my days surrounded by the grieving and the dead with people who were spending their days the same way. By the end of October, I decided that it was time to stop volunteering. Jason's job went back to the "normal" rapes and homicides while most of the disaster efforts were now being handled by federal agencies. The holidays came and went, I made my first visit to Ground Zero in January, and in February I cried for the first time over the Disaster. In April I started having the nightmares of running from the falling towers and crashing airplanes. It is a sign to me that the emotional detachment is starting to go away, and I am finally starting to grasp what happened that morning and what I saw the next couple of months. Jason is too, sometimes he listens to me cry and I listen to him. We are dealing with our feelings of anger, confusion, sadness, and fear together. I know we will be fine, just like everyone else, all we need is time.

Has your life changed because of September 11, 2001?

I look at what I would have considered inconvenieces in a completely different manner. I also have thought about my views on war and whether or not it could have any postive results. For the first time in my life I have wondered if I will live long enough to experience the joys of children and grandchildren.

What do you think should be remembered about September 11th?

September 11th is an example of what can happen when intolerances are allowed to run unchallenged.

Did you fly an American flag after the events of September 11th?

I did not fly an American flag after September 11th because I found the sight of the flag to be emotionally overwhelming. I appreciated seeing the flag all over the city because it left me with a pure feeling of solidarity. All of the different people of different races, cultures, religions, and backgrounds had similar feelings over what happened and the flag represented those feelings. I truly felt like I was part of a community that was working together. My core beliefs about the flag have not changed, but my reaction to the flag has changed.

Cite as: Stacy Markus, Smithsonian Story #107, The September 11 Digital Archive, 2 August 2002, <>.
Archival Information: 1574 words, 8077 characters

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