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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: H L Howell
Contributor's location on 9/11:
Contributed on: 21 August 2002

How did you witness history on September 11th?

I was driving under the off-ramp of the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan, on the way to work at a Wall Street firm, and listening to a gospel CD. A man in a large SUV started swerving wildly and almost forced me into one of the support pillars. After some artful dodging, he pull off the road right in front of me. I stopped to see if he was ill and noticed that he was pounding on the steering wheel and screaming. After deciding that he was crazy, not sick, I chose to leave him to his own tantrums, thank God that I was OK, and then proceed to work. But there was nowhere to go. Traffic had stopped completely. I turned on the radio to hear the traffic report, and instead heard that the second plane had just crashed into the Twin Towers. Eventually police cars and fire trucks from my neighborhood in Riverdale (Bronx), forced traffic into two lanes and sped past us. A lot of the people that raced past us made it down town in time to die. They made me do a U-turn under West Side Highway at 155 street, and just as I was able to receive radio transmission again, the first tower collapsed. As I stopped to get medication from the local pharmacy, the second one came down. My second most vivid moment was a woman in the store holding a baby and screaming hysterically that her husband worked in one of the buildings. Eventually she started hyperventilating. While people were standing around not knowing what to do, I yelled at her to get her attention, started her on breathing exercises, and convinced her that she needed to keep it together for the baby. I went home, turned on two radios, two TV's, and two computers, and sat in a trance for 2 days. It was the 13th before I realized that I should change my clothes and take a bath.

Has your life changed because of September 11, 2001?

There's is a big hole in my life. My first job in New York, 35 years ago, was in the vault of a brokerage company under WTC #7...the building that collapsed later in the day. From 1975 to 1976, I worked for New York Telephone, in the Gothic looking building right next door to #7. From 1977 to 1985 I worked at One Liberty Plaza (the one that people also thought might collapse). From 1985 to 1992, I worked in #2 World Financial Center, the building right across West Street that you kept seeing all the dust fly into when the first tower collapsed. My daughter's high school graduation party was at Windows on the World, and her college graduation party was in the Winter Garden (the glass structure that was so terribly damaged). I went to meetings in the World Financial Center regularly and walked across those destroyed bridges regularly to shop at my favorite book store and dress shop. I was forced to retire after 25 years because my company had to do massive layoffs after the attack. Ironically, I found a temporary consulting position, working with people whose offices used to be where the big gash is in the Deutsche Bank building (that's the one where they found the last body parts).

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

That New York is still one of the greatest cities in the greatest country on earth to live in. We came together in ways that you couldn't even have imagined before then.

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

Yes. I still have a big one in the picture window in my living room.

Cite as: H L Howell, Smithsonian Story #370, The September 11 Digital Archive, 21 August 2002, <>.
Archival Information: 336 words, 1803 characters

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