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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: Daniel Huang
Contributor's location on 9/11:
Contributed on: 26 August 2002

How did you witness history on September 11th?

It was a day when the entire world stopped and stared in disbelief. The morning of September 11, 2001, I was at home in New York City with my 3-year-old daughter, Quincy. She was going to start attending preschool in a few days so for the moment Quincy still had the luxury of playing at home in her pajamas. My wife, Theresa, had gone to London a few days earlier for business meetings so on September 11, 2001, I was at home doing household duty. At 9:00AM, I received a telephone call from Theresa’s mother in Rhode Island, who blurted something into the receiver. She spoke so fast I couldn’t understand the words she struggled to communicate. Trying again more slowly, she asked where we were. "Home. Why?" A plane crashed into the World Trade Center! "What? No, we’re here." I just heard it on the radio. Thank goodness you’re not there! "We’re okay. Thanks for calling. Bye!" And that, for me, was how it began. I turned on the television to see Tower 1 wrapped in dark, filthy smoke. News reporters weren’t sure if we were watching a horrible accident or a deliberate terrorist attack. Moments later we knew the answer. I remember the colors most of all. Foul grey smoke spewing from one tower and then a radiant yellow-orange eruption slowly bursting from the other clean one. From her bedroom, Quincy heard my horror and hopped into the living room. I shut off the TV, asked her to go play with her dollhouse and, when she finally did, turned it back on. Naturally, she wanted me to play with her and kept hopping back out. I turned off the TV again. The rest of that morning I stole brief glances of the news when I was actually alone. It got to be too difficult to keep Quincy out of the living room so I unpacked our 2-inch portable TV (from our old California earthquake kit) and tried to quietly watch and listen in the corner of the kitchen. At the time, I thought I was being responsible and merely protecting her from images that a 3-year-old should never see. I eventually realized that what I was hiding from her was the fact that her world had just changed forever and there was nothing I could do to return it to where it should be. Over the ensuing days and weeks, I viewed grief and anguish through a camera lens. I initially started taking photographs because I told myself someday I would want to explain all of this to my daughter, but not until she’s old enough (which is preferably at least 10 years from now). A camera isolates what’s happening. The world that you see and create fits into a finely-ground, optically-perfect viewing screen. If you don’t like what you see, move over an inch. I often take photographs when I want to insulate myself from my immediate surroundings weddings where I don’t know anyone, things like that). If you try hard, you can pinpoint your focus and ignore the world outside the edges of the viewing screen. For the weeks following the deliberate murder of thousands of people, ignoring what was happening past the edges of the viewfinder didn’t work much. It was all there, everywhere. I come from a family of 10 children and on September 11 we (and our friends) were geographically distributed across New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, California, England, Germany, Turkey and even China. For the first few days, it was nearly impossible to make long-distance calls from New York City as all the phone lines were jammed. The most reliable way to communicate was through our local Internet accounts. The e-mails begin with my first brief message to my family at 9:39AM, before either tower had collapsed and before the magnitude of the destruction was understood. It was sent to my mother, Mona Huang, my brothers and sisters – Elizabeth, Christina, Henry, Grace, Joy, Andrew, Glory, David and James – my mother-in-law, Marie Menders, and my wife, Theresa. I remember that after I sent the first message, I was relieved that Theresa was in London, very far away from home. Meanwhile, Theresa was hell-bent on returning home as soon as possible. Six months later, New York City is returning. Not returning to normal, because by definition that’s not possible anymore. But returning nevertheless. The debris is almost completely removed from Ground Zero and deposited somewhere out of sight, out of mind. The missing posters have been removed and replaced with tributes to the victims. Memorials remain where landlords are willing to let them, and they continue to be added to and refreshed on a daily basis. Daniel Huang April 4, 2002

Cite as: Daniel Huang, Smithsonian Story #442, The September 11 Digital Archive, 26 August 2002, <>.
Archival Information: 831 words, 4599 characters

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