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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: Carl Clark
Contributor's location on 9/11:
Contributed on: 27 August 2002

How did you witness history on September 11th?

I live in Nashville, Tennessee, so I witnessed the events of September 11, 2001 from a distance, via TV and other media, like most Americans. This is what I remember most vividly from that day and the few days that followed: It was a brilliant late-summer day; the unrelenting heat that marks a Nashville summer had begun to die off, and the morning was crisp and clear. My wife was away on a business trip, and I remember standing in our driveway at 7:30 Central time, and saying to no one in particular, "Man, what a nice day it's going to be," and then feeling somewhat silly for talking to myself about the weather. I listen to NPR news every morning on the way in to work, and I can recall the exact spot along my route where I was sitting in my car as I heard the first news report of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. The reports were sketchy at first, and my first thought was of the crash of a B-25 into the Empire State Building decades earlier. I can still remember some of the events that featured prominently in the news that day, before everything shifted into disaster-coverage mode--the President was in Florida at a school, in an appearance designed to highlight his education policy. The announcers continued gamely to present the news they had scripted for that morning, but by the time I got to work, a little after 8:00 Central, their focus had shifted completely to the crash, and I seem to remember that there were already reports of other planes unaccounted for. (I could look up the chronology of the other three crashes, but I am trying to recount what I experienced.) I turned on the radio in my office, and heard the reports of a fire at the Pentagon, a second crash at the WTC, and then what was initally mentioned as possibly a "normal" plane crash in Pennsylvania. Someone hauled a TV into my wife's office and we gathered around to watch the news coverage--permanently set to CBS, because this was the only station we could get. The news web sites stayed clogged with traffic much of the day. I remember seeing the live shot of both towers burning, and commenting that the towers were engineered to stand a thousand years, and that this would probably render them unusable, but that they would stand. Seconds later, the south tower collapsed, and I initially refused to believe it, thinking it was the facade of the building. I went back to my desk and tried to reach my wife, who was not in any danger on her trip; she was at a business meeting in a large auditorium, and when I reached her cell phone, the organizers had scrapped their video presentation and put a network news feed on their big screen onstage. The attendees, some of whom were from the New York area, watched the collapse of the towers live in the auditorium, on a screen perhaps 12 feet high. The opening presentation was abandoned, and many of the attendees left immediately to try to find a way home--most using their rental cars, since air traffic had been grounded. I remember driving home in a stupor that afternoon; traffic seemed more sedate and solemn, with everyone intent on getting home but too depressed to drive with their usual aggression. There were no contrails in the sky, but I remember looking up and seeing a solitary plane, flying very high and very fast in an eastward direction--almost certainly a military aircraft. The next few days, before my wife and her colleagues returned home on a chartered bus, are a blur. I slept about three hours a night, spending most of my time in front of the TV, right next to my computer, when I was at home, trying not to miss any piece of information. I went to work, but not much got done. We had moved back to Nashville from Winthrop, Massachusetts, about a year before. If you have flown into Boston's Logan airport, you have seen Winthrop--it is a small town just north of Boston, on a peninsula between Boston Harbor and the ocean. One side of Winthrop, the street I lived on, in fact, faces directly across a narrow stretch of water to one of Logan's runways. In the time I lived there, I had becone accustomed to the noise and activity of the airport; in fact, when I moved, it had to get used to sleeping in a quiet room without jet engines nearby. When I heard that the two planes that hit the WTC had come from Boston, several thoughts raced through my mind: 1) Had I not moved, I would have been standing at my kitchen window, drinking coffee, getting prepared for work, and watched the two planes take off. 2) I would have had the eerie experience of living right across from the airport and seeing the rows of silent airplanes sitting there for days on end, the first non-weather-related shutdown of Logan in its history, probably. 3) The passengers were mostly ordinary Bostonians, much like I had been a year earlier. I could have been heading out west on a late-summer vacation that day, on one of those planes.

Cite as: Carl Clark, Smithsonian Story #453, The September 11 Digital Archive, 27 August 2002, <>.
Archival Information: 883 words, 4925 characters

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