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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: Valerie Christopher
Contributor's location on 9/11:
Contributed on: 27 August 2002

How did you witness history on September 11th?

I work at the Woolworth building in New York City, just 3 blocks from the WTC. On that beautiful morning I was in the server room when the first plane hit and heard nothing. When I came out one of my coworkers told me that something had happened at the WTC, but he wasn't sure exactly what. I looked out a window and the first thing that I saw was papers floating everywhere I then looked at the towers and saw the gaping hole. After watching for a few minutes, I went to email my family that something had happened, maybe a plane crash, but that I was safe. There's an email that became outdated fast! I was trying to get CNN on the tv in the office when the second plane hit. Building management told us to evacuate and we all went down in elevators. Even as I was doing that I knew how dangerous it was and that all those fire drills we'd had over the past year were being ignored. Staff milled around outside the building, trying to locate coworkers and decide what to do for 20 minutes or so. I remember thinking that things would be back to normal in a day or so, New York is so resilient. I also remember thinking that standing next to tall buildings probably wasn't too wise. We were then told to head north. As I walked I passed people with standing around cars that had radios on. I still couldn't fathom what had happened. When I heard that the Pentagon had been hit I thought that it was probably just a rumor and then immediately got very scared. Somehow if it had just been New York that would have been better than multiple cities being attacked. When I was about 10 blocks north of my building (13 or so north of the towers and one block east) I turned around. To this day I don't know why I turned around, but I assume I heard the first tower fall. What I saw as a huge cloud of dust roiling up Broadway. This was the first real mass panic I saw as everyone just started running blindly up Broadway. A friend who I had met on the street was afraid that City Hall had been bombed, but I knew that the cloud of dust started south of there. I didn't know what the cloud meant. We got onto one of the last subway trains leaving Manhattan, that goes over the Manhattan bridge. We had already heard that one of the towers had collapsed. All around us people were crying and comforting each other - strangers and friends alike - we were all in this together. As we went over the bridge we looked out at the towers. I could not understand what I was seeing. One tower was standing, the other gone, but I couldn't figure out whether the entire tower was gone or just part of it. I just couldn't conceive of the tower being completely gone. I went home with my friend - she has easier public transit access than I do. We watched television and she kindly let me call enough of my family that I could reassure them that I was alive and unscathed and they could pass the word along. Later I took a cab to the next bridge I had to cross Ė the price of the cab would have tripled if I asked them to take me over that bridge to Rockaway Beach! At first the cab said he couldnít get there Ė the highway was closed. I allowed that there are local roads and he backed down. When I got to the bridge, I waited at a bus stop for a bus to take me to Rockaway Beach. A lady pulled up in her car and offered to take 3 people over the bridge Ė not an ordinary experience at all, but thatís the way we all reacted.

Has your life changed because of September 11, 2001?

I guess I'm one of few New Yorkers who feel my life improved. I have always been a very anxious person and had started therapy about it a few months prior to September 11th. Initially I was very shaken by the events and had real problems coping. My job pushed me to come back to work very quickly and even suggested I go down to our office on the 12th floor even before the power had been restored. It was a real fight explaining that I wasn't emotionally ready. But after a couple of weeks I had passed that period and find that overall I handle stress better than ever before. I guess that facing a huge unknown, uncontrollable situation helped me to give up my need to control. On the down side, I still work by ground zero, so am never able to forget what happened. The work neighborhood is different Ė the streets are constantly torn up as the phone company and electrical company try to replace lost lines. Weíre surrounded by tourists that want to look at the site. As a denizen of the area itís hard to accept that itís something to seek out and look at. At first it made everyone down here very angry and then slowly we accepted that itís the only way it can become real for people who didnít experience it first hand. I still flinch at loud noises and still worry when the subway is delayed, although that is easing. I am more concious of security - I need a pass to enter my building and when I go out for a bicycle ride I always remember to carry ID so I can be identified if hurt, something I never thought of prior to 9/11.

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

The way New Yorkers and the Country rose to the occasion and helped each other and supported each other. That when threatened by terrorists we didn't fold, but went about our business as best we could. We should remember the heroic efforts the ironworkers and uniformed services made in the months after the attack to clean up the site in record time. We should remember all the people who volunteered for months to support those workers - the restuarants that fed them for free and the people who served those meals and provided emotional support. We should remember the rescue dogs who gave their all and provided emotional support when they could not rescue bodies.

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

No I didn't fly the flag, mostly becuase it seemed a knee jerk reaction. I don't think my feelings have changed that much.

Cite as: Valerie Christopher, Smithsonian Story #455, The September 11 Digital Archive, 27 August 2002, <>.
Archival Information: 690 words, 3460 characters

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