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"Life Loves On" - Part II

September 11, 2021
Newsweek magazine from September, 2001

If you haven't read Part I in this series yet, I'd recommend you check it out first.

But if you'd like to read on, below is the continuation of staff memories from 9/11/2001. They're organized alphabetically, so we're picking up with Jessica Piper.

I'm also including clippings from the Tennessean and Newsweek from days after 9/11, to show some of the immediate reactions, especially in Nashville. As well as this slideshow of NYC photos from our collections in Metro Archives (and donated photos). 

Early 20th Century NYC
Remembering 9/11, a look back at NYC through the years.

Jessica Piper, Madison Branch Manager

I was 22. I took a year off between undergrad and grad school and was working at Kmart. I remember very clearly that morning I was stocking big jugs of cranberry juice when my coworker ran up to me crying. She said, “They’re attacking us, they’re going to send my son to war!” As a mother, her first thought was of her son who was in the military. I went into the café area of the store and watched the towers fall with my coworkers. At the time I didn’t have TV or internet in my apartment. After work, I went to my university’s computer lab and tried to read news sites to find out more, but the internet was slow and lots of sites were down. I have so much nostalgia for that pre-9/11 period of the late '90s/early '00s. It seems like a more innocent time.

Tennessean clipping from September, 2001
Clipping from the Tennessean from the days after 9/11/01.

Allison Price, Marcomm

On September 11, 2001, I was at 7500 feet above sea level, at the pack station where I was working for the season. I was out at the corrals with the rest of the crew, saddling horses for ourselves and the day’s riders who’d paid for us to guide them through the Sierra Nevadas around and near Yosemite National Park. A pickup truck barreled up, and one of the mule string leaders jumped out, saying “The World Trade Center’s been bombed!!” Wha-huh?!?!
Slowly more accurate information began to trickle in to us. We had no cable TV or satellite, and were reliant on newspapers brought back when someone made the long winding drive into the nearest town, Mammoth Lakes. It was a few weeks before the season ended and I was back in civilization and saw video from the awful day, and the ones that followed. It made the whole thing even more surreal and horrible somehow, having missed out on the time most of the people I knew were all glued to their televisions together. I never became habituated to the images. They chill me to this day.

Donna Reagan, Bellevue Branch

I was working the reference desk at the Martin Methodist College Library, anticipating the ESL class I would be teaching that morning when someone from the administration offices walked in and announced that planes had flown into the World Trade Center in New York City. I quickly called up CNN on the computer and watched the replays in horror. As events unfolded throughout the day, I e-mailed several friends who lived in the NYC area and a friend who did consulting work at the Pentagon. I would receive word from each of them throughout the day - most of them eye-witness accounts.

My ESL students (mainly from Japan, South America and Mexico) arrived in class looking the way I felt, scared and in shock that such a thing could happen in a country that was considered to be stable and safe. We took about a half of the class time to process the event and I did my best to assure the students that the government and the airlines and military were doing everything possible to deal with the situation. And we all mourned, not only the two main events but the 
loss of Flight 93’s brave passengers who managed to thwart the terrorists target.  

I watched a TV prayer gathering in New York led by John Maxwell, with whom I had attended college. Later, I watched “All in the Family,” the episode where Edith’s friend Beverly, a female impersonator, was brutally murdered. Edith had a crisis of faith over the senseless killing and it was Mike, the atheist, who was able to help her the most. I wept through the whole of it. I watched the memorial gathering at Yankee Stadium and was moved by Bette Middler’s version of “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Choir rehearsals were hard and so were performances but we got through them - most of us, anyway.

Elliott Robinson, Special Collections

I was on my way to work; I was working for my Pastor at Metropolitan Interdenominational Church at the time. I was listening to the Tom Joyner Morning Show on the radio in the car. They gave a “breaking news” report that said something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. The TJMS was primarily a comedy show, so of course, they started making jokes about it; and I, like them, envisioned some poor pilot trying to get too close a view with their little Cessna, misjudging their distance, and clipping the building. As I got closer to the office, hoping that the pilot of the little plane was okay, they started to report that things seemed to be a little more serious than that; they said that perhaps it was a larger aircraft, and that maybe the plane was deliberately flown into the building; but they still weren’t sure.

When I got to the church, I immediately turned on the television. Seeing the hole created by the first impact, I knew it was certainly not made by a Cessna; but I was still thinking that it had to be some sort of terrible accident. A few minutes later, I saw the second airliner hit the other tower. Then I knew it was something very serious. I was transfixed; I couldn’t turn away. I watched until both towers fell, absolutely numb; I literally could not move. 

Newsweek magazine clipping from September 24th, 2001
Newsweek clipping from September 24th, 2001, showing the aftermath of the collapse of the towers.

Deborah Rolman, Southeast Branch

My first few years of working with the library, I also ran an early morning route doing home delivery of The New York Times newspaper. I had just finished my route and was heading to the library when the first plane hit. At the time, I was listening to a small, local Christian radio station. All they were able to report was what they were seeing on television. I pulled over and called my brother because all of his in-laws live in New York City. We found out later that they were all okay, although one was unable to get to his home for 3 days.

When I got to work, I remember seeing the scenes replayed over and over on the computer. Our manager at the time had just moved here from New York and had several friends that worked in the World Trade Center. She spent all day in her office with the door shut. It's hard to believe that was 20 years ago!

Noel Rutherford, Collection & Technology Services

On Sept, 11, 2001, I was the manager of the Georgetown Branch Library in Washington D.C., which sits on a hill overlooking the Potomac River and the Pentagon. On that bright beautiful fall day, I remember running outside at 8:40 a.m. when a long-time library user came rushing in to tell us that he just saw a plane crash into the Pentagon. As we were standing there, looking out at the huge black plumes of smoke, we thought it was an accident until someone with a small portable tv came over and showed us footage of the second plane crashing into the WTC. A British tourist standing next to me immediately said, “I had tickets to fly home tomorrow, do you think they’ll be cancelled?” I remember turning to her and saying solemnly, “You’ll need to make other plans. No planes will be flying anywhere. We’re at war.” I truly felt grim as I said those words. The growing number of observers on that overlook, watched in sorrow and a not insignificant amount of fear as the building burned and more news was shared about what was happening in NYC. 

I can remember after a short while, telling staff to lower the library’s flag and go home. After I locked up the building, my own drive home on 13th & O Street, though Traffic moved at a crawl, was deathly quiet. Not a car horn was heard (a surreal event in DC) and no one was panicking. Everyone was glued to their radios as we waited to hear about the third plane, making its way to the capital. As I lived just 7 blocks from the White House, this was of very real concern to me but after I finally arrived home, I walked down to the K Street headquarters of the Washington Post because I just had to know the latest news and I couldn’t stay alone inside my condo. A huge number of reporters were outside the building, everyone trying to get a signal on their cell phones and we watched a parade of anti-aircraft vehicles rumble past on their way to the White House. We were all on edge. No one knew the status of the last plane until I suddenly heard a reporter yell, “it’s down, the third plane is down in Pennsylvania.” Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. At the time, we didn’t know why the plane had crashed in an isolated field, but we all believed that the passengers had somehow interfered and saved many innocent lives that day.

For the next two weeks, I lived in fear, unsure if there would be another attack. I slept poorly as the searchlights of helicopters that circled the White House perimeter every night also came through my bedroom windows. Later, I attended a memorial service at the National Cathedral, honoring the victims of 9/11 and remember crying for people I didn’t know as though they were close relatives. The days after were strained and silent - for almost everyone did know someone who was a casualty of that horrific day and we were all grieving.

Living in D.C. changed after that day; security tightened, we had tanks on the corner of Wisconsin and K Street and new walls were erected around buildings we use to be able to enter at will. We had been a country rarely affected by terrorism’s cruel tactics. Our innocence was lost that day.

Newsweek clipping from September 24th, 2001.
Newsweek clipping from September 24th, 2001, showing the Pentagon after the attacks.

Claudia Schenck, NPL Foundation

I was at work at Safeco Insurance Company when a co-worker came into my cubicle and told me one of the towers had been hit. Several of us went to the breakroom to watch what was happening. As we were watching the news, the second plane came and hit the second tower. I remember thinking “this is a movie.” The rest of the day I don’t recall but we went to a cabin the following weekend and my husband had talk radio on. I will never forget one man calling in and saying “we are going to kick Iraq’s butt so hard that your grandchildren’s grandchildren will have a black eye.” I knew then that we were in trouble. Truly terrible all around.

Jena Schmid, Library Administration

I was one week into a new job as a school media specialist at Midwood High School in Brooklyn when a faculty member came running into the library and informed everyone that a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.  

I used the library phone to call my husband (just married) who was supposed to go into Manhattan for an interview that day. Fortunately, he hadn’t left yet.

Sometime later, an announcement came over the school PA system. We were told to keep all students in place. We lost internet and TV service, so we didn’t have much information. By the time the 2nd plane hit, we lost phone service as well. I remember feeling so frustrated (and scared) that I worked in the media center, but didn’t have access to media or news.

We were asked to keep all students in place because it was thought it would be safer for everyone to remain in the buildings. Eventually they did dismiss all schools early.

The city did not know if there would be more targets. Anything that was considered a landmark and a possible target was shut down, including Grand Army Plaza near our apartment. City streets around those landmarks were blocked. This created one hell of a traffic jam.

I was one of the few who drove to work, and my usual 15-minute drive took me hours and hours to get home. As I sat in traffic near Prospect Park, a few city buses pulled up and let out passengers from Manhattan. Some were still covered in dust and debris from the towers. Some looked like they were in shock and not too sure which direction to go.

Next day the wind was blowing south-eastward so that the WTC smoke went right over our apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn (4 miles away). Though we were very nervous about what might be in the air, my husband went out in the nearby Prospect Park where papers from WTC were falling from the sky. He picked some up and took them home. He also ventured into Manhattan to Washington Square Park and a couple other parks where many people were standing around, wanting to see what they could and be near others. 

We had no TV or phone service for several days (most TV transmission towers were on top WTC, and we didn’t have cable).  Though we still didn’t have phone service for our home or a cellphone, after several days some of the payphones on the streets started working. People would stand in line to reach out to family members to let them know they were ok. The call was free when we told the operator we were calling from NY. Often those outside calls were our major source of information about what was going on in our own city, since we were blocked off from the news.

For weeks, heavily-armed guards were stationed at city landmarks, bridges, transportation centers, etc. Parts of South Manhattan were blocked for months.  

A few of our students at Midwood experienced deaths in the family (a couple more students lost family members in the Rockaway plane crash just two months later. When the news came out about this crash everyone at first feared that it was a repeat of 9/11). 

Paul Smethers, Main Library Adult Services

I was teaching an 11th grade English class when our principal came on the public address system to inform teachers that they could turn on their televisions to see what was happening in New York. At the time, I had an older brother in New York who volunteered at a shelter cooking breakfast for the homeless, somewhere near the World Trade Center, but I wasn't sure exactly how close. It wasn't until almost 10 o'clock that night that we found out he was safe and unharmed; within minutes of the attack, it seemed, all phone lines were overworked and too busy, and there was no getting thru by phone. Worrying about his safety and whereabouts consumed my thoughts for the rest of the day. 

In the classroom, regular lessons were suspended across the board so that we could all stay current with the goings on. This included multiple viewings of the same things over and over, so that by the end of the day, one's consciousness was brimful of the awful images being broadcasted on every station. Once school was out, I stopped for gas - already, the lines at the gas stations were getting crazy. By this time of day also, the sky was empty of airplanes, which was indeed noticeable and quite strange. We might not have noticed this if we had not been told that all flights had been halted; knowing this, however, made the empty sky eerie and foreboding. News of the crashes of the two other planes, one at the Pentagon and one downed somewhere else by its own passengers, had reached nearly everyone by this time.

Something that surprised me greatly was the fact that many people - probably nervous and anxious but not wishing to appear so - made jokes about the events, such as "well, if this was for real, the Walmart in Gallatin would have been hit" or "Paul, you're safe. They won't be able to even find Cottontown on the map." I found this type of humor distressing, worried as I was about my brother's situation. The worst thing I heard all day was two teenage boys running down the corridor at school, with one exclaiming, "Damn, this is so cool." I remember feeling crushed that such an unworthy sentiment could even exist in the light of so many dead and suffering.

I never really recovered from being so saturated with horrific images. Movies that I used to love, which had buildings being destroyed and violent special effects, no longer held any interest for me; too close to home. I became acutely aware of my surroundings after that, never attending large mass gatherings anywhere. I still eschew large outdoor events, as well as indoor concerts at popular local venues. September 11th, and the twenty years that have followed it, have taught me that there's danger lurking anywhere and everywhere - from the grocery store to church - and one can never be too careful. To put it in the words of a Rosanne Cash song, "There's a fool on every corner when you're trying to get home." And worse.

Nick Smith, Main Library Adult Services 

It was dark on campus at the University of Kentucky as I made my way to class. But it was always dark, since my African American literature class met at 6 p.m., three days a week. I had spent the previous hours of the day sleeping late, and studying and reading, but I had not touched the television at all. I figured if you’re going to college, go ahead and take it seriously. As I walked into the classroom, the same amount of fellow students were there as there usually was. Then my professor (who was also my adviser as an English major) started speaking.

“Obviously, we’re not going to have class today.” He said. I interjected – “Why?”

And immediately every head turned in my direction and people said things like, “You’ve GOT to be kidding!” and “Are you serious?!?” I stayed silent as he explained that the planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, and it had fallen down. I couldn’t process this, but in a few moments we all left the room. I made my way home where I immediately turned on the television and watched the plane crash footage and the towers going down, into a mess of a plume of smoke and debris literally *pushing* people out of the way on the streets of New York City. It was a sad day. I didn’t sleep soundly, for obvious reasons. Some of the joy of living got sucked out, and I looked at the ceiling wondering, “Why??”

Esther Walden, East Branch

My husband and I were living in Des Moines, WA. While he was getting ready for work, the news broke that the first plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. We were both in shock. He left for work, and I saw the 2nd plane hit. I thought that this must be the way Americans felt when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Shock, dismay, and sadness were the prevalent emotions at both of our workplaces that day. My husband found out about the 2nd plane when he arrived at work. He and his coworkers watched news footage for most of the day. He was so upset that he tried to enlist in the Army, so that he could strike back at the terrorists who coordinated the attack. Fortunately, the armed services were conducting interviews with volunteers. They weren't allowing anyone who wanted revenge to enlist.

I also remember when Alan Jackson released his song, Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning). It still makes me a little sad when I hear it. 

Lou Ann Williams, Richland Park Branch

I was teaching at Lipscomb University at this time and knew nothing of the first plane crashing into the North Tower until I arrived a bit early to my class to find a room full of terrified, crying college students.  I was speechless as we watched tv in the classroom. How could this be happening - and learning there were more hijacked planes was devastating. We watched as the second plane crashed into the South Tower. We were dumbfounded. Stunned. Terrified for ourselves and our country.

Rumors of more hijackings terrified the students who believed even the University could be a target. The Pentagon crash. When will this end. Is this the end? The South Tower collapses and 30 minutes later the North tower. The magnitude of the deaths involved start to hit us - and we are seeing it LIVE. Weeping and praying we try to deal with this level of tragedy - a level none of us had ever seen before.

I think it was the fact that it was just an ordinary day for ordinary people in the Twin Towers…just going about their business doing their jobs. Not a military installation, not a full-on war - not that those aren’t just as tragic - it’s just this hit too close to home for most of us. We could see ourselves there. I think it brought our country together in grief and made us all, for a while, feel as one. I still feel shell-shocked to this day.

Tennessean clipping from September, 2001.
Tennessean clipping from September, 2001, showing Metro's honorable response to the attacks.

Carrie Woods, Inglewood Branch

I was in 5th grade and my class was outside. I heard the principal announce something but I couldn’t hear over the noise of the class. We went back inside. My teacher turned on the TV and we saw the North Tower billowing smoke. We watch the news coverage for a few minutes and caught up with what was happening. Then we saw the second plane hit. Once the teacher recovered from being shocked, she turned the TV off. But it was too late. I’ll never forget that image of the South Tower being hit for as long as I live.

When I was home from school, I joined my father in watching the news. He was a veteran and at the time, I thought he was invulnerable. 9/11 was the first time I ever saw him cry. 

Later, my father found out he lost a friend that day. His name was Charles Costello Jr. He was working maintenance on elevators a few blocks away. He saw the towers on fire and immediately ran to help knowing that people needed help getting out of the elevators. He never made it out.  

The Flight 93 National Memorial in Western Pennsylvania


'Til next time, 


Photo of the American flag
lucille ball


Sarah is a Program Coordinator with Metro Archives. Her interests and areas of expertise are history, reading books (of any kind), music, travel, Harry Potter, and bingeing a good comedy series. When not in Archives, she is either nose-deep in a book or planning her next trip. Learn more about the fascinating materials found at Metro Archives through their website.