A year after tragedy, Yale reflects on Sept. 11 attacks

One year ago this morning, from a yellow Harkness Tower window, Kenneth Shevlin ’03 didn’t notice the smoke rising in the distance.

That afternoon, he learned the tiny cloud was the twin towers of the World Trade Center turned to dust and smoke. That night, he found out a friend was on American Airlines Flight 11, and played “Danny Boy” for the 3,000 dead. But that morning, the carillonneur was practicing scales, his back to New York City.

Shevlin will be in Harkness Tower again this morning, counting the measures of a moment of silence and rifling through the repertoire of a year’s worth of memory.

“It will be mournful but not depressing,” he said, “hopefully uplifting, and above all, respectful.”

On the ground, Yale is a curious place during this anniversary. A bound away from ground zero, its September sight lines run clear to the New York sky. Look east from the carillon at 8:45 a.m.: there is Old Campus and a new semester in the fall sunlight. But look southwest, as Shevlin will, and there are the future offices and stages of undergraduates, the homes of families, and the graves of friends.

Today, one year later, the country will remember the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York; Washington, D.C.; and southern Pennsylvania. And in tragedy’s bookish suburb, the ache still feels local, the offense still personal, and the recovery, for many, still feels only partial.

Six Yale alumni died when the first hijacked airplane hit the north tower at 8:46 that morning. Among them was Stacey Sanders ’98, killed when American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 carrying her best friend’s father, crashed directly into her Marsh and McClennan office between the 93rd and 100th floors of 1 World Trade Center.

Also at work in the north tower early that morning were Charles McCrann LAW ’72, Richard Lee ’91, Bradley Hoorn ’01 and Elizabeth M. Gregg GRD ’77. David Berray ’84 was one of 113 eating breakfast at Windows on the World, on the north tower’s 107th floor.

In an instant, two others called their wives from their offices at Keefe, Bruyette and Woods, and the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, hurtled toward the south tower. Christopher Murphy ’88, a father of two young girls, told his wife and mother not to worry: he was fine.

David Berry ’80 called home from a desk filled with market research, his three sons’ photos, and Dr. Pepper and Saltine crackers, his favorite snack. The Boeing 767 hit at 9:02 a.m. Bennett Fisher ’66, a father of one, rushed downstairs from his 97th floor office and was last seen helping people on the 44th floor of the south tower.

A year later, their survivors say, the initial numbness is gone. Some have been to the site many times; some never. Yale roommates wrote in with bright college stories. Yale professors wrote thoughtful books. But the closest relationships are empathetic, for many, and the closest comfort comes from others who lost.

Last fall, Berry, a physics and philosophy major in Calhoun College, lived in Brooklyn with his wife, publishing executive Paula Grant. Their boys — Nile, Reed and Alex — were 9, 7 and 5, respectively, and deeply enamored with Pokemon. So Berry was too.

Grant has since left her job, her city for a summer, and her last name. She is Paula Berry now, single mother and member of a 14-person family advisory group to the Committee to Rebuild Lower Manhattan. She took her children for a three-month trip through Europe once school ended, she said, to reinvent themselves as a family.

David Berry was a music lover from the days of Pink Floyd vinyl. So his widow has spent nights recently, after the boys have gone to bed, compiling a compact disc of “songs formerly in heavy rotation at the house,” to send to hundreds of friends. He would never admit to a list of favorites, she remembered.

Berry said she and the boys will spend today in the mountains. “They know that it’s the 11th,” she said, “that it’s been a year. But they don’t believe it’s been a year. They think that’s amazing. I do too. It seems so short in a way.”

Sanders’ parents, her fiancee Bryan Koplin ’99, and a group of Yale friends plan to spend the day in the city, at a memorial service at ground zero. Martha Sanders commutes to New Haven twice a week now to audit a religion class at her daughter’s alma mater. She has joined Voices of September 11, a group of women who lost husbands and children working for legislation to help research security breaches.

“The loss is still excruciating at times,” Sanders said. “You try to move on because that’s what you need to do, but I don’t know how you move on. You find a place for it. You live with it. You try to smile when you think about the lives they had.”

Collectively and as individuals, the Yale community will contemplate a year past this afternoon. They will be in libraries and courtyards, at vigils, services and museums. And to echo last year, they will also spend Sept. 11, 2002, at panel discussions, in dining hall debates, and in class.

News of the attacks hit campus in a wave last year, reaching New Yorkers and early-risers first, ebbing as students woke up for 9:30, 10:30, 11:30 classes. Some stood outside crying. Some paced. And some fled to the classroom.

History of art professor Vincent Scully paused on a slide of the World Trade Center. Russian culture professor Vladimir Golstein lectured on the symbolic value of buildings and their destruction.

“History has an uncanny way of reminding us no man is an island,” Golstein said in lecture yesterday. “I just wish the reminders would be less bloody. But I guess you don’t have a choice in that.”

The next day, enrolled in his lecture class or not, many went straight to John Gaddis, professor of Cold War history.

“I wasn’t sure until I got up in front of the class what I was going to say,” Gaddis said, “but what came out is what I’d say again in similar circumstances, that it’s important in such moments to hang on to the fundamentals — faith in self, family, friends, nation, principles, God.”

Andrew Klaber ’04 asked a dining hall worker five times if it was true, he said, and then spent the day on Cross Campus, “just talking to people.” Corey Vaughn ’06 watched CNN with his mother. Ali Kooshkabadi ’05 walked to an empty lecture hall for genetics class and then walked home to the television.

Sarah Post ’04 got a cake.

It was vanilla with dancing iced bulldogs on top, delivered an hour after a third plane hit the Pentagon, where her father works. Sept. 11 is her birthday.

“It was sort of a grotesque gesture at the time,” she said, though she found out quickly her father wasn’t hurt. “That was the last thing I wanted to think about.”

This year, Post said, she won’t have a party, in part because it’s a Wednesday night. If it were a Thursday, maybe, and maybe years from now the wound will be less raw, she said, like Dec. 7, the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, is now. Until then, though, the day will mostly be for reflection. A party could just as easily be held on the 10th or the 12th, she said.

This morning, Post, like many, will be outside at 8:45 a.m. for a moment of silence and to hear the carillon ring. Behind the door to the Harkness staircase — the one that has always inconspicuously read “Memorial Room” — Shevlin will be seated next to a dusty phone, 200 steps up. The call will come when the silence is over, and he will play a fireman’s toll, then head downstairs to class.

After the initial shock of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the Yale community joined together to honor those lost in the attacks. One year later, the same community will reunite to reflect and try to come to terms with the changes around them.
Peter VanAgtmael
After the initial shock of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the Yale community joined together to honor those lost in the attacks. One year later, the same community will reunite to reflect and try to come to terms with the changes around them.

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