‘I saw things I don’t wish anyone to see’
I came out of the Chamber Street subway stop, which is five blocks from the World Trade Center, five minutes before the second plane hit.
I saw things I don’t wish anyone to see. It was horrible. I walked to my office and started calling as many people as I could. I couldn’t get through to anyone because the phones were going down, but I talked to my dad in Brazil.
I walked home to Brooklyn eventually. I was downtown until around 11. I went up with an editor, and we walked home to Brooklyn. It took two and a half hours. Everything was shut down.
We’re moving out of our office because still the phone doesn’t work. We have to show ID to get to work.
We have this list of the Class [of 2001], and people have been e-mailing the list when people are safe. People send names of friends they know are safe. I went to check my e-mail for the first time on Friday and there were about 150 e-mails.
–Pedro Kos ’01
A few days after the terrorist attack, Strobe Talbott ’68 spoke eloquently at a panel at Yale about what he thought caused the terrorists to attack American soil and what she be done about it.
But on Sept. 11, the former deputy secretary of state, now head of Yale’s new Center for the Study of Globalization, could be seen riding frantically around campus on a bicycle, visibly distraught.
Levin paces, listens, e-mails
Yale President Richard Levin had little time to digest the events of Sept. 11 after hearing about the attacks from a coworker. With teary eyes, he moved immediately to help a nervous and grieving community.
“I got in touch with the FBI to make sure that Yale would not be a target,” Levin said. “I was reassured that there was no reason to believe we were in danger.”
Knowing phone communication would be nearly impossible, Levin turned to the Internet to reach students and faculty.
“I composed an e-mail right away to all students with information that I hoped they would forward on to their parents,” he said.
He paced between offices within the Woodbridge Hall complex, conversing with Yale’s mental health experts and making policy decisions with deans — all the while staying within earshot of a television set.
I was slumbering, as though in a cocoon, when my father’s voice tore through our Manhattan apartment. I couldn’t make out his words, but the tenor of his cry was unmistakable; clearly something terrible had happened.
Leaping out of bed, I darted into the living room and stopped dead at our window. We were on 38th Street, perhaps 60 blocks to the north of the World Trade Center.
There stood the two towers, one of which was coughing desperate black smoke through a monstrous gaping mouth. My mother came into the living room and rushed the window, but she rocked back upon grasping the enormity of it all.
As the minutes passed and the fires continued to rage, we compared the scene outside our window with the images coming from our television, as though we were unable or unwilling to accept the horror without some kind of outside validation.
When both towers crumpled like a house of cards, my father emitted another primal scream. My mother sputtered tears. I gaped incredulously. For several seconds neither my eyes nor the television sufficed to convince me of what I had just witnessed.
We hugged for a long moment as gargantuan plumes of smoke rose from the rubble and blanketed lower Manhattan. I hadn’t lost any loved ones in the attack, but I grieved with many who had.
Like many New Yorkers in that situation, I began to feel powerless in the days following the attack.
No one would take (or had any use for) my blood, and I wasn’t qualified to help dig out the survivors.
So I did the only socially redeeming thing I am qualified to do: I walked into the offices of a local newspaper and offered my services for free. For once, the media seems to be helping people cope with tragedy, and perhaps in being part of that “rescue effort,” I can begin to rebuild my peace of mind while also helping others regain theirs.
–Blair Golson ’01
When the U.S. government began identifying its prime suspect in the terrorist attack, it offered a strange coincidence for Yale students.
In December 1998, the murder of Yale senior Suzanne Jovin ’99 shook the the University to its core and remains an object of mystery and discussion.
At the time of her murder, Jovin had been working on her senior thesis in political science and international relations. Her topic: Osama bin Laden.
‘Who the hell did this?’
For Yale College Council president Vidhya Prabhakaran ’03, the Sept. 11 attack induced a period of shock. After watching a series of images looped on his television for an hour, Prabhakaran only had one thought.
“All I can remember thinking was, ‘Who the hell did this?'” Prabhakaran said.
However, it didn’t take long for his mind to move from shock to action.
“After speaking to a number of administrative types, I emphasized the need for a vigil that very day and the need for a blood drive on campus preferably that day as well,” Prabhakaran said.
The YCC president immediately feared a backlash against Arabs and Muslims, even here at Yale.
“I think it was specifically the quick succession from the picture of the Palestinians dancing in the street to the quick plastering of the face of Osama bin Laden on the newscasts that made me think that even here at Yale there would be a backlash,” Prabhakaran said. “I emphasized the need to calm the entire campus down.”
The neighborhood of apocalypse
With the sky blue and the sun shining on the morning of Sept. 11, Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead had a happy thought.
“You thought, ‘What a good place the world is,” Brodhead said.
Soon, of course, that thought was gone.
Brodhead walked across campus early that morning to vote at Dwight Hall in the local Democratic mayoral primary election before heading back to his office. When he first heard a plane had hit the World Trade Center, he said he believed it was a small plane in an accident.
Half an hour later, after a meeting with the residential college deans, Brodhead heard about the second plane and knew something was seriously wrong.
“And of course when the building went down, then you knew that you were in the neighborhood of apocalypse,” Brodhead said. “I’ll remember every feature of that day for a very long time.”
History of art professor Vincent Scully had always disliked the architecture of the World Trade Center towers.
On that Tuesday Scully got to one of the last slides in his “Modern Architecture” lecture and stood with a picture of the towers projected on a large screen behind him and about 400 students filling the seats in front of him.
As the famed art critic remembered the morning’s events, any architectural disagreement he had with the New York landmark was all but forgotten.
“He got a little choked up,” Gabriela Salazar ’03 said. “He’d already planned the class and they just happened to be part of it … it really moved him that there were these monuments that had been destroyed.”
A defining moment
Popular history professor John Gaddis saw Sept. 11 as a turning point in world history.
“What happened yesterday, Sept. 11, 2001, is going to be for your generation what Dec. 7, 1941 was for your grandparents’ generation. What Nov. 22, 1963 was for my generation,” Gaddis said. “It is a defining moment.”