The 9.11 scrapbook

photo cover album1

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was living with my future wife in an apartment on 15th and Third, a stone’s throw from Union Square.

I was a New Yorker. Born and raised an hour outside the city in Mahopac; regular visitor to my grandparents in Washington Heights; resident of Manhattan since my return from Nashville in 1996. My mom is from Manhattan, my dad from Brooklyn.

When the Towers were hit, well … yeah.

I remember the smell. Awful. Burning metal. Dazed people walking through the streets. 9 1/2×11 sheets of paper hanging everywhere, with some variation of the words, “Have you seen …” printed in black. It was the worst span of my life, and I lost neither close friends nor relatives. But it was just pure darkness. Anyone from the city will utter similar sentiments.

During that time, I put together a scrapbook. This was before iPhones, when you actually had to take your photographs to be developed. So I did. I took the 9.11 images and slid them inside pages. I wanted to have something to show my kids; something so I could remember what it was to be alive and in New York at the time. Which is weird, because who aspires to remember the lowest period of your existence?

Anyhow, I finally showed both my kids the book two years ago. And now, on the 14th anniversary, I’m displaying it here, in order, page by page. Just because it feels like something to do.

It’s a bit heavily written, but this is what I scribbled on the inside front and back covers …

9/25/01 New York City

It’s been exactly two weeks since the World Trade Center was attacked. Nobody seems to have yet recovered. We live on 15h and 3rd, and until recently the air smelled of a combination of metal, fire, ash and death. Almost all of the pictures in this album were taken in Union Square Park (two blocks away), where vigils of flowers and music and posters and candles have bloomed ever since terrible Sept. 11. The saddest things are all the flyers—mostly young 20-somethings who had no reason to suspect their lives were about to end. Their faces, usually smiling, often with a baby or wife or husband, are haunting images. They are the people we’ve left behind. Our lives go on, but they do not.

I don’t believe there’s a reason or purpose. The only thing I can take from it all is—enjoy life. Every day try and remember how fortunate you are to be taking in oxygen; how any coming day can be your last. Live with passion—eat the richest foods. Travel. See things you’ve never seen and talk to everyone.

The World Trade Center attacks hit close to home in so many ways. The Newark-San Francisco flight that crashed was one I’ve flown. A husband of one of Leah’s bridesmaids died in the WTC, as did a cousin of one of my co-workers. Every day, Earlie accurately said, was like visiting the Holocaust Museum. Pure sadness.

If you’re reading this and it’s 2005 or 2020 or 2050 or whenever, look at the faces on the leaflets and think of the lives they’ll never live. Then go out and live yours to the fullest.

— Jeff Pearlman

IMG_8416Page 1: Signs and drawings in Union Square Park

IMG_8417Page 2: Signs and drawings in Union Square Park

IMG_8418Page 3: Two men offering prayer near Union Square.

IMG_8419Page 4: The gathering of mourners and stunned New Yorkers in Union Square Park

IMG_8420Page 5: Union Square Park

IMG_8421Page 6: Signs and drawings in Union Square Park

IMG_8422Page 7: Signs and drawings in Union Square Park

IMG_8423Page 8: I was walking through the city, past a hospital, and I saw this man being interviewed. I never found out if he was NYPD or NYFD, but he was a rescue worker injured on 9.11

IMG_8424Page 9: The man being interviewed, and flyers looking for help with loved ones. Sean Lugano (top right) was beautifully profiled by his friend (and mine), Chris Dessi.

IMG_8425Page 10: Union Square Park was the epicenter of debate, singing, talking.

IMG_8426Page 11: Union Square Park and the surrounding area

IMG_8427Page 12: Random images

IMG_8428Page 13: In the aftermath, most New Yorkers just wanted to help. A friend and I started hanging up flyers for the families of missing people. At the end I had a few left over.

IMG_8429Page 14: I vividly remember meeting Robert’s wife at the Armory and taking some of her flyers. She said to me, “I know he’s gone. I just know it.”

IMG_8430Page 15: My friend and I took a bunch of the flyers to a Kinko’s, where copies probably cost, oh 10 cents each. The manager saw what we were doing and said, “No charge. Make as many as you need to.” Writing that now, I still get teary

IMG_8431Page 16: I remember Firefighter Cherry had daughters. I met them. It was very real. And just crushing.

IMG_8432Page 17: The late Sheila Barnes.

IMG_8433Page 18: This flyer led to this story—and a 14 year bond with the Ugolyn family. Who I hurt for every 9.11.

IMG_8434Page 19: Random stuff. The Daily News article came after my friend and I tried hanging some flyers in Grand Central, and an employee took them down. We called the reporter, Jose Martinez, and he wrote something. The Station wound up putting up a space for flyers.

IMG_8435Page 20: A heartbreaking article from the New York Times, featuring final calls from people in the Towers.

IMG_8436Back cover