Pearl 2001

by James Croak  <>

Within one hour of the second tower falling, James Croak, a sculptor living in New York, sent this email via DSL to a girlfriend in France to let her know that he was alive.

Sept 11, 11:30 am

Sophie et al,

I was to meet with Mayor Giuliani this morning and give a presentation for a commission at 10:00. They told me to come an hour early because of security so I was riding in a cab down Broadway at 8:45 when the first plane flew over. I couldn't believe it, I heard the engines and looked up, it was just above the buildings, a small jet I thought, and a moment later, a boom. Tons of beautiful white paper drifted down on Manhattan. Our Democratic primary is today and my first thought was that a candidate had dropped political leaflets. Or at worst a small jet had hit the World Trade Center and blown out the office stock, an accident possibly because of a heart attack; a lone pilot is enough to fly small jets here.

I directed the cab a few blocks further and saw an amazing sight, a beautiful day and the North Tower on fire. I got out of the cab and watched as one person after another jumped to their deaths 90 stories up as the flames hit them. Behind me was the cavalry, a river of sirens and lights careening down the avenues — ambulances, Harleys, ladder trucks, black & white— weaving through traffic, all throttle and brake, honking, cursing, firemen craning their heads out the windows to look upwards, gaping at the damage, radio to the ear. It was the last thing they would never remember.

I turned away and was staring at the South Tower when the second plane hit. The concussion took my courage. It was an explosion beyond description, I felt that it was 1945 and I was in Berlin, or maybe Pearl Harbor in '41.

I could feel the heat three hundred yards away; everything on four or five floors, people and office equipment, came raining down on the crowd. We all ran north while it fell and got away before it hit because it was high up. As I glanced back I saw the contents of the floors on fire, people killed without a second to reconsider their lives.

As I was running by City Hall I heard my name called. A woman, a Mayor's aide, recognized me and pulled me past the gauntlet that had surrounded City Hall. I figured that I would be safe in there. Giuliani has turned City Hall into a fortress over the past two years. We didn't know what was happening and where the other "bombs" were so no one wanted to move. We sat calmly on the steps of City Hall inside these iron gates and rings of well dressed and heavily armed mayor security detail and felt safe, all the while watching thousands of bewildered people run up the street.

While sitting there speculating as to the future, the South Tower leaned over and fell onto Wall Street, and onto the emergency workers who had assembled there. It came down to the screams and wails of those watching, including mine. Never in history has anyone seen such a sight: A 110-story occupied building crashing onto other occupied buildings. I am sure that many people we know are dead.

Suddenly there was this 30 foot cloud that looked like the sea coming at us. Solid, roiling and white, we didn't know what it was or if it was a biological weapon or even if one could breath in it if it wasn't. The size and force of the cloud told me it would blow out the windows at City Hall and that I should run for my life.

I have never seen a New Yorker panic before, but we knew that something had happened way beyond our sassy world. We all scrambled behind city hall and jumped over the barricades and fences and got into the street and ran north. I threw one man's crutches over the final iron gate and then him. I never looked back. It was pandemonium.

Periodically while I was running I would pause at crowds of people assembled around cars with loud radios so we could get news. No one knew what else would happen. After the second explosion everyone knew it was so coordinated so maybe the tunnels would go up next. All of New York stayed in the middle of the streets. Millions of people walking, and no one would go near a building or tunnel or subway. The subways were all shut down. Everywhere people were crying.

One man saw me trying to use my cell (not working) and asked to call his wife in the World Trade Center. She was in the South Tower and certainly dead. I had to explain to him what I saw, but he was stilted emotionally and couldn't comprehend it. I would have waited longer with him but the cloud was still coming up Sixth Avenue so I kept going. There were long lines at the pay phones, which were mostly still working, desperate people trying to locate their families. I saw many cabs commandeered by Hasidim, they were yelling at other Jews on the street in Hebrew offering assistance to get them out of the area.

I finally got home, all sense of safety in my beloved New York City gone. We have fighter jets flying about our heads now, F 14's and F 16's at impossible speeds circling Manhattan as if in an air race. Now when I hear a jet motor, I wait for the explosion.


James Croak

Click here to read James' second letter The Dig

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