City of Ghosts

100 Minutes of Tragedy That Will Haunt Us All

Headed back to the disaster site to dig some more, Sullivan said: "There are red suspenders and puppy dogs and cats in trees and all that stuff, and then sometimes the shit hits the fan and it gets very real."

On Wednesday, the day after the collapse, a young couple from North Carolina named Tori Branch and Mark Rushing are trying to make their way back to the apartment they had fled on South End Avenue in Battery Park City. On West Street, near Stuyvesant High School, they talk their way past a cop wearing a Suffolk County shoulder patch, then a National Guardsman. Their shoes send up clouds of gray dust as they walk through the park along the river. Everywhere there is the litter of millions of pieces of paper, the burst files of a thousand destroyed offices: graphs with numbers, charts covered in Chinese lettering, pink buy and sell forms from brokerage houses, stern-sounding official letters from federal agencies.

One stands tall, two fade into history.
Illustration by Sean Beavers
One stands tall, two fade into history.

Tori and Mark moved to the city in December from Raleigh. "We just wanted to be in New York," said Tori. Mark found a job with an investment firm. Tori planned on attending New York University. They had been concerned about finding an apartment, but the first real estate broker they visited steered them to the high-rise building at 200 Gateway Plaza. Directly out the window, to their delight, was one of the treasures they'd sought in their move north: the Twin Towers. "We love it," said Mark, like most people in the city, still using the present tense about the monolith. "The World Trade Center is such a magnificent building, just to think that people could design and achieve something like that. It's inspiring."

There is little doubt the city will commence the job of rebuilding, filling in the view again across from their apartment. This time, like Nehemiah, the Old Testament king who rebuilt the destroyed walls of Jerusalem, workers will hold "a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other."

Additional reporting: Toni Schlesinger, Emma Nwegbo, James Wong, Carla Spartos

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