Reprint: 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: Sean Beavers
One stands tall, two fade into history.


Also today:
  • It's Been Five Years. Are You OK?
    An open thread

  • Wish You Were Here
    An audio special with music, readings, and interviews

  • Podcast: Comfort Music for 9-11
    Uncle LD's High Bias

  • Ground Zero, U.S.A.
    Snow globes, tourists, grief
    Photo gallery by Holly Northrop

  • A Week Without End
    Those first few days
    Photo gallery

  • Selected readings from 9-11 coverage
  • 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

    Readers Responded:
    Letters from 9-11

    Personal Effects

    I have just read "City of Ghosts" [September 25] by Tom Robbins and Jennifer Gonnerman. Although I wish that circumstances had never required such an article to be written, it was an extremely well-done piece that really helped me, a non-New Yorker, understand more of the personal side of the tragedy. In all of the television news and endless replaying of the attacks, it is all too easy to forget the smaller things, that the victims were real people just like us—they read books, they ate doughnuts, they had families and friends. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

    Matthew Reames
    Roanoke, Virginia

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