9/11 Terrorst Attacks

Anniversary Approaching

Linden native who lived in NYC on 9/11 looks back

Smoke fills a changed skyline following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Smoke fills a changed skyline following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Photo by Kelly Childress

As life returned to the tip of the island after Sept. 11, 2001 and New Yorkers could see what the terrorists had done, Kelly Childress ventured downtown.

On Canal Street, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face glared menacingly from a billboard promoting his latest thriller “Collateral Damage,” in which he plays a firefighter seeking revenge for the deaths of his wife and son in a consulate bombing.

“What good placement,” Childress later thought, “the towers should be behind the billboard.”

Further down on Broadway, a “we’re-open” banner stretched between the neoclassical columns of the Telephone Building. But across the street, the destruction was massive. Amid the wreckage of the World Trade Center, cranes rose into the night sky above an American flag.

“I had to see it for myself, and once I got down there I couldn’t take pictures of it,” Childress said.

When the Linden native first moved to New York City in the go-go ‘90s to pursue an art career, the Twin Towers loomed in the wake of her ferry as it approached Lower Manhattan. She treated visitors to spectacular views of the city at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower.

The day of the attacks dawned crystal blue. It was election day in the city’s mayoral primary where voters were choosing a successor to Rudy Giuliani. Childress was at home listening to the morning news when she heard the report of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

The pictures of the burning tower were an eerie reminder of the B-25 bomber that hit the Empire State Building in a thick fog near the end of World War II.

“But it was such a beautiful day, you couldn’t miss [the tower],” Childress said.

After walking around the corner to vote Childress boarded the subway to her job at an advertising firm in midtown. The train came to a halt somewhere uptown. Straphangers emerged onto a street full of office workers pouring out of the skyscrapers.

The exodus grew as Childress made her way to the office. She ducked into a bodega to buy a disposable camera.

“We’re being invaded. The plane’s hit the Pentagon,” said the woman behind the counter.

At the office workers crowded around a TV in the conference room. When the second tower collapsed, Childress thought all of Lower Manhattan was gone. They were ordered to evacuate.

Childress and a co-worker walked through Central Park, passing by people throwing Frisbees on the warm late-summer day. The co-worker invited Childress into her home and, because cell phone signals were jammed, allowed her to call family on the landline phone.

On the ride back uptown a woman sat covered in ash on the train. No planes flew overhead. Childress and her neighbors gathered outside their building to talk.

“One of the guys just matter of factly said, ‘Oh, yeah, I worked in the second tower,’” said Childress, who later lived in the trade center’s neighborhood before returning to Montgomery County.

As another anniversary approached, an email arrived from her daughter’s school. Teachers won’t discuss the attacks in class, parents were told, but let us know if your children are asking questions.

Childress’s daughter learned about the events from her classmates. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked her mom.

“I didn’t tell her any more than she asked,” Childress said.


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