We Remember

NYC natives in Crawfordsville share memories of 9/11

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In the nation’s heartland, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city he knew like it was a one-stoplight town, Warren Rosenberg saw the pictures of the tower burning.

“Something’s going on and I don’t know what it is, but turn on the TV,” his daughter Jessica, who was away at college, had said when she called home.

As they watched the initial reports, Rosenberg reassured his wife Julia that the plane that hit the building must have been small, like the military bomber that slammed into the Empire State Building during World War II.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal, blah, blah, blah,” Rosenberg remembered saying. “And of course what followed was something quite incredible to everybody.”

It was mid-afternoon in Austria where Nancy and Larry Bennett were going to an electronics store to buy a telephone. They were spending the next year in the capital Vienna, where Larry, a music professor at Wabash College, was doing research.

On a display of large TVs, pictures of smoke pouring from the towers multiplied on the screens. “I really dislike these horror movies that use such realistic shots of New York,” Larry said, before realizing the pictures were live.

For natives or longtime residents of New York City who moved to Montgomery County years before the tragedy, the days that followed were spent tracking down family and friends in the city. The attacks disrupted phone service in Manhattan and all bridges and tunnels into the city were closed.

“Everything was shut down,” Rosenberg said.

Envisioned as a symbol of global power in postwar America and designed to spur urban renewal in Lower Manhattan, the World Trade Center gobbled up blocks of electronics stores in Radio Row, where Rosenberg’s family bought their first television set.

As a teenager living in Brooklyn, he watched the towers rise over the downtown skyline.

“Frankly, I wasn’t too thrilled with them,” said Rosenberg, who moved to Crawfordsville in 1980 to teach at Wabash.

“I mean, a lot of us didn’t think aesthetically they were very pleasant because we grew up appreciating the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, and [those] are beautiful Art Deco buildings.”

Eventually, Rosenberg would enjoy sitting in the plaza and riding the elevators up to Windows on the World, the restaurant near the top of the north tower. He and Julia spent one of their first dates with a sweeping view of the city. After moving to Indiana, they would return to Manhattan every summer to visit friends and family.

As the attacks unfolded, the Rosenbergs tried to reach Warren’s sister, who worked for the Associated Press uptown in Rockefeller Center. With the mass transit system at a standstill, she and other evacuees waited for a tourist boat to ferry them across the river to New Jersey, where they were sent to Giants Stadium.

Some of his friends set foot across the Brooklyn Bridge to get home.

Back in Austria the Bennetts scanned the dial of a low-quality radio to find English-language coverage of the attacks. It wasn’t until the next day when technicians arrived to hook up their internet and phone service, allowing them to contact friends and relatives in New York. Months passed before they saw video of the carnage.

One friend who lived in Lower Manhattan had to walk for hours to board the bus home to New Jersey. Another of their friends was trapped in the city when the bridges and tunnels were sealed.

“But other than strenuous trips home, our friends were OK,” Bennett said.

Rosenberg was scheduled to attend a conference in Vancouver, British Columbia a week later. Both Julia and his mother insisted he cancel the trip.

“And I said, ‘There’s no way those SOB’s are going to stop me,’” said Rosenberg, who was one of just 10 people on the flight.

Several months later, Bennett was buying flowers at a shop when the Afghan cashier asked where she was from.

“Oh, thank you!” the cashier replied when he learned she was from the United States. “Your country has saved mine!”

As the 10th anniversary neared, Rosenberg was invited to co-edit a collection of essays looking at the representation of 9/11 in popular media.

The book, “Portraying 9/11: Essays in Representations in Comics, Literature, Film and Theatre,” seeks to counter the images seared into the public’s memory.

“The media was really presenting a [narrative of] very us-vs.-them, black and white, the axis of evil,” said Rosenberg, adding he believes the presentation helped lead to the current political division.

Wabash theater professor Jim Cherry contributed an essay about a play based on the experiences of a New York City writer who helped a fire chief write eulogies for fallen firefighters.

Cherry, who was living in New York City on 9/11, later taught a freshman tutorial about the attacks.

“I was getting used to teaching it as a current event, but what I really needed to do was teach it as a historical event and I couldn’t quite figure out how to do that,” he said.

Cherry encourages his students, some of them born after 9/11, to speak with family members who lived through the day.

“Those stories fade over time, and I think there’s just a lot of value in getting people’s stories and perspectives out now.”

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