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Monday, September 12, 2011

Roosevelt Island Remembers September 11, 2001 On The 10th Anniversary of Attacks

Image of 2011 Roosevelt Island 9/11 Memorial Service From Frank Farance

Last evening, the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) and Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) jointly sponsored a 10th Anniversary 9/11 Memorial Service at the Remembrance Garden adjacent to the Good Shepherd Community Center.

Image of American Flag at RI 9/11 Memorial Service From Frank Farance

More on the 9/11 Memorial Service to come in later post.

I asked Life of Riley blogger and relatively recent Roosevelt Islander Maria Riley to talk to other Roosevelt Island residents about their experiences on 9/11. Ms. Riley kindly agreed to do so and shares this report.

World Trade Center Towers Image From Olya Turcihin
As the anniversary of 9/11 crept over the world this week, New Yorkers prepared themselves, contemplating how they’d honor the memory of that day and its victims, prompting instant reminders of where they stood a decade ago—at that hour, that moment. I remember—12 hours away in a dusty conference room filled with colleagues, watching in silence.

Over the past few months, as my family and I have settled into life here on the island, I’ve listened to pieces of personal stories from those who witnessed it all first hand and those left behind. A scene I’ve never been able to erase from my own memory, dazed New Yorkers walking along the bridges, trying to find their way back home, now seems to have been a premonition. These were people I would one day see again, people I would laugh with, families I would bond with over St. Patrick’s Day parties, roof top surprise birthday celebrations, and nights outside our local grill—my neighbors, my friends.

New Yorkers’ notorious reputation for being tough holds true, but what fails to be mentioned more often than not is the compassion and loyalty woven into those steely exteriors. Who knew that ten years ago as I watched in silence from miles away that today I’d stand side by side with them, listening to their stories, and together remembering a bitter September morning.


That day ten years ago, was the first day of school with the bluest sky anyone could have imagined. After the news traveled like wildfire, we all picked up our kids. We were lucky to be on Roosevelt Island and just steps from our kids. At the time, we had a beautiful apartment with a terrace overlooking the gorgeous skyline of the city. Smoke bellowed and the sky of blue turned gray quickly. I remember crying and screaming as we witnessed the second tower fall, shock and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness for all the people there. And, then the silence - the silence that lasted for days in the city . . . no cars, no bustling people - just silence and the roar of jet fighters overhead at intervals—the fear still palpable in the air.
~Olya Turcihin, Roosevelt Islander since 1977
(WTC Picture courtesy of Olya Turcihin)


Yes we were living on RI on Sept. 11, 2001. The Island was silent. The community was in shock, worry and fear on everyone's faces. Everyone was asking, "Who do I know that's down there?” Parents were scrambling to pick up their children, wondering how loved ones were going to get home. Alexander was in school in the city. That was an awful feeling, not being able to get to him. Chris went from work to get him, but it took hours for him to get home. I picked Andrew up from RI Day Nursery and went directly to Olya's apartment, whose view at the time was due south, a clear shot of the buildings. The buildings were there one minute; smoke billowing, then gone. Then there was the concern about the polluted smoke and the direction it was heading. The smoke did reach us a short time later. The goal was for families to reunite as quickly as possible. The community gathered that evening in a candle lighting ceremony, meeting at the church courtyard, and walked along the promenade. It was surreal...
~Gina Enock, Roosevelt Islander since 1996 (Husband, Chris has been a resident since 1976.)


An Excerpt from A New Global View—How My Life Changed After 9/11

On September 11, 2001, I was 2,000 miles from my New York City home, visiting my brother in Colorado. He woke me that morning to tell me there had been a terrorist attack on New York and the Pentagon. I was terrified: my five-year-old daughter was back home with my husband.

I prayed as best I could. And I was incredibly relieved, though still shaky, when my husband was finally able to call two hours later to let me know they were both safe.

Like the lives of many people around the globe, my life changed forever that day. I’ve had to confront terror, along with everyone else, and some of my friends say they still live with intermittent fear.

One day, I heard a very loud noise from the power plant near my apartment—my first thought was “terrorism.” Another time, as I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge on a bitterly cold winter day, I pondered what would happen if the bridge were attacked. I’d never thought about such things before the World Trade Center was destroyed.

A fundamental change took place in my life.

 ~Amy Richmond, Roosevelt Islander since 1997

Triumph of the Human Spirit

Charlie & I were just talking about that morning 10 years ago. So scary, and yet, I remember thinking the entire time - all I want to do is get to my children! They were in school on 57th Street, and I was on Roosevelt Island. Boy, I have never hustled my fat butt so much in all my life as I did that day, nearly running across the Queensboro Bridge! I can honestly say, I think I know how salmon feel going UPSTREAM since everyone was walking OUT OF THE CITY! LOL

Charlie drove me (and a nanny to an RI child named Mary) as close to the QB Bridge as he could get, and I took a shopping cart & Kait's razor scooter with me (quite the visual, huh?!) and when stopped by a police officer at the foot of the bridge (they were evacuating the city and Mary and I were the only two numb skulls trying to get INTO the city!), he insisted he couldn't let us go across and I remember looking at him with tears in my eyes and just blurting out "well then arrest me or shoot me down because I HAVE TO GET TO MY KIDS!" I guess he took pity on me and then stepped aside and told me to be careful. I grabbed Mary's hand and just shoved past. Mary is a small, fragile, older Philippino woman and I feared she would get lost in the chaos of people but in a blur we lost sight of each other and both just forged ahead.

It was so surreal - I got across the bridge, walking as fast as I could, dodging people, in and out of crowds. Everyone just looked numb. We could see the Towers burning off in the distance - there was a weird smell - not strong, but it was starting to get stronger and I kept thinking "what if they take the bridge out next? What will my kids do?" and I pushed on faster. After arriving in the city - walking ON 2nd AVE, not the sidewalk, just the street - weird I tell ya, mobs of people coming at me to the bridge and looking downtown, uptown, everywhere just thousands of people. So many had a zombie like gaunt - all fleeing the city. I got to the school, they knew me well there since I was VP of PTA, etc so I got right in and the Principal was shocked to see me. The kids had no idea what was going on at all. Thankfully. I sat down, drank some water, cooled down and was so relieved to hear the laughter of the children in the "Multi Purpose Room", you know, one of those cafe-gym-otoriums. I signed the girls out of school and proceeded the walk home with Lauren in the shopping cart (she was in 1st grade) and Kait riding her scooter (4th grade). Kait and Lauren thought it was kinda cool that we were WALKING ON 57th & 2nd AVE. LOL Kids! Then they asked what I feared they would ... 'what happened Mommy?' I told them that some bad people had done some bad things and we all needed to get home to Daddy & Madi. As we walked, Kaitlyn looked at me and asked (I'll never forget this, it was cute) "Mommy, was it teenagers?" This was because the teenagers at the HS for Art & Design were always being "bad" whenever she saw them in the mornings/afternoons! Priceless. So I remember laughing and just trudging on. I felt so much safer walking across the bridge, still nervous, but I had my kids and in a sick way, at least I knew that if anything DID happen on that bridge, that was all that mattered - I HAD MY KIDS. The explaining came much later - the midnight nightmares as Lauren would come to my room crying and telling me she was checking to make sure I was still there because Patrick lost his Daddy. Oh gosh, it was such a hard time for us looking in, I cannot imagine what those families, like Patty's went through. Then to see HER and the kids where and how they are today - truly triumph of the human spirit!
Damn, where did all that come from . . .
Isa C., Roosevelt Islander ’81-’89 and returned in 2000

A Freshman’s First Day

It was the first week of high school. That’s when I started really traveling by myself, using public transportation. I live in Brooklyn so I had to take 3 trains to get to Manhattan. I remember that morning was a beautiful day. I had gym first period—7 something in the morning. Gym was in the basement—we weren’t aware of anything that was going on. When gym was over, I had English class and it was on 3rd or 4th floor. In the hallways they have windows where you can see the skyline. The hallways were crowded. I was trying to get to class. It was freshman year, and I was trying to do everything right. I managed to get to the window and I saw a big, big hole in the first tower. You could see the smoke coming out. I thought, what the hell is going on. I ran upstairs and went to the class and no one was inside the class, only the professor was sitting down. I said “Mr., there’s a big hole in the World Trade Center,” and he’s like “oh, you’re lying.” I said,” no, seriously.” The class was on the other side of the building facing towards Queens. He followed me back and we made our way to the window, and I said,” look, you see.” Right then when I said you see—that was when the next airplane hit. Everybody’s going crazy. We didn’t know what was going on. Then they announced on the loudspeaker that nobody could leave or enter the school. No one was teaching; everybody was just by the windows. My class after that was on the top floor on the 7th floor and you could see everything even better. The office made another announcement and told us it was a terrorist attack. They told us it wasn’t an accident. Everybody was scared. As we were watching, the first tower fell. At that moment is when everybody really got scared. We saw them get hit but you could never imagine such a big, strong building could fall. When we saw it fall, it was just smoke. We didn’t see anything for awhile. Then you could see the other tower still standing. We were so confused. They weren’t letting anyone leave the school. They said parents had to pick you up at the school. There were no trains in or out of the city. I thought I was going to stay in school all night. During my next period we were just looking out and that’s when the second tower fell. At the end of the day, my father drove to the school and picked me up. My mom was working in the city as well. And we had to come by the Queensboro Bridge to pick her up—she walked the bridge. We waited for her at the exit. And we picked her up and went to my cousin’s house, because it was his first birthday that day. Instead of celebrating we all watched the news.All the stores were closed. Nobody was outside. It was quiet. New York is never quiet like that.
~Charlie, Native New Yorker, and Employee of Riverwalk Crossing, Roosevelt Island
Image From Main Street WIRE Of Smoke From World Trade Center Attack As Seen From Roosevelt Island by Vicki Feinmel/Linda Heimer

Commenting on this previous post, Roosevelt Island Historical Society President Judy Berdy adds:
It was a time that we all just came together. At some point we went to the firehouse and found the firefighters had no fresh food. We went to Gristedes and got them some food. Some folks put up signs in the elevators of the apt. houses and soon the firehouse was overwhelmed by generous islanders. It was such a show of gererousity. One day we went by and the new equipment was pouring in from all over the country.

The islanders seemed to all be in Trellis. No one wanted to go home. We all knew the victims. It was our family.

We put a table out on the Saturday after the event and had posterboard and markers for people to write their thoughts. We bought 4 sheets of posterboard and ended up with 13 sheets, that hung in the store windows afterwards.

A few days after 911 a visitor came from Albany and we were walking around the island. Stealth fighters were overhead and it was an haunting feeling.

It took ages to return to "normal" life and maybe we never did.
Roosevelt Island resident Janet Falk was living in Greenwich Village at the time of the 9/11 attacks and recalls what that day was like for her.

A friend of mine is a volunteer fireman who assisted during the first days of the recovery efforts. This is how he described being at Ground Zero.

Here's a remarkable story of how two workers at the World Trade Center, unknown to each other before 9/11, saved each others lives.


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