Remembering a Tragedy

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

By Ann Clothier and Aislinn Olvera

I have the opportunity to view the events of 9/11 as a historical event. I wasn’t born until later that year; therefore, I will never be able to recount the events of that day as anything other than an outsider looking in. Anyone in the class of 2020 or beyond will never truly understand the terror the country went through.

However, there are people who lived through that day and, without a doubt, are able to recount everything they were doing during that horrific morning; where they were, when they heard what happened, how they reacted, how their lives changed. Everything.

Luckily, we were able to contact someone who lives in New York and was only 10 blocks away from WTC at the time. Ann Clothier, a resident of Bay Ridge Brooklyn, was gracious enough to share her stories and personal account of September 11th, 2001. We cannot begin to thank her enough for taking the time to relive and share that morning with us. Below is everything she shared with us, with no editing, no censorship, just the truth.

I live in Bay Ridge Brooklyn which is near the Verrazano Bridge that goes to Staten Island. I had just started a new job as a senior court clerk at Criminal Court in Manhattan, 100 Centre Street, one block south of Canal Street, in July 2001 and had been given a Summons Part on 9/11 that required me to be at work one half hour earlier than the usual 9:00 AM start.

I was preparing the calendar when two lawyers asked if they could look out the window in the Judge’s Chambers behind me. As the Judge wasn’t on the bench yet, I said it would be all right. They said they had heard a plane had gone into the World Trade Center. Everyone thought it was an accident at that point.

My Judge, who was the Chief Judge, came in and told us to leave the building. He closed all the Parts. One of my co-workers asked if I wanted to walk down the few blocks to see the towers, but we hadn’t gone far when we found a fellow clerk in shock as he had just witnessed the second plane hit the other tower. We had to walk him to another court where his wife worked as he was so traumatized. We headed back to the courthouse where we saw our judge in front announcing that a plane had just gone into the Pentagon. My first thoughts were, “They’re not finished with us.” I was afraid as I headed for the Manhattan Bridge, which extends from Canal Street, that more planes might be coming to take out the bridges which would really cripple the city. In fact, I was surprised that subway trains were going over the bridge and I thought they might be rigged with explosives. The bridge was shaking from the hundreds of people walking and as we got half way across, I looked up Mott Street in Chinatown and saw the towers on fire, but by the time I crossed the bridge and walked the 4 blocks to Fulton Street, I heard someone say, “The towers are gone.” I didn’t understand at first. I thought he meant the top of the buildings above the impact zone, but both towers were completely gone.

I got a Third Avenue bus and a guy got on completely covered in a white dust. He had been on the subway that I normally would have taken to work. The subway station was destroyed and would not be reopened for years. Another passenger, a woman was crying hysterically. She said she had been late for work at the World Trade Center on one of the floors that took the direct hit. She kept saying, “All my co-workers are dead. All my co-workers are dead.”

The courts were closed for days and even though I had never seen Centre Street washed before, it became a daily thing as the fires continued to burn for three months. You could smell death. We tried to seal the windows but to no avail. It was such a horrendous event that no one was prepared for. There were no Hazmat respirators available for the first responders and the death toll continues to rise from cancers created by the toxins in all the burning materials; jet fuel, asbestos, formaldehyde, metals et al.

The lesson is that we have to remain vigilant. If you see something, say something. And always know where the exits are. Many of the survivors working in the WTC said that they were told to stay put and wait for help, for the professionals. But they didn’t wait. They started down the hundreds of stairs to safety, many helping those along the way who were less mobile.

A hotel right next door to the WTC was being used as a rescue area. A young man was ironing his shirt on an upper floor when he saw debris flying by the window. He looked up and saw the burning towers. He grabbed his wallet, went barefoot running down the hall knocking on doors, telling everyone to get out. He survived when the towers fell and the hotel was destroyed, but many died in the hotel including those who had already been rescued from the towers.