The Longform.org Guide to 9/11
Five unforgettable stories from Ground Zero.
Every weekend, Longform.org shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For a daily selection of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform.org or follow @longformorg on Twitter.
Warning: This article includes profanity.
On the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, here are a collection of stories from Ground Zero, each one published while the attacks were still disturbingly fresh in the minds of Americans:
"We Got Down to the Outside and It Was Like an Apocalypse" Michael Ellison, Ed Vulliamy, and Jane Martinson • the Guardian • Sept. 12, 2001
An account of the chaos published the following day:
"One fire team from Brooklyn emerged from the still smoking debris of a building on Lower Broadway having lost one of their number to the crumbling of the second World Trade Tower—the faces now blackened, eyes red with smoke, strain and exhaustion.
Richard Clayton, thick-set but worn out, had twice disobeyed orders to rest during the day but now sat on the kerbside of Gold Street, and hung his head between his knees after ripping off his mask. He said: 'Some dead, some alive, most almost alive... one was just a little girl's dress with something that looked like a dead little girl in it ... what's with us,' he said, 'that people want to come crushing a little girl under a fucking building?'
The scene around him looked like the world's end—fire trucks and ambulances grinding their way across a white lake of dust and debris from which the pall of smoke still rose a few blocks away. The fireman and paramedics caked in soot, their tunics torn, broke the eerie stillness by alerting each other with commands and cries urging one another into the pyrexia. 'This,' said nurse Adam Cowes, 'is what hell looks like, in case you'd ever stopped to wonder.'"
The Real Heroes Are Dead James B. Stewart • The New Yorker • February 2002
The life story of Rick Rescorla: immigrant, war hero, husband, and head of security at Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter, which occupied 22 floors in the south tower.
"Survivors of the attack pressed themselves on Susan to offer their thanks, and many called after the service. Susan felt compelled to try to piece together what had happened that day, and asked people if they had seen Rick. She heard many accounts in which Rick, always wearing his suit jacket and tie despite sweating profusely, kept people marching down the right side of the dark staircase, singing into his bullhorn, as firemen and rescue personnel raced up. At one point, he had nearly been overcome by the heat, and had to sit down on the stairs. But he kept singing or speaking reassuringly. 'Slow down, pace yourself,' he told one group. 'Today is a day to be proud to be an American.'
Susan learned that at some point he had used his cell phone to report that all Morgan Stanley employees were out of the building. But one of the last to leave, Bob Sloss, told her that, just ten minutes before the building collapsed, he had seen Rescorla on the tenth floor. When Sloss reached him, he told Rescorla to get out himself. 'I will as soon as I make sure everyone else is out,' Rescorla replied. Then he began climbing back up into the building. That was as far as Susan could get. She tossed at night trying to imagine what happened next. Had Rick heard and felt the beginning of the building's collapse? Had he known what was coming? These thoughts kept her awake, night after night."
The Miracle Survivors Steve Fishman • New York • September 2003
The story of 16 people, 12 of whom were firefighters, who somehow made it out alive despite being inside the north tower when it collapsed:
"Surviving is a freakish experience. These people really should be dead. ('That's the day I should have died,' Buzzelli says sometimes.) And since they're not, then they should be thankful. They lived a miracle. They should walk through life full of joy. And yet these people—and their families sometimes more so—seem afflicted by a persistent guilt, guilt for having lived."
Max Linsky is the co-founder of Longform.org.
Photograph by Doug Kantner/AFP/Getty Images.