Note: This informal diary by Ed Silberfarb, a resident of New
York City, began in response to an email message he received from
his son Jacob on Tuesday, September 11, following the attack on
the World Trade Center.
All circuts are down to New York. If you get this, email back ASAP.
Yeah, we're okay. Today was the primary election. Mom and I were both
out at 6 a.m. working the polls. I was doing it for money as a paid
election worker assigned to the polls at P.S. 75. Mom was a volunteer
campaign worker drumming up support for your favorite CFD candidates.
Both of us were on the Upper West Side so we never got near Ground
Zero. I went out for an early lunch (about 10 AM, watched the horror
show on television briefly, then returned to the polling site only to
learn that the election was suspended. The whole City is shut down.
No subways, no buses, no traffic in or out through bridges and
tunnels, airports shut down. On the north-south aves. vast numbers of
people hiking up from lower Manhattan. No word yet on casualties, but
it's got to be awful. That's all for now.
Here's an afternoon update. Sharon returned after trying to take her
mother to vote. By then the election was cancelled. My day as a poll
worker ended by 11 a.m., but I'm told I'll be paid for a full day. I
may have earned it, though, because we had to close up the machines
amidst the chaos and uncertainty and with people, including myself,
who didn't know what we were doing. I have had CNN on all afternoon
on one tv set, Channel 5 on another and WCBS news on the radio.
I went up to the roof of our building, but could see only a vast
billow of smoke rising from Lower Manhattan. Then I went down to
Riverside Park where there was an eerie calm overall. The River was
peaceful. The Henry Hudson Parkway, which borders the Park, was
almost empty. No traffic southbound except police cars, and very few
private cars northbound. Several restaurants in the neighborhood were
closed because their staff couldn't get to work. The neighborhood
supermarket was jammed. People lining up from the cash registers into
the grocery aisles. Apparently they thought the Great Famine was upon
us with no trucks being able to make deliveries.
Subways and buses resumed running by mid-afternoon and traffic was
leaving the City via bridges and tunnels, but most people heading for
Jersey from Lower Manhattan did so by ferry.
There have been all sorts of scary "might have happened" stories.
Daniel McGrail, whom Jake and Joe know, works for a broker in the
World Trade Center. When he heard the first explosion, his boss said
to stay in the building, thinking that might be safer than a panicky
exit. But instead, Daniel said "I'm outta here," and he left before
the building came down. A Hadassah friend of Sharon's works in a
building across the street from the WTC. She was late for work and
was stuck in the subway two-and-a-half hours en route to her office.
And of course today's election kept me out of the World Trade Center
where I would have been this morning to get half-price theater
tickets for Sharon's birthday tomorrow.
This will be it for the night. You probably know as much about the
big picture by now as I do, but here are some of the less prominent
happenings. A friend of ours visited a neighborhood firehouse and was
told that all the firefighters from that engine company who went into
the World Trade Center, six of them, "were lost." And the Mayor said
the Chief of the Fire Department was also. There were apparently many
cops and firemen killed, but no one yet is saying how many. Even the
City's Medical Examiner was injured. It was premature to say the
river tunnels were open. They remained closed until this evening, and
even now only outbound traffic was allowed. No one except emergency
people will be allowed south of Canal Street tomorrow, and everyone
else is asked to stay home. One emergency throughout has been a need
for blood donations, and people have been flocking to the hospitals
to contribute. And hospitals in Jersey as well as New York have been
receiving the injured. Several synagogues will be holding special
prayer services tomorrow. Telephone circuits still seem to be out in
many areas. Calls we try to make outside the City don't go through.
The more we see and hear of this, the more sickening it becomes. It's
not just steel and concrete and the big gap in the beautiful
Manhattan skyline, but the individual tragedies are becoming more
As the second day ends, only cliches seem to describe what's going
on. I'll say only that I was 11 years old when Pearl Harbor was
attacked, and nothing since, until now, fits President Roosevelt's "a
day that will live in infamy."
Today was Sharon's birthday, but fortunately we had not planned a
party or even a small get-together, which we would have had to
cancel. We went out to brunch and on the way we visited two of the
neighborhood fire houses and the local police precinct. That police
station house on West 82nd St lost only one cop, but they seemed
remarkably hopeful that he might surface from under the debris. In
fact, two cops last night were discovered buried, but alive. The
guess now is that about 30 cops city-wide have died. The engine
company on West 83rd lost one fireman, but they too are hopeful. In
the meantime, people put flowers at the doorway, and someone put a
picture of the missing fireman with children whose class he had
visited. Then came the ladder company on West 77th Street which lost
an entire team, six firefighters including a lieutenant. The mood was
grim, to say the least. One of the firefighters we met there was
wearing a t-shirt indicating that this year was the 100th anniversary
of that unit. It's believed that about 200 fireman have been killed,
an incomprehensible number. Each year a few fireman may die on duty
in the City. How many years would it normally take to lose 200? And
the victims include the Department brass as well: the First Deputy
Commissioner, the Chief of the Department, at least one, probably
more, battalion chief, and the Fire Department Chaplain, a priest who
was much beloved by people of all faiths.
The streets on the Upper West Side today were like an early Sunday
morning, hardly any traffic, but the brunch restaurant was jammed.
People weren't going to work. After brunch we headed for the nearby
New York Historical Society, but found it closed, and realized all
the museums in the City were closed, as was Linclon Center, which had
barrier gates across the entire front of the plaza. Nobody, not even
pedestrians other than emergency workers are allowed below 14th St.
unless they can prove they live in Greenwhich Village or the Lower
East Side. People who live in Battery Park City, in the immediate
area of the World Trade Center, were evacuated to New Jersey where,
I'm told, they're staying in school gymnasiums. In the evening we
experienced a somewhat subtle scare. There was a prominent smell of
acrid smoke in the air. The wind had shifted and the smoke and dust
from Lower Manhattan had reached us on 90th Street, at least five
We ended the day at a gathering in our local synagogue where people
sang psalms and shared their experiences. One member of the
congregation, whose wife worked in the World Trade Center, received a
phone call from her after the first explosion, telling him that she
was all right. He has not seen or heard from her since.
Tried today to resume some normalcy, but in doing so felt guilty
because of all the suffering around town. Went to a super-fancy
restaurant for lunch, which we had scheduled two weeks ago but World
Trade Center talk predominated at our table and the one next to us.
Rode a bus uptown, and a very attractive young woman came aboard,
wearing levis, a safety vest over her blouse, a hard hat, and a pair
of protective gloves in her back pocket. An American flag was
stitched on the back of her vest. She looked like one of the
volunteer workers from the demolition site, except that she wasn't
covered with dust. Maybe she had a chance to clean up. Sharon wanted
to take a moment to thank her for whatever she had been doing down
there, but didn't have a chance because we reached our stop.
Walked over to Ladder Company 25, the firehouse on West 77th St. that
lost six firefighters. There was no word that any had been found.
Scores of flower bouquets were piled in front of the building.
Photographs of the six were displayed amidst the flowers. The missing
Lieutenant had just been promoted a few months ago. There were
prayers, poems and letters, including a couple from school children.
The surviving firemen there were able to carry on conversation with
sympathetic visitors, which must have taken strength, and they were
saying goodbye and thanking firemen from out-of-town who had come in
to help with the rescue effort. Earlier in the day we had heard that
several firemen had been found and rescued, but we later learned that
they were rescue workers themselves who had fallen into the rubble.
Stories abound and you don't know what to believe. By the end of the
day we heard that a cop, who with several others was trapped and
buried under a car, was able to call his wife on his cell phone.
The estimate of firemen presumed dead was revised upward, well over
200, and police more than 50. Along with these dreadful numbers, I
was reminded that the headquarters of the Port Authority of New York
and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center, was in one of the
buildings. And sure enough, the Director of the Port Authority, one
of the most powerful public officials in the region, was among the
I'm the assistant editor of the Columbia Journalism School's Alumni
Journal, and this weekend the Fall issue of the publication is put to
bed. We wanted to include a story that linked at least one of our
alumni to the biggest news event since World War II. So I selected
John McWethy, ABC' reporter covering the Pentagon. He was at that
burning building throughout that first day. But, as correspondents
discover in many war zones, communication failures thwart their best
efforts. Throughout the evening I was not able to place a single
phone call anywhere outside the City. By nighttime, there was one
comforting announcement for people who keep their cars on the street
in New York. Because of the World Trade Center calamity, alternate
side parking regulations would be suspended again tomorrow.
Some observations on small situations: Went to the bank a few days
ago to deposit a check. Was told the deposit would be accepted but
not processed that day, or even the next. Went to a savings bank the
next day to withdraw some money. A line of about 50 people reached
the door. A sign said computers were down, but some transactions,
including withdrawals, could take place.
Drove to Queens on Friday. Tried to cross Manhattan on 96th Street,
but two east side blocks were closed by police. This is the location
of the City's largest Moslem mosque. Then I realized that my
neighborhood photo processing and photo copying shop, which is run by
Arabs, was closed after the attack. Continued out to Queens via the
Triborough Bridge and the Grand Central Parkway, normally very heavy
traffic on a Friday afternoon, but very little that day. Passed
LaGuardia Airport; no planes coming in or going out, just some
helicopters above. Passed Shea Stadium; empty and quiet. Went to
Friday night services at our synagogue. Among the congregants was the
man whose wife was lost in the World Trade Center. She had called him
after the first explosion, but was not seen or heard from again. He
and his daughter sat together hugging each other.
Friday evening was candle lighting time, not just for Jews, for whom
it is a weekly ritual, but for the entire City, and perhaps beyond.
The idea was for everyone at 7 p.m. to step outside and hold a
lighted candle as a memorial for the fallen. The result was
astounding. People lined the streets, collected at corners, clustered
here and there. Some marched on the avenues. All with candles of
various sizes and shapes. I saw Yartzeit candles, Shabbat candles,
decorative candles. At one building they gathered around a bagpipe
player. Candles were lined up in front of stores and apartment houses.
Met a friend of mine today who is a reporter for Newsday. She had
just come back from the demolition site where she had been
interviewing workers. She pulled from her handbag a t-shirt that said
"America under attack "
with a picture of the American flag. She said it cost $2, but there
were other versions that went as high as $10 and even $15. She asked
if the profits went to the relief agencies, and was told, no, it was
a private enterprise. She learned that the day the planes struck the
towers, the t-shirt factories went into production.
Tomorrow, Sharon and I have tickets to fly to North Carolina where we
rendez-vous for Rosh Hashanah with Jake, a marine reservist now at
Camp Lejeune, and my cousins at Chapel Hill. There have been reports
all day of reduced flights, but Delta says this one is still on
schedule. We'll find out tomorrow.
Ed Silberfarb was a reporter for 10 years, including seven with
the New York Herald Tribune, during which time he covered City Hall,
among other local beats. He then worked as an information officer for
the New York City Transit Authority. He is the author (with Alfred
Connable) of a history of New York City politics, Tigers of Tammany.
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