9/11 – Where Were You?

Jewish Exponent cover on Sept. 13, 2001. Photo by Andy Gotlieb

For those of certain generations, the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy remained indelibly on their minds — years later, those alive then knew exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, collectively known as 9/11, mark a similar touchstone for different generations, although there is some overlap for today’s older generations that experienced both.

The Jewish Exponent staff did yeoman’s work that day, redoing the cover on a deadline day to reflect the day’s events and cobbling together several stories. That work was honored the following year by the Keystone Press Awards — a plaque that still hangs in our offices.
Here’s a look at our memories of that fateful day 20 years ago.

Gabe Kahn, editor-in-chief
In the early hours of Sept. 11, 2001, I was still basking in the glow of a magical Sept. 10.
Twelve hours before the first plane hit, I was screaming myself hoarse with several friends at Madison Square Garden for a Michael Jackson concert that was nothing short of spectacular. Not only did MJ perform a slew of his biggest hits, but a wide array of stars took the stage throughout the evening.

Luther Vandross was there. So was Gloria Gaynor, who sang her timeless anthem, “I Will Survive.” Usher had his own rendition of Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.’” (At the time, I had no idea who Usher was.) Chris Tucker, fresh off his mega-hit “Rush Hour 2,” did a couple minutes of stand-up. When Elizabeth Taylor finally introduced Michael, the reclusive singer was accompanied by Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash on “Beat It” and “Black and White.”

Later Jackson brought up his brothers, and they sang, “I Want You Back,” their cheesy dance moves the same as when they performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1969.

At the crack of dawn the next morning, I was in my black GEO Prizm reliving each moment of the concert with two friends as we drove back to Boston, all of us groggy but still on a high from our shared seminal experience. About 45 minutes from home, my mom called with the news, and what should have been one of my greatest memories was suddenly an ironic prelude to the worst day of my life.

Andy Gotlieb
I got off the subway at Fifth and Market streets, heading for my job as finance reporter for the Philadelphia Business Journal. I heard some chatter on the street that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers, but assumed that it was a small plane and, thus, while sad, wasn’t that big of a deal.

When I got to the newsroom, the TV was on and footage from the first tower was airing – only to be interrupted by news that the second tower was hit.

We watched in stunned amazement for a few minutes, then huddled as we figured out how we would cover this. Not long after that, we were told to go home.

Given our proximity to assorted historic sites, “officials” — I can’t remember if it was the Philadelphia Police Department, city government or a national agency — thought Old City might be a target because of the historic and symbolic attractions and wanted to clear the area. SEPTA was about to shut down, so we all hightailed it home, where I watched things unfold for the rest of the day.

We were back in the office the next day, frantically working any angle that seemed locally relevant for Friday’s issue. And 9/11 stories dominated everyone’s coverage for weeks and months to follow.

Mike Costello, finance director
The day started off like any other. I made my way into Center City from Northeast Philadelphia and arrived at my office around 7 a.m. At the time, I was working as a credit union loan officer. While the internet existed, it was still relatively new. Cellphones weren’t nearly as common as they are now. As such, I used to listen to a radio tuned in to the Howard Stern Show.

I remember listening to the show and hearing about the attack. At first, like many others, I presumed it was a small commuter plane that took a wrong turn. Then, I heard that the second plane hit and was frozen.

We did not have a television in the office, and news reports were beginning to cover the event in detail. People were hearing the news from relatives and news alerts online. I recall the instant messaging software that broadcast events to employees. It wasn’t much longer before we were told that the building was closing, and we needed to make our way home.

It seemed like Center City was undergoing a simultaneous mass evacuation. The train stations and subway platforms were crowded, and it took me several hours to make my way home. Once I arrived home, I remember doing little else but watching the news coverage for the next two days, both horrified by the images and loss of life and proud to see people helping each other.

I remember chatting at length with my grandmother from the wireless house phone until the battery died, then resuming the call from the phone that hung on my kitchen wall. She likened the event to Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Normandy.

The one thing that I distinctly remember that night was a feeling of sadness for those who lost their lives and for their families. I remember feeling fortunate that I had not suffered those losses and that my family was safe. The long chat with Nana helped to wake me up the next morning with a feeling of pride about being American and a sense of determination that no obstacle is insurmountable. That determination still resides with me.

Jarrad Saffren, staff writer
I was in fourth grade, and I remember a few kids leaving class in the morning. My teacher was this big, burly guy, and his personality was as big as his body, and he made some joke like, “What’s goin’ on?!”

He didn’t know yet. None of us did. But after lunch, the office kept buzzing into the classroom and asking for kids to be sent down for dismissal.

By the end of the day, I think there were four students left in class. Finally, our teacher sat down in front of us, started fighting back tears and said that “someone attacked the United States.”

Some students asked questions but he didn’t want to say too much. We were kids.
My younger brother and I walked home after school, and our mom was watching the news. We saw a woman being interviewed in New York City. Her face was bloody.


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