downtownexpress.com
Volume 20 Issue 18 | September 14 - 20, 2007

Photo courtesy of Fred George

Fred George’s photograph of firefighters at the W.T.C. at dusk on Sept. 12 is part of the New-York Historical Society exhibit. Firefighters and others search for victims underneath the W.T.C. bedrock area throughout the late night of 9/11.

With the benefit of distance, New Yorkers reflect on 9/11 exhibit

By Jerry Tallmer

She thought she was watching a cartoon.

“Here was this little airplane two inches long,” said Sylvia Feiman, holding thumb and forefinger somewhat closer than that, “this little airplane flying into a building, and I thought: Who’s crazy enough to watch cartoons this early in the morning? Then I began to see the smoke, and then I saw the second plane hit a building …

“My first thought was:  How the hell am I ever going to explain this to my husband?  How do you explain this to somebody with Alzheimer’s? I sort of not-explained it to him six times, because who could comprehend it anyway?”

Death took her husband three years ago. Sylvia Feiman came in alone from Forest Hills Tuesday morning to absorb the “Here Is New York: Remembering 9/11” exhibit of 1,500 (yes, 1,500) photographs and a dozen or so “found objects” (the smashed hood of N.Y.P.D. car 1250, the battered doors of a Rescue 2 fire engine, a hunk of a jet’s landing gear, a dust-caked desk clock stopped at 9:04 a.m., etc.) that opened yesterday at the New-York Historical Society, Central Park West at 77th St.

What had brought her in?

“I had to come, I had to come,” said Feiman. “To relive the horror. Part of my family died in the Holocaust. This is the parallel, in our own backyard.”

Chris Evans, on the other hand, on holiday from her nursing job in London, just happened to be walking past the Historical Society’s entrance Tuesday, saw the sign announcing the exhibit, and came in.

New Zealander Evans was on another holiday, in a little village in Greece, on 9/11/01. “There was a crowd all around a television screen. I thought they were watching a football game. But then there was another crowd around another screen. I went and looked and couldn’t believe it. Shock, horror.”

Sitting on a bench at the exhibit, jotting down some notes, was Cal Snyder, a member of the historical society. He’s finishing a book on 9/11 memorials. Working title: “Raising the Stones and the Words.”

That morning six years ago Snyder was at the corner of 88th St. and Columbus Ave., handing out political literature. It was primary day — remember?

“A woman came up to me and said: ‘Have you heard what’s happening? A plane hit the World Trade towers.’ I assumed it was an accident, and said: ‘That’s too bad.’ Then the fire engines came screaming down Columbus — engines from as far away as the Bronx and Westchester.

“The woman came back and said: ‘The Pentagon’s been attacked!’ I said: ‘The United States is at war!’ She said: ‘I think you ought to stop this’ ” — handing out campaign literature. I said” — he chuckles at the absurdity of it — “ ‘But the polls haven’t closed yet!’ I think that in my own way I didn’t want it to be true.”

By far the youngest person taking in the exhibit in its first hour was Rodney Deavault, tall, slim, coffee-colored, 23. Princeton graduate Deavault was there to do a report for his class at New York University’s journalism school.

“I would love to be a theater writer some day,” he said. “I was reading a book by Frank Rich on the way here.” Deavault, whose father works for the Department of Defense and mother is a psychiatric social worker, was in a European history high school class in St. Louis on 9/11/01. “I was … I was … shocked … horrified.”

He particularly remembers the teacher whose daughter in New York was stuck in a subway car directly under one of the towers. The daughter was there many hours, but got out alive. 

Anita Hyams, who lives in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan, remembers with anguish the pictures of missing people being posted on walls at Bellevue Hospital. She has never been to ground zero, whereas Doris Cornell, who also lives in the East 20s and until retirement worked at Hanover Square, has been back to ground zero “several times.”

Joseph Catinella was teaching a class at a school in Queens that day — a class in English as a second language. “I had many Muslim students at the time, which gave the moment extra sensitivity,” he said. “The teachers all went into the faculty room. Even from there you could see the smoke rising, in stunning silence.”

Has he ever been to ground zero? 

“No! Not at all.  I felt it would be masochistic.”

But he’s here to look at those 1,500 pictures — walls and walls and walls of them.

Gladys Fischoff of Rego Park, a retired high school guidance counselor, was in a post office when 9/11 happened, and ran to a phone to call her son and daughter in Manhattan.

“We had all been so self-satisfied within our safety,” she says. “Never thought we’d be hit by anything. It’s really a form of arrogance. One of my daughter’s friends, a young man who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, had carried a hysterical woman down all those flights of steps the first time the W.T.C. was bombed. And then he died in 9/11.”

Why had she come here, on opening morning?

“I wanted to … reconnect. I think we will never find closure with this. It’s exhibitions like this that sensitize people — most people — to why the Holocaust has to be remembered.”

The New Yorker and journalist you are reading remembers the first thing that flashed into his head the first instant a woman in an elevator on West End Ave. said an airplane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. It was of the B-25 that, in rain and fog, had crashed into the 78th and 79th floors of the Empire State Building on Sat., July 28, 1945, killing 14 people and injuring 25.

“Yes,” said Snyder, the fellow who’s writing a book about 9/11 memorials. “I’ve thought about that, too. And somewhere in my book somebody points out that the entire volume of the Empire State Building could fit into the cellars of the World Trade Center.”

Everybody remembers the beautiful blue-sky weather of 9/11/01. Tuesday was gray and damp and touched with thunder. A good day to look at pictures.
 

“Here is New York; remembering 9/11”, an exhibit of photographs, videos, and “found objects,” will be on display at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, until Dec. 31, 2007. Admission is $6 - $10. (212) 873-3400, or www.nyhistory.org.





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