Casting my mind back to Tuesday September 11th 2001, it was a day that will stick long in the memory of so many people. God forbid I never witness anything on that horrific scale in my entire lifetime. Before this I had remembered the news stories from Chernobyl, Herald of Free Enterprise, Countless IRA Bombs (particularly the Shankill Road bomb of 1993 sticks in mind), Lockerbie, but this was mental. Before I tell of my visit to the World Trade Centre site (Ground Zero/Park Place/Twin Towers/WTC Site Path) and the effect it had on me, here’s what I remember from that day itself…
…A week or so before it, I had been suspended from work for swearing at a customer!! (apparently, it was the day after Northern Ireland had baten Iceland 3-0 and we had a party at Windsor Park). As such on my nights off I’d be out with Darren and Gavin (Latimer and Moore) for a few beers and on days when either of them were off I’d spend some time with them. They were my best mates at the time, and there wasn’t a great deal to do in a 2001 Northern Ireland really. That particular morning I was round at Darren’s for some reason. I cannot remember why or what we were meant to do (presumably go for a drive, down to the shops or for Darren to mind his son, Ben). The first aeroplane from the tragedy hit the first tower at 8.46 am, which in the UK would have been 1.46 pm. Darren and I were flicking channels in his front room and there was a building on fire, but we thought nothing of it and were watching the sports news I think. Then a text message (yes we had mobile phones in 2001!!) from Gavin came in to say turn on the TV and check out the horrific plane crash. We switched it over and it was just nuts. We couldn’t believe it. Within a few minutes of watching the second plane went into the second tower. The reason I’m not explaining what happened is that most of you reading should already know about it. It is one of the most well known events in world history. It shook the world to its very core. It was totally nuts. As I watched that day on TV Darren and I originally thought the first plane could have been an accident and a crash, where a pilot lost control and ended up going into one of the Twin Towers simply because they were so high and they were the obvious place for a wayward plane to hit. Then when we thought about it, we realised it was much more sinister. I saw both towers crumble live in the UK on an afternoon in Darren’s house at Church Avenue in Bangor, Northern Ireland. I’m not sure if we even had our normal conversations. I remember vaguely that we went out for a fish and chips or Chinese for dinner and that was on Bangor’s High Street. They had it on their TV and nobody was talking, everyone was just watching it. Then that night I went home to my parents place and we all just sat down and watched the live coverage from the USA. Life was mayhem…
Despite the events of 9.11 and a childhood admiration for the Empire State Building, I never actually had any ambition to visit New York. Until 2007, and my World Tour, where I found myself alone and…in New York. On the second night after doing the Circle Line Boat Cruise and grabbing some nice Chiquitos near Times Square, I decided as darkness fell it would be an appropriate time to face the scars of September 11th 2001 and witness the area where this disaster happenned. Looking at my Subway map, I had to guess where to get out to see the old site of the World Trade Centre, and reckoned it would be at Park Place. When the Subway stopped there, I prepared myself for the thought of staring at a place where so many people lost their lives. Growing up in Northern Ireland was going to fade into insignificance on a dark, boring Sunday evening in July 2007. Indeed more people died in New York on one morning in September 2001 than had done in thirty years of my country’s ‘troubles.’ The Subway was quiet, nobody spoke. On exiting the train I followed all sign to either World Trade Centre, Ground Zero or Twin Towers. The signs were old and worn, the walkways gave me a glimpse of war and the long walk through very insecure gangways left me empty. Attempts to cover up the scars of 9/11 were evident in my opinion, the re-naming of the station and the area, which appeared to me to be known as WTC Site Path, and the Station called WTC Path Station. As I exited and reached ground level a dark, purpling sky gaped in at my as my lonely heart awaited in a silence I was not used to. I must have went 2 hours that night without talking and in my adult awake life I cannot recall any other instances when this has happened!
The place was quiet, empty, dead, scary, eerie. All of those and more. A few tramps were lingering and I felt uneasy. I thought that was a bit out of taste to be honest – tramps and people shouldn’t be looking for money in this zone. The place was dark and a mass of rubble. There was dirt everywhere and that very very odd smell. Almost like dead tarmac or death. The smell was gruesome, memorable (for a bad reason) and sticks with you. The smell doesn’t go away and it is a smell I won’t forget. It smelt like something here in life was wrong. And it was. Gaping up at God’s sky it was obvious that a chunk of this sky line had been callously eliminated by those suicide bombers that die. There is still a hole in the sky there. You look up at it, you notice it, you envisage where those two mammoth towers were, you stare at buildings around it. You know what happened at this location on September 11th 2001. There’s no getting away from that. The place was a building site. All fenced up. Bricks everywhere. A total mess. Six years on from the disaster and the place was still a mess. This shows the telling after effects of the attacks. I had to go full circle when I was there, so I did. I walked slowly round gaping through holes into the site itself, reading every board and information notice, feeling scared and NOT talking to anyone. This is where life stops. The most chilling and frozen moment of my entire life. You cannot think about anything else. Death is right in front of you. Around 3,000 people died in the attacks. Its a crazy amount. All that blood, bodies, limbs was all scattered or infernoed right in front of where I stood that night.
“This is a special place” read the sign. Too right. And as my German friend Nina professed “it will always be a special place.” The horrors came to light again when I noticed a list of the victims of the attack all listed. I looked for Blairs and there were none and for Scotts and there were a few. I always do that at war/death monuments. Not sure why. There was (and still isn’t) any kind of monument or museum, just the notices around the area. I think the New York council wouldn’t want the terrorists to win thats why they want business as usual. That’s why there are plans to construct a ‘Freedom Tower’ a brand new larger, higher tower to replace the two that were viciously deleted from existence. Nearby by there is also the Liberty Building (or Liberty Tower; I cannot remember) which was damaged so badly in the attacks that it is still not been deconstructed, yet they are trying to get rid of the building floor by floor. The foundations were fucked forever, and walking round and staring you cannot help but wonder “where the fuck did all the rubble and remains go?” Walking further round on the north side and I noticed more information and notice boards, a lot with messages and graffiti. I added my own out of poignancy. I walked past about 30 people who seemed to be doing the same as me on a Sunday night. Walking round and dwelling. It was a moving Sunday evening, a great time to do it and I must have spent at least an hour at WTC Site, taking photos and pondering life in the most bizarre way ever imagineable. I recommend everyone who visits New York to go to WTC Site twice: once at night and once in the day, speaking of which…
I wanted to see the former WTC by day as well, so a few days later, this time I was at nearby Wall Street and decided to walk up there from Wall Street. Debris, scaffolding and rubble all accompanied me as I trawled back in hot hot sun and scintillating dayshine onto the site of the World Trade Center. It wasn’t as eerie this time. There were more people around, the sky wasn’t dark as death, there were builders working, there were office workers walking past. It was a normal day in a normal city. It was still glaringly obvious that something wasn’t right and the place was heaving with tourists (as New York gets!) taking photos. I’m the same, I take shitloads of photos, especially when digital cameras have so much memory these days. I decided while at the former site of the World Trade Center that I would have a beer as close to the site as I could get one. While walking down a side street, O’Hara’s Pub jutted itself out at me on a street which looked like it had been hit by something. Weell it had, two aeroplanes, but that was 6 years prior, though you wouldn’t have guessed.
On entering the pub, I saw many quiet New Yorkers enjoying a peaceful pint. There was a bit of casual chat and it seemed to be almost a ‘local’ for workers in and around that area. What I didn’t know was that the pub Landlord was an Ulsterman!! It was a guy from West Ireland in the Ulster part (possibly Cavan, Fermanagh or Donegal I don’t remember) called Brian and he served me with a New York/Newry accent! Classic mix that one, Brian then asked me how I was enjoying New York and why I had chosen this pub. I explained the whole thing about wanting to face and see the scars of the past (for the same insane reason I feel the need to visit Zeebrugge someday and stare slowly at the sea where The Herald of Free Enterprise saw its fate and people’s lives fall away in March 1987). We enjoyed a nice wee chat and I updated him on the latest back in Northern Ireland (he called it Ireland; I call it Northern Ireland, but there was no need for politics here…) and he began telling me a few tales…
Brian started with the story that he was meant to work the day of 9.11 but was on a “late” so didn’t need to be in work till later on. Had he been on an “early” then who knows??? He then got out the 9.11 scrapbook which they only let certain customers see (ask him for it, he’ll let you see it). The book contained photos of the pub before 9.11, during the aftermath and days following the bombings with rubble, broken glass and smoke inside the bar. How the bar survived I’ll never know. The bar has almost been restored to how it was before the bombings and looks great. Nice wee place for a pint. Looking through the book, Brian continued to tell me stories from the days folowing the bombings, how injured persons would be stretchered into the bar and held out the back and given water and first aid before being taken to hospital. Brian could tell a tale or two…
Photos on the wall in the pub also showed the aftermath of the attacks and served for me at least as a museum style bar to inforce the images of that day into me and my British ignorant brain, miles away nestled in the time trap of Northern Ireland. I recall having a few beers in there and speaking to customers as normal. I didn’t bring up the subject of 9.11 I thought that would be wrong, but a few of the customers were happy to reminisce and tell some interesting stories. Experiences like this for me in life are worth their weight in gold. Hearing people’s genuine experiences is a moving emotion.
My visit to O’Hara’s bar added to my night time experience in solitude to this ‘Special Place’ gave me the time and the method of thought to realise how fucking good life is. Let’s bloody enjoy this time because one aeroplane hits a building and we’re gone. There is no second chance. There are far too many naive, cynical, ignorant and ungrateful people in this world. Love what you have, love what you don’t have and don’t ever fucking stop living. Because one day, just one day it just might not be your choice that life has to stop. 3,000 people died in one morning in New York. Whether you knew them or not, the fact is they died, and they are us. As a former Notts County and Northern Ireland player once told me: “PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE.” We are as one. We should respect. What happened on 9.11 was terrifying and it’s OK to dwell on this bad moment and think of the good. There’s a lot of world to see out there. It won’t come to you. Before I detail you some facts on 9.11, I’ll conclude by saying “If you go to New York, visit WTC Site and spare a thought for those who it affected.” This was one of life’s truly truly moving moments…
INFORMATION FOR YOU ON 9.11:
The September 11, 2001 attacks (often referred to as 9/11) were a series of coordinated suicide attacks by al-Qaeda upon the United States. On that morning, terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial passenger jet airliners. The hijackers intentionally crashed two of the airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, resulting in the collapse of both buildings soon afterward and extensive damage to nearby buildings. The hijackers crashed a third airliner into the Pentagon. The fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville in rural Somerset County, Pennsylvania after passengers and members of the flight crew on the fourth aircraft attempted to retake control of their plane.
Excluding the 19 hijackers, 2,974 people died as an immediate result of the attacks with another 24 missing and presumed dead. The overwhelming majority of casualties were civilians, including nationals from over 90 different countries. In addition, the death of at least one person from lung disease was ruled by a medical examiner to be a result of exposure to dust from the World Trade Center’s collapse, as rescue and recovery workers were exposed to airborne contaminants following the World Trade Center’s collapse.
Location New York City, U.S. (1st & 2nd)
Arlington Co, VA, U.S. (3rd)
Near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, U.S.(4th)
Date Tuesday, September 11, 2001
8:46 am – 10:28 am (UTC-4)
Attack type Aircraft hijacking, Mass murder, Murder-suicide, Suicide attack
Deaths 2,998 (excluding the 19 hijackers)
Perpetrator(s) al-Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden, see also Responsibility and Organizers on the right hand column
Here’s part of an e-mail I wrote to my family the day after my first visit to WTC Site Path/Ground Zero/Whatever You Want To Call It:
“Get on the subway (tube) and get off at Park Place. Then walk through the path called WTC Path. It brings you out at the site remains of the twin towers. It is a truly breathtaking area. There are pieces of rubble and bulldozers everywhere with a gaping whole in the sky where the World Trade Centre once stood. There is an eeriness and a very very bizarre smell which will stay with you. It has to be seen. So far I have done this only at night, but will go in the daytime as well.”