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The September 11 Digital Archive

Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Smithsonian “September 11:
Bearing Witness to History”

     Story of September 11
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Contributed by: Jonathan Book
Contributor's location on 9/11: Southfield, MI
Contributed on: 12 June 2002

How did you witness history on September 11th?

Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, I woke up early that day to vote in local elections. Normally I avoided such things, but I was enrolled in two political science classes that had instilled in me a sense of duty about voting. At any rate, it was an excuse to miss the first half hour of class. So, I voted. The most exciting thing I thoughtI would hear about that day was who would be the new mayor of my city, Southfield, MI. After voting I drove to my classes at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. It was about 9:00 AM, and my class was to last till 10:00 AM. I took my seat and sat through the class. It was quite boring class too. If nothing else had happened that day it might easily have been remembered as my most boring day of classes ever. I struggled to take notes through yawns and bouts of reverie taking me far away from the classroom. It was a day like any other, a day where everything seemed normal and nothing ominous could be imagined. At 10 I left for my next class, which was a few buildings away. I never had time that semester to stop at the computer lab, which had campus' most readily accessible television, before my class. So, I sauntered off to Turkish History, taught by Professor Hagan. He was a German fellow who spoke with a very thick accent. He was quite brilliant and incredibly kind, but sometimes, and often to my sheer frustration, a very uncharismatic lecturer. Again, I found myself obliviously bored, wishing the minutes away so as to have lunch and check my e-mail at the computer lab. Finally, after one and a half long hours the class was over. The boring classes were done! I was free! I walked over to the computer lab. Outside there were dozens of people on cellular phones. This was not unusual, and yet somehow it was. There were so many more people on cell phones that day. I thought little of that, but as I got closer I noticed more than one person crying. Now, you have to understand, it was unusual for one person to cry in such a place as a public building, but not unheard of. I wondered if perhaps some professor had given a very hard test, but I brushed it off and headed inside. I rounded a corner in the building and noticed a few people bulging out into the hall from the computer lab area. Now, you have to understand, the building the computer lab was in was designed in such a way that you walked in through the front door, made a right turn, headed down a hallway, and made a left to enter the common area with the TV. Throught that common area is the computer lab. I hadn't come to watch TV, I had come to use the computers. The idea of going to watch TV was a little superfluous for me. I could find what news I wanted on the internet, get in touch with friends on the internet, and find out more about my date with my girlfriend that night with my e-mail. However, sometimes people gathered at the end of the common area and chatted or glanced at the news before going to their next class. So, I thought little of the small bulge of people I saw. I walked down the hall, and as more of the common area became visible I started to notice something; there were lots of people gather there. Now, that was nothing unusual. Computer classes were held in rooms ajoining the common area, and when those let out at the hour people frequently crowded the common area to go to their next class. It was different though, this time. The people wren't moving. Usually when those classes let out, people were bustling to and fro to get where they needed to go. That wasn't the case here. These people were standing very still, and they all seemed to be looking at something. When I finally got in full view of the common room, there were tons of people. There were more people there then I had ever seen crowd into the common room before. They were there, and they were looking at the TV. Now, you have to understand, this was not unheard of around there. College students are very conscientious folks, and when significant world news was happening they frequently crowded to look at it for a moment like this. But, again, this was different somehow. There were far more people. I wondered what it could be. Perhaps a war between Israel and Palestine? It was a hot and emotional topic on the campus, Palestine and Israel. Maybe the two had gone to war. What could it be to captivate so many people's attention? I looked to the screen. It had happened over and hour and a half ago, but I had been oblivious in class. But this was the first time I saw the picture of that city, that city with that billowing smoke plume rising from its center. I stopped. I stopped in my tracks. What's this? I wondered what it was I was looking at, where had it happened. It was a flat city skyline I was looking at. No mighty defiant buildings stood out to distinguish it. I wondered if perhaps some gas main had exploded somewhere. A caption flashed across the screen, "Plane Crash." I wondered if this was in Indonesia or Malasia, as planes crashed frequently in South Asia. Then came the confusing flash across the screen, "New York City." What was I looking at? Soon, two hours of ignorance were answered. They showed that video. I saw that plane hit the second tower. For hours the only videos they had to run were those of that plane hitting that second tower. My jaw dropped. What was going on? Planes don't hit building. They crash into oceans or fields in Iowa, not the World Trade Center! I couldn't believe it. I turned to the man next to me and asked him "What happened?" He told me "A plane flew into one of the World Trade Center towers, then another plane hit the other tower." Inconceivable! No. The only way that could happen would be a deliberate act. That's just . . . it's. . . no! "How badly are the towers damaged?" "They're gone!" No they're not! I didn't just hear you say that! "What do you mean gone?" I wondered if perhaps he was being sarcastic. Sometimes people can be that way. I'm often taken for the fool that way, and I wasn't going to be this time. "They're gone." "No, how?" "They collapsed. The fire from the crashes melted the steel supports. The buildings collapsed." I couldn't believe it! No. They tried to do it before. . .no! They couldn't! But there it was. There was the mighty tower, that mighty battered, burning giant. He fell, not like a giant tripping, but like a mortally wounded giant slowly slipping into the sleep of death. Soon his twin followed him. It had all happened two hours ago, while I sat ignorantly wishing time away. For the first time that day my eyes were wide open. I was awake, it was unquestionable, but I wished this was some dream from which I would soon awaken. I wished only to have Professor Hagan chastising me for sleeping in class, and for this horrible sight not to be true, but it was. I saw a friend nearby crying, and I embraced her. We talked for some time, then I knew where I had to be. I had to be by the side of the one I cared about. So, I went to my girlfriend's house. My girlfriend and I sat dumbfounded watching the same video's over and over again. Each time I was in shock thinking it couldn't be true. But, it all was true. After a while it occured to me, there were people everywhere there. There were people in those buildin when they collapsed, there were people on the floors that were hit, and there were people in those planes. Gosh, every time I saw that plane hit it flashed thorugh my head, "I just saw 100+ people die." When my girlfriend's brother came by and saw the video of the first plane, he remarked "Wow, that's cool how different it looks." I wanted to yell at him. Those were people dying, and he thought it was "cool." But, I restrained myself. That night was full of confusion. What would happen next? Would the country riot? Would law break down? Would there be more attacks tomorrow? Would people hurt innocent citizens because they were Arab immigrants? I didn't know. I knew only one thing, we were bound for war.

Has your life changed because of September 11, 2001?

God, how does one answer such a question? The night it happened my girfriend and I went out on our date as planned, but it hung in my mind. The next day I paid twice as much for gasoline as I had the day prior. The truth is, I do the same things today I did September 10th. But, that doesn't mean that I'm not changed. I am currently working in Washington, and it doesn't leave my mind that at any day I could be killed by the calous act of a terrorist. Even today, as I stood outside my building with coworkers, a larger Ryder truck pulled up. I mentioned to them that perhaps standing in front of the building wasn't such a good idea. They scoffed, but I didn't feel safe till the truck left. My girlfriend, here with me in Washington, wants to watch the fireworks in Washingtton DC on July 4th. Personally, I would rather be in Richmond that day.

What do you think should be remembered about September 11th?

We never saw it coming. That's how people like me could sit through entire classes without knowing what had happened. We never even sawing coming. Younger generations will never know the feeling of invincibility we had at the end of the Cold War, when our greatest threat was gone and our former enemy became our friend. We felt no one could hurt us. No generation can ever feel like this again, nor should they feel that they should. Be always vigilant, don't get caught off guard like we did.

Did you fly an American flag after the events of September 11th?

I've flown a flag since, but I've always loved the flag.

Cite as: Jonathan Book, Smithsonian Story #14, The September 11 Digital Archive, 12 June 2002, <>.
Archival Information: 1571 words, 8124 characters

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