Fairview’s John and Cindy New traveled to New York City in September 2001 for a fun weeklong getaway - not knowing they would become an up-close witness to one of our nation’s worst days.
Here is John New recounting his experience 20 years ago on this day.
We fell asleep to the echoes of thunder among the concrete canyons of Midtown Manhattan on the night of September 10, 2001. However, we awoke early to crisp and clear blue skies. Autumn was in the air. We breakfasted at a midtown deli called John's then took the subway to Wall Street.
We walked on down to Battery Park. Our plans were to hang out in Battery Park until around 9:30 a.m., and then head over to watch the opening of the New York Stock Exchange. Then around 11 a.m., we planned to walk over to the mezzanine level of the Twin Towers and visit their Ticket Exchange for Broadway plays. We were not going to miss out buying half-price tickets for a Wednesday matinee. Later, we would go to an upper East art museum and onto Yankee Stadium.
We never made it to any of these places. Instead, we became unwilling eye, smell and ear witnesses to murder and terrorism.
Around 8:45 a.m., we arrived at Battery Park, and I went inside the men's restroom. I came out talking to one of the park rangers about the day and the area. Cindy came running up to us and said she believed smoke was coming from one of the buildings behind us. We turned, squinted, and shielded our eyes looking into the sun, and we could indeed see smoke coming from one of the Twin Towers.
The park ranger looked very perplexed.
We began walking down by the waterfront where a crowd in a line was gathering to board the first ferry of the morning over to the Statute of Liberty.
We bumped into the same park ranger for a second time. He told us they believed a small plane had crashed into the north tower. So, we stood with our backs against the railing and watched the north tower burn.
At the same time, the line to get in the ferry grew, and a metal street band was playing for us all trying to land money and tips. The fire showed no signs of slowing, and we began to wonder how it would be put out.
We were very entranced, and by then, we had seen persons either jump or get forced out of the building by the fire and heat.
It was approaching nine o'clock, and the crew of the ferry had just loosened the ropes from the moorings when out of the corner of my eye I saw three park rangers running at full speed waving their arms and telling the ferry to stay put. That is the last I saw of them or the ferry as my attention was suddenly diverted.
Over my left shoulder, I heard the loud sound of a jet plane coming quickly down the Hudson River. We both looked up that way and I had time to speculate that maybe that plane was going to put the tower fire out with a chemical or water drop such as we had seen on the western wildfires of the summer.
Unfortunately, I was dead wrong. Instead, we witnessed that plane bow out, gather strength and speed, and shoot and slam right into the south tower. The sound of metal on metal and smell of the burning building and jet fuel is not one I have ever been able to describe adequately.
All persons around us were in shock. We looked to see if we needed to take cover under the benches. But instead, we stood aghast. Both towers were on fire.
We walked over to some trees in the park to get the fires out of our view and to think about out exit from the area. I suddenly felt really hot and dry heaved. Then, I got it back together and we started our walk for safety.
People were streaming out of all the buildings. Many were jumping on the Staten Island Ferry. We walked past that and had to swing around all the way to the bottom of the island before we started back northward. The streets were full, and the early going was slow.
I noticed that the sky was filled with yellow office routing slips like a ticker tape parade, hundreds were floating to the ground, and most that I saw had burned edges. I almost picked one up but came to my senses.
As we walked northward, we intersected the Brooklyn Bridge area. We encountered our first obstacles there. Every piece of emergency equipment known to man was coming across the bridge at a fast clip. Also, I noticed that several persons in wheelchairs who had been out enjoying the beautiful morning were being whisked back to safety.
We had to wait what seemed like several minutes to begin our journey again. We went on several streets I had only heard of before such as St. James, The Bowery, up through edges of Chinatown and Little Italy. It was during these stretches the streets were teaming with persons. It was like a rumor going up the street. Persons were just awakening and coming out into the streets to see what was going on. Phone booths were 10, 20, who knows how many people deep. I overheard someone say their cellphone would not work, and another person pointed upward to the towers on fire saying that is why - the north one had all sorts of communication towers on top.
Cindy was busy giving persons comfort, and about this time, she told me she had heard the Pentagon had also been hit. I did not believe our government would have let that happen and was in denial for about two minutes until we saw television news through a building window with pictures of the Pentagon on fire.
When I heard another loud plane noise overhead, I looked up, spotted the plane, and cowered up against the wall of a building. I expected to watch that plane crash into the Empire State Building, which was in plain view, but fortunately it did not. It just soared high overhead and we learned it was one of our fighter jets taking control of the skies.
We continued our walk up the Bowery until it intersected with 3rd Avenue which became our route the rest of the way out to 42nd Avenue and to the safety of our hotel. The rest of our hike was really uneventful. The crowds thinned out. I lost all track of time. We looked back only once when we heard persons exclaim that one of the towers had fallen. The only way I could tell the North Tower was still standing was the sight of all those communication towers which I had been pointed to way back down in the Bowery area. We did not look at our watches. We made it to our hotel at 11 a.m.
We turned on the television and I got in bed after finding a Gideon Bible in the bedside drawer. I looked up passages of comfort in the index and settled on Psalm 91. It brought lots of peace and comfort to me. I stayed in bed watching television and trying to rest a bit until we walked out to dinner.
The first two or three pubs we attempted to enter were too full - no seats anywhere. We finally found one with an empty booth. The buzz from everybody was unrelenting. Chitter chatter everywhere; picking up bits and pieces of how far persons had walked; how they had gotten out of danger and on and on. They, like us, all had their own story.
Suddenly, you could hear a pin drop, and President Bush came on the tv to make a statement and address the nation. We wandered back to the hotel with no further incidents for the day.
However, Wednesday, September 12 brought more excitement when Cindy and I got engaged to be married. We went to Central Park and rode the carousel, made our way through Times Square, and onto the Jewelry District. We found only two stores open. In the second one, we found her engagement and wedding ring. After wondering around a while more, we went to the original Palm on 2nd Avenue where we celebrated.
On Friday afternoon, September 14, we took the afternoon train out of NYC to Atlanta. We added cars all along the route. Everyone was looking for a way to travel south. We went through Washington D.C. in the dark. As we got above ground from Union Station, we could see the big spotlight over by the Pentagon. We still had to go further south to get totally away from the death and destruction which the terrorists had wrought upon our country on September 11, 2001 – a day we will never forget.