SEPTEMBER 11
BEARING WITNESS TO HISTORY

2002 Exhibition Highlights

Helmet worn by FDNY Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeifer, the first fire chief to arrive at the World Trade Center on September 11

Helmet worn by FDNY Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeifer, the first fire chief to arrive at the World Trade Center on September 11

Lent by Joseph W. Pfeifer
Photo by Terry McCrea

One of the first fire-and-rescue units to arrive at the World Trade Center was Engine 7, Ladder 1, led by Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeifer. While on a routine call nearby, Pfeifer had seen the first plane hit. He set up a command center in the lobby of the north tower and sent firefighters upstairs to begin rescue work.

When the south tower collapsed, sending blinding clouds of smoke and dust into the north tower, Pfeifer radioed his men to evacuate the building. Soon afterward, the north tower collapsed.

Everyone from Ladder 1 survived, but hundreds of other firefighters were killed, including the chief's brother, Lt. Kevin Pfeifer.

Stairwell sign from the 102d floor, World Trade Center

Stairwell sign from the 102d floor, World Trade Center

Gift of the Police Department-City of New York
Photo by Hugh Talman

Less than two hours elapsed from the first plane crash to the last tower collapse at the World Trade Center. In that time, thousands of people escaped from the buildings. While many evacuated quickly, others battled blocked stairwells, stuck elevators, smoke, and panic to make their escape. Nearly all who survived were below the point of impact when the planes hit the towers. Among those who died were hundreds of rescue workers who had helped others to safety.

Television monitor recovered from the destroyed offices of the Navy Command Center at the Pentagon

Television monitor recovered from the destroyed offices of the Navy Command Center at the Pentagon

Lent by the U.S. Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center
Photo by Hugh Talman

Staff members in the Navy Command Center were watching live news coverage of the World Trade Center attacks when a hijacked plane struck the Pentagon at 9:38 a.m. Fireballs, ignited by jet fuel, set the building ablaze and filled the sky with plumes of black smoke. The impact caused severe damage, but structural reinforcements kept the building from collapsing immediately, allowing many to escape. The attack killed 184 innocent people, including 125 Pentagon employees and 59 people on the plane. Many of the navy personnel killed on September 11 worked in the command center, which was located in the D ring near the impact site.

Teddy bear left near the Flight 93 crash site in Somerset County, Pennsylvania

Teddy bear left near the Flight 93 crash site in Somerset County, Pennsylvania

Lent by the County of Somerset, Somerset, Pennsylvania, honoring the passengers and crew of Flight 93
Photo by Hugh Talman

The fourth plane hijacked on September 11, United Airlines Flight 93, left Newark International Airport at 8:42 a.m. At 10:06 a.m., the plane crashed in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board but sparing what officials believe was another intended target in Washington, D.C.

Soon afterward, the crash site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, became a shrine. People traveled for miles to pay their respects to the heroes of Flight 93. Many felt compelled to leave something behind. Thousands of memorial offerings have been left at the site since September 2001.

American flag found in World Trade Center rubble at the Fresh Kills Landfill, Staten Island, New York

American flag found in World Trade Center rubble at the Fresh Kills Landfill, Staten Island, New York

Transfer from the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Photo by Hugh Talman

American flags, raised over the ruins and recovered from the rubble, became powerful symbols of patriotism, survival, and resilience after September 11. In October 2001, recovery workers at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island found this small, tattered flag amid the debris from the World Trade Center. This is one of several flags recovered from Ground Zero. Others have been displayed at the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the Olympics; carried aboard naval warships; and even flown into space.

Tim Shaffer's photograph of investigators at the Flight 93 crash site, Shanksville, Pennsylvania

Tim Shaffer's photograph of investigators at the Flight 93 crash site, Shanksville, Pennsylvania

Courtesy of Tim Shaffer

Tim Shaffer, a contract photographer for the Reuters news agency, could not get through to the Washington office on the morning of September 11. At home with his family in Delaware, he started paging Reuters at 11 a.m. He finally reached them by internet instant messaging, asking if he should leave for New York. The answer was no, go to Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Shaffer photographed the crash site and transmitted the digital images to Reuters using his cell phone.

Bill Biggart's last photograph, of the fallen south tower, taken shortly before the north tower collapsed

Bill Biggart's last photograph, of the fallen south tower, taken shortly before the north tower collapsed

Courtesy of the family of William G. Biggart

Bill Biggart walked the two miles from his home in Manhattan to reach the World Trade Center as soon as he learned of the first plane hitting the north tower. A longtime New York portrait photographer turned photojournalist, Biggart knew it was important to get as close to the action as possible. But on September 11, the dramatic photos he obtained cost him his life. Biggart was the only professional photographer to die at Ground Zero; his last image of the fallen south tower was taken minutes before his death during the collapse of the north tower.