Remembering 9/11: Neighbors look back on that day, 20 years ago

Photographer and artist Robert A. Ripps has lived and worked on N. Moore Street since 1988, raising his two sons here. In addition to teaching photography, Robert volunteers with a number of schools, not-for-profits and humanitarian organizations, including the GMHC, the Pablove Foundation, Tribeca Trust and Cut Red Tape 4 Heroes.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I asked several neighbors to recall that day and their experience. Robert sent these photos and recollection from Sept. 11 as well as photos of the neighborhood the days following and two months later.  


September 11, 2001

These are some images from 9/11 and the aftermath. These were all originally shot on film, and subsequently converted to digital files. Most of these images have never been show publicly before.

The morning of September 11th was cloudless, with a touch of fall in the air. That morning I was leaving my building when I saw the first plane fly nearly overhead. As it flashed by, I thought to myself “it’s going to crash,” as I had never seen a plane that low right over Manhattan (although at the time I thought it was just a small plane). Within a few seconds, I heard a huge boom. A few seconds later, I reached the corner of North Moore and Hudson Streets, looked south and saw the airplane shaped hole in the north tower, and what looked like a million pieces of paper fluttering in the air. Instinctively I pulled out my small point & shoot film camera, and started taking pictures as I walked south along Hudson. After several minutes, as I continued my walk across Franklin Street towards the subway to resume my journey, I heard a second loud boom. As soon as I got to Varick Street, I could see the second tower was on fire. I, like everyone else on the street, assumed somehow the North Tower had ignited an explosion in the South Tower, but pretty soon I found out it had been hit by a second plane from the south side.

September 11, 2001

I took some more pictures of both towers from around Finn Square, then ended up returning home instead to taking the subway. After watching the towers fall on TV, as well as learning the fate of the other two aircraft, I noticed people were lining up across the street to volunteer to help look for survivors. I went outside and joined the queue. They passed around a clipboard where you jotted your name and an emergency contact, in case something happened to you. They only ended up letting people with medical or iron working experience head down to Ground Zero.

We stood there all afternoon, until around 5:20 pm. I watched a group of National Guard troops march in step down Greenwich toward Ground Zero. Someone in authority decided we should move across Greenwich and line up outside of 80 N. Moore instead. As we casually crossed Greenwich Street, I heard a chorus of shouts, and a thunderous roar. I looked down Greenwich, saw the Guard members had changed direction and broken rank, and were now running up Greenwich towards us as 7 World Trade collapsed — literally melted — behind them into the street, along with a wave of dust. We ran the rest of the way across toward 80 N. Moore, although really we were in no danger. But of course on that day, anything was possible.

September 11, 2001

Pretty soon after that, we were told we could take a break for dinner and come back later if we wanted. I went home, but my ex-wife, who was 6 months pregnant, was so upset, I never went back outside to stand in vain, waiting to find survivors who did not exist.

The next morning, I began to document the aftermath that occurred not only in the neighborhood, but downtown NYC as well. I remember walking down Greenwich a few blocks, and the dust began to get thicker, as if walking on the moon. I also saw people walking their dogs as if nothing was out of the normal. It was surreal. As I walked, I saw countless pieces of office paper everywhere, most of which looked like they had been fired upon with a shotgun. I wish I had picked up one to read, or at least take a photo to document it.

As I got to Chambers Street, a Red Cross coffee wagon pulled up on the sidewalk outside Washington Market Park, and the police began to move the barricade a block further north to Reade Street. I saw wrecked vehicles that had been towed to the side streets, evidence of the ferocity of the destruction. Again, in hindsight, I wish I had taken more photographs.

On September 26th, I snuck up to the roof of a friend’s apartment building that overlooked ground zero, to see the progress. At the time, photographers were being threatened with arrest for taking pictures without permission, under the pretense of the area being a crime scene. Regardless, I felt I needed to somehow document what the remains of the towers looked like, for myself. And I suppose, for posterity.

I later returned to the same location around November 18th. By then, much of the remains of the towers had been cleared to below street level and the fires were largely extinguished. A month later my son Oliver was born, never knowing a time in his life that was before the terror attacks, or when were not at war…until now.

September 11, 2001