Every 9/11 leads me back home to Tell City, Indiana
By: Deborah Ludwig
I was working in downtown Cincinnati at the Cigna offices on Seventh Street when my boss received a call from his dad in the New York office letting him know a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. He shared this information with us and we all imagined it was a small plane and that the pilot had somehow lost control.
It was a splendid September morning in Cincinnati, just like it was in New York City: warm, sunny, clear blue skies. The weather was perfect. Soon that blue NYC sky would turn to dark gray then black.
We gathered in the kitchenette where a TV had been turned on and were stunned by what we saw: a gaping hole in the North Tower with fire spewing out of it. I was horror struck, and even more so as we witnessed the second plane, United 175, crash into the South Tower. The shock of it was chilling. We remained glued to the television and when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, I lost it, crying and wondering, ‘what city would be next?’
I made my way back to my desk and called my sister Karen, who I knew would be home. She was working on her dissertation. I told her to turn on the television. As we were talking, she gasped and said, “Oh, my God. One of the towers just fell.” Shortly afterwards, we were all sent home. Even away from the chaos and fear, we felt it and didn’t know if we too might be next on the target list. I made it home just before Tower 1 crumbled, as if it were a sheet of ash and smoke cascading to the street.
I spent the next few days glued to the television. Somehow I felt that if I paid attention, sat vigil with the emergency workers, medical personnel, the people searching for loved ones, and New Yorkers trying to cope with the devastation to their city, that somehow I was offering them support, love, and strength. My sister nagged me to turn off the TV because my nonstop mourning was becoming unhealthy.
I thought that with the number of people affected by this tragedy that most Americans probably would know someone who worked in the World Trade Center or knew someone who did. Well, ended up I did know someone. Two people, actually: one who got out, another who did not. Her name was Stacey Peak. She graduated high school a year ahead of me. She was 36.
Stacey was from my hometown in southern Indiana had been living in New York City for about two years, working at Cantor Fitzgerald as a gas/power stock broker. I heard the news from my mother. She told me that Stacey’s mother had received a call from her that morning. She was on the 105th floor of the north tower when she made the call. Newspaper reports later revealed that her mother said Stacey was hysterical when she called, telling her that she was trapped and didn’t know if she’d be able to get out. She told her mother she loved her and then had to hang up.
I am forever haunted by that detail, wondering what those last moments of her life must have been like, the horror of rising flames and intensifying heat, knowing you were about to die. I know that is morbid, but it’s what I can never stop thinking about when I see photos of her lovely face and hear stories from friends and family. I also think of the helplessness her mother must have felt, not being able to protect her, save her. The anguish must have been intolerable and suffocating, as she waited for news of her daughter, holding out hope that somehow she escaped the carnage.
I did not know Stacey except casually, but the hometown connection, and discovering that she was single, never married, living life on her terms, taking acting classes, all of it somehow connected me to her. Sadly, her remains were never found. There is a memorial to her erected in our hometown, Tell City, Indiana, in Sunset Park by the Ohio River. Every year on September 11, the Perry County News highlights a story about her and local news stations in Evansville remember people from the area who perished that day as well.
Healing definitely takes time and the scars from that fateful day remain, the images and stories etched in our collective memory—for those of us who lived through it anyway. So as I do every year on this date, I will take a moment to remember Stacey, send a smile and a blessing heavenwards, say a prayer for her family and friends, and recommit to doing my best to try to make this world a better, more peaceful place.
Cross-posted at Writing Life.
No More Loose Change
As I have shared in this space before, I love a good conspiracy theory. A worthwhile conspiracy theory needs to start from a kernel of truth, or at least potential truth. Once that kernel exists, the best possible breeding ground is a lack of verifiable information. A few holes in an official story. Maybe some redacted documents.
If all those things are in place and the event in question happens to be one of the biggest stories of a brand-new century, well, you’ve got yourself one heck of a greenhouse for conspiracy theories.
Unfortunately 9/11 meets all of those requirements. Which is why there are theories refuting every single aspect of the official version of what happened that day and the days before and after. Some of them are fanciful, some bigoted, some outright disgusting.
Another thing about conspiracy theories, though, is that sometimes they have more than a kernel of truth, and sometimes people who are supposed to be able to tell you that something is just a silly theory have been kept in the dark just like you have.
You may remember that former Senator (and all-around good government straight-shooter) Bob Graham co-chaired a 2003 Congressional joint committee into the events surrounding 9/11. You would think that if anyone would be able to shut down foolish questions about 9/11 it would be Senator Graham.
But he has some of the same questions “conspiracy theorists” have. And Bob Graham is nobody’s tinfoil-hatter. He just can’t get the FBI to tell him the truth. Any truth. Senator Graham has asked enough inconvenient questions to get himself detained at Dulles airport by the Bureau.
There are almost certainly untruths we have been officially presented regarding 9/11. Those lies – let’s call them what they are, shall we? – might be for reasons as anodyne as not wanting to embarrass important people. They might be far more sinister. We don’t know. Bob Graham doesn’t know. That’s a problem, and it’s one that won’t conveniently go away.
As a nation we will never be able to put even the wildest of the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 in the ground until we – or at least our most trusted representatives – can get straight, unredacted answers instead of ridicule and intimidation.
I want to see those conspiracy theories settled. I want them buried in unmarked graves and forgotten. But until our leaders are willing to be honest with We The People about one of the greatest national traumas in decades, we will live with this fetid breeding ground of dark fantasy.