WTC Bombing Eyewitness Ray Dougherty's Further Reflections
Immediately upon seeing an orange ball of flame emerging from the WTC, I
called my wife, who commutes from NYC to work in Princeton, and left
messages on her two phones saying that I was ok and the kids had
school, hence were in the Bronx and Harlem, quite far from here.
A correction to my
first letter. My daughter was not eating supper with me
when the third building collapsed. Phone service became erratic (overload,
etc.) within minutes of the crash. As things progressed subways and busses
stopped. Driving was out of the question. The fact that my 16 year old
daughter was at the Bronx High School of Science was a comfort. My 11 year
old daughter was safely tucked into a classroom at the Center School on 72nd
street, a Harlem district school where half of the children qualify for the
free milk program, and in my opinion one of the best schools in the country.
My wife in Princeton, was far from trouble. The only one to worry about was
me, and never having had any serious injury or aliment, I still possess that
teenage feeling of invincibility. I examined the hole in the WTC through
binoculars, and then set up the telescope to view the wound more closely.
The hole on the north side of the WTC (the plane hit the south sides) looked
like it was pulled in, not pushed out. Two college professors and I examined
the hole with binoculars and we all thought that the plane had hit from the
north side since the siding was pushed in. As Bertrand Russell said, when
the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain.
The aluminum siding seemed to be melting and falling apart.
My 11 year old called me frantically crying. She had left the school for
lunch and had wandered by herself from 70th Street to 59th Street, and was
horrified by the missing-tooth-look presented by the one remaining World
Trade Center tower, the smoke, and the dazed people. She said some woman was
with her. I talked to the woman (She might have been a high school student.)
and asked her to return my daughter to the school. My daughter did not want
to go back, she wanted to walk home (Impossible) or me to go get her. Lying
through my teeth, I told her that I would immediately drive up and pick her
up from school. She brightened and the woman said Tracy wanted to hurry back
to the school. I told the woman to tell the teachers - but not Tracy - that
my wife's cousin (our emergency contact person, lives about 74th Street)
would pick her up. I did not hear from her again until quite a bit later. If
I left to get her, I would not know where to go. Not inconceivably - she is
extraordinarily determined and persuasive - she might convince someone to
bring her home.
My phones received calls, but could not make outgoing calls. There was no
dialtone. Some of the incoming calls were from machines offering me home
delivery of the NY Times to keep me abreast of the news. I was hoping for
news of my 11 year old.
As the first WTC tower was collapsing, I was in the store buying apples,
eggs, etc. to make Tracy's favorite food: a sort of an upside down fried
apple omelette, heavily laced with ginger, nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon, that
is baked in the oven. My daughters and I recently bought six different
cinnamons, and we have been experimenting with the spices. At the normal
supper time, I set a place for Tracy and cooked the dinner. I ate a little
bit of it by myself, but was ready to surprise her with it as soon as she
My daughters and I are bakers. We make bread, pizza, cakes, pies,
turnovers. We have studied The Cake Bible till the pages are worn, and we
have produced elaborate icings using sundries from the fantastic store on
about 21 st and 6th that sells only cake decoration supplies. Our latest
project, stymied by the WTC disaster, was to make marzipan bottle caps,
cleverly painted with food coloring to look like Snapple and Heiniken's
tops. At my birthday party, we were going to pass out 'real' bottles to
guests and keep the marzipan phonies for ourselves. While the boys twisted
the Snapple tops, the girls would simply pop them off with their teeth and
chew them up. I would do the same with a Heinekens in the presences of
Princeton alumni. Many of my thoughts of my children focus on making
shortcakes, teddy bear shaped breads, and the apple omelette.
My comfort food is not apples and spice, but a blue cheese (very ripe)
omelette, like the one at the Café Luxemborg. A friend of mine who just had
his second triple bypass operation told me twenty five years ago that
cholesterol does not stay in your body if you drink two or more bottles of
burgundy during the consumption. Bordeaux is almost as good, but white wine
has no effect, except for Fois Gras, which is only flushed from your system
by a good Sauterne. My doctor disagreed with this, but he drinks concord
grape wine from New York in bottles with screw off caps, so he clearly has
no idea what he is talking about. I have often read that red wine is good
for your heart.
Having covered the horror and tragedy in the first letter, let us turn to
the surreal. The WTC listing at 3 degrees, I decided to go to the Pizza Box
on Bleecker Street and get a chocolate Italian ice, something I often do
with kids in the building, but have never done on my own. I do not like ice
cream only baked goods.
A line was building up in the supermarket, so I postponed the Pizza Box,
and headed in. I got apples, milk, eggs, and black beans (I make soups
also). The store had a grotesquely shaped ball of Societe blue cheese, and I
plopped it into my basket. At the checkout counter, debit cards did not
work, but credit cards did slowly. Cash talked. Armed with my emergency
twenty that we keep in case we have to go by taxi to the hospital, I was
ready. Six people ahead of me. Four lines about the same. People pouring
into the store. Maybe twenty people in the isle I could look down. Most
people had bottled water. I settled into the wait, preparing to jump to
another line, and forgot the 3, by now maybe 4, degree tilt.
Screams in Spanish from the loading platform outside, then in English from
everywhere, then in some African language as the delivery men passed the
information. The store emptied in seconds. Everyone left: cashiers,
customers, management, the meat and produce folks, and the delivery crew. I
was left totally alone, as near as I could see. Lots of human anguish and
grief being expressed outside. What to do? I decided that to walk out with
the food was stealing. The only thing I really needed was the blue cheese
since I could get everything else at a Deli. I left everything. I walked
the door, easily overtaking an elderly woman galloping along with her
walker. I had not noticed her. I think she had hunkered down by the coffee
machine to avoid the human stampede. She asked, 'What happened?' and I told
my second lie for the day, 'I don't know'.
A big dust cloud had replaced the WTC. From my ground perspective, I did
not know how the cloud had spread out. I only saw that later, when I watched
the second tower collapse.
Most people were not hysterical or even loud. Most looked stunned and
aghast. One extremely overweight woman was shaking and crying hysterically.
Apparently her sister was inside one of the towers.
I decided not to get the chocolate ice and picked up the apples, etc. at
the Korean Deli. I bought a carrot juice and drank it immediately. I
returned home, checked the answering machine, but there were no messages,
made a pot of chamomile tea and pulled up the chair to watch the second
tower collapse. It was here that I made my most systematic observations of
the trapped people.
My observations were surreal because I have an astronomical telescope and
everything is upside down. The people and buildings were upside down. The
flames and smoke went down. When widows and aluminum siding melted and fell,
the blobs and chunks fell up. When people jumped, they left my field of view
by moving upwards in their upside down positions.
At all times my feeling was that I was watching a movie running backwards, a
cassette rewinding. I wanted to read for the fast forward to put the
back on the floor.
If I kept both eyes open, one with the inverted 40 power view and the other
normal, it sometimes looked like the debris and people were moving upside
down up into the sky. Oddly, the fire in this situation always looked like
it was going up. I felt that I was not actually here.
After I ate my daughter's supper alone by myself, phone calls started to
come in and my internet connection restarted. Tracy was secure at a cousin's
house and was being hammered by endless loops of violent images on TV.
I wrote the first letter in the half hour before I went to bed and sent it
off. I did not edit the letter since I have two troubles reading it. One is
that the letter is like a concentrated bullion cube of the horror of the
human dimension and it turns back into the bubbling reality of the moment if
I look at the sentences even to try to correct the spelling. Second, I had a
severe fall about two years ago and damaged both of my retinae. After a year
of rehabilitation, etc., a blood vessel broke in one eye. As the peepers
have healed, I see excellently at long distances, but do not see well up
close without very bright lights. Yesterday morning I stepped on Tracy's
Magician's Set alongside of her bed because I did not see it.
The next day my wife came back from Princeton. Trains were running normally
outside of the scene of the tragedy. Tess, the 16 year old, called and I
told her to pick up Tracy from the cousin's house on her way home. When
Claudia, my wife, arrived, she soon left to go to the cousin's house to get
the two girls. I cannot place calls out, but can get them. The daughters
called and I told them to wait for their mother.
The wind shifted. All smoke blew East or West. Now it started North, and
that is where I am. I recognized the smell immediately and packed the car
with Gatorade, crackers, and so on. When the family arrived, we packed for
five minutes and headed up 6th Avenue in the Volvo Wagon. I expected a 10
hour traffic jam to get over the GW bridge.
The smell abated by 23rd street and we opened the car windows. The radio
had talked of enormous traffic jams, but we saw no traffic going north. We
were over the GW bridge in record time and when we got to Passaic we called
people in NY to tell them trafiic was a breeze. Going out that is. The
Side Highway was bumper to bumper moving 5 miles per hour North to South.
There were convoys of enormous heavy earth moving equipment, much bigger
than one normally sees. Gigantic Tri Axel dumps, much bigger than I have
seen on normal roads. This was the stuff they probably use when they are
building the roads that normal trucks move on. Trafic was packed
from 59th to the bridge.
On the other side of the GW Bridge, there was no traffic going out. There
was a 10 mile traffic jam going into the city.
When we reached our farm (Near the Delaware Water Gap), the New Jersey
surreal ecstacy was there in full bloom. The kids wanted pizza, but Claudia
and I bought a salmon and barbecued it. Salmon, spuds, and salad. Friends
told us via email that breathing was hard in some areas of NYC and that they
The sixteen year old wanted to take a bus back to the city and then travel
to West Point to meet a boyfriend that is a student there. She has
absolutely no concept of the enormity of the thing and sees it as a lower
Manhattan technical problem. She is totally unconcerned with the word's
financial markets. She probably does understand the level of human tragedy,
but has not yet reacted.
Tracy, without being asked or invited, moved her mattress into our bedroom.
She does not fully grasp the situation, but she wanted to be with us. When I
got up to make a tea in the morning, she took my place in bed.
The next day(s) it had some heavy rain. Maybe I will write about the
children in NJ later. To me the human dimension, especially the effect on
children, is the crucial one. We came back to NYC on Saturday at about 4:30.
We were over the GW bridge and made it to 59th street very quickly.
At 59th street, the highway descends from its elevated ramp onto ground
level. From 23 or so to 59th is the area of docks and piers for Bahama
cruise ships and ocean liners to wherever. The traffic was dense here
because the boat piers are being used as a temporary morgue. They bring
bodies and body pieces here to sort them out and identify them. The radio
requests people with missing relatives to bring any DNA samples available
(toothbrush, hair brush, fingernail clippings, and especially, dirty
underwear) of your loved one(s) to the laboratory to be decoded. Then, they
will try to match your samples with the remains being delivered to the
morgue. Apparently, however, the heat was so intense that in many cases the
DNA, such as tooth pulp, disintegrated and does not exist. So you are also
asked to try to bring dental records and so on along with the hairbrushes,
dirty clothing, and toothbrushes. They also try to unite dissociated body
parts back into a single human being's remains.
North/South traffic is held up while convoys of perhaps 5-10 medical
looking trucks deliver items to the temporary morgues. We passed this
section and made it to 23rd street in about 45 minutes. A religious group
often mentioned in the newspapers was having a sit in vigil for people
persecuted in their homeland. We turned East onto 23rd Street.
Both sides of the Street from the West Side highway towards the center of
Manhattan (This is a complicated patch of streets.) were lined with tents,
beds, cots, chairs, and piles and piles of bottled water and supplies in
green duffle bags. People were smiling and laughing here and there, but no
one was happy. Signs said: No more donations please. We got home and cleaned
Claudia and I were invited to a birthday party in Brooklyn in an incredible
apartment that is right on the water under the Williamsburg bridge. I did
not want to get caught in traffic and wondered whether to go. Through the
binoculars, I saw there was lots of incoming traffic but no outgoing traffic
on the Williamsburg. The Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan bridge were
packed both directions. I do my own helicopter bridge traffic reports out
In less than a party mood, we went. Everything was excellent, but the WTC
towers, normally directly out their window, were gone. The host had actually
that very afternoon gone into Manhattan and walked up to within one block of
the fallen towers. He regretted not having brought goggles and a mask. His
eyes burned and felt his eyelids sandpapered his eyeballs when he blinked I
thought something still stuck up in the air a few floors. He said no. It is
totally flat except the facade still stands. He did not seem happy that he
went and said it was devastating to look at.
In Berlin in 1964 I took the bus tour of the city two times. Once took it
with the tourists, and they described the city in English and French. They
stopped at the bombed out church that is a memorial. The guide, bored,
recited to us the memorized text trying to interest us. People were
babbling and chattering in many languages. Planning lunch, the next trip,
and so on.
I took the bus tour with all Germans and with a German guide. When we got
to the blown up church, people were totally awake. The German guide parroted
his descriptions. One person asked, what did this look like after the
bombings at the surrender. Were all the other buildings bulldozed down and
they left the church? No one was talking. The guide said 'Alles war mit dem
Boden gleichgemacht,' everything was flat with the earth. That bus had the
stillest silence I had every heard. To look about and see the existing
buildings and imagine this was all flat vacant lots filled with scattered
debris was difficult. We left that scene and got on to more normal things
and life returned to the bus.
The WTC space, according to my friend, looks like vacant lots full of
debris. The WTC towers seem to have collapsed and fallen into their
basements and subbasements. You would not know there had ever been any big
I did not mention to my wife and family the things I described in the first
letter. Claudia was so upset about everything and wanted the family to have
dinners together and all be home. My family was unaware of my observations.
Someone on the radio was talking about the possibility of a gigantic stock
market fall. I told my wife that we were positioned in the market to make a
fortune. She almost barfed and told me not to joke. On Sunday afternoon
Claudia received my letter. Two friends came to visit us in NJ that have
read the letter. We did not even mention the letter or its contents.
At the party Saturday night, my wife told me that she would have held
someone's hand. It would have made it easier.
I did not mention it in the first letter, but it seems to me relevant to
something. When a person jumped alone, s/he went to the edge, stopped,
looked over, and jumped like you would go into a pool. Those that went in
pairs simply came out of a smokey nowhere inside of the building and walked
over the edge with no pause, hesitation, or last second spring.