Mobile Remembers

Judy Culbreth 

Editorial Consultant, Mobile Bay Magazine

“On September 11, 2001, I was working at Scholastic, Inc., on Broadway and Prince Street. That morning I was on the treadmill in the company’s basement gym. The local news interrupted the “Today” show to report that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I thought it might be a commuter plane, so I went to the top floor to see. I was stunned at the size of the plane protruding from the building and the black smoke. Helicopters hovering next to it looked like toys. All I could think about were the innocent people who had simply been having coffee and a bagel. A security guard watched the surreal scene with me. Then, it became more unbelievable. Another plane, in the slowest of motion, plowed into the second building. The guard and I sobbed as we saw the fire.

A short while later, we found out about the Pentagon. My fiance, Walter Kirkland, who worked in Rockefeller Center, got a call through. I was so relieved. I thought his building might be next. (I couldn’t reach my children, not in Manhattan, until hours later.) I then helped a colleague, Sara, who had picked up her daughter and her neighbors’ two children from the child care center across from the Trade Center. She had been running on super adrenaline powers, getting the kids those 20 blocks to the office.

Broadway was a billowing cloud of smoke and white debris. Men carrying their briefcases, women in high heels, staggered down the street. They were as pale as zombies from the ash and the shock. Merchants opened their doors and handed out bottles of water. There were no buses and no subway, of course.

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I walked with my friend, Sara, holding the toddlers’ hands, alternately carrying them when they wouldn’t walk. She carried the baby. All the taxis were occupied. Finally, I spotted a cab with one passenger. I banged on the hood and yelled at the driver that he had to take us to Grand Central. He and the passenger agreed. It took us two hours to inch our way there. After Sara met her husband at Grand Central, I walked the 50 blocks home. My fiance was already there. On the Upper East Side, I was able to get in touch with my son in New Jersey and my daughter at college in Vermont. My daughter cried with relief. Walter and I could do nothing but watch the replay over and over — I guess to see if it was really true.”

Janet Laurence

Former teacher, Little Flower Catholic School

“I remember well the morning of September 11, 2001. I was teaching eighth grade, first period, when a colleague called me out into the hallway. I could tell by her demeanor that something was up. When she told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center, I was shocked. But, when she came back to tell me of the second plane, I froze in time and space. I went back into my classroom, trying to look undisturbed knowing that all the innocence and security these students should ever know had been snatched from them. Later in the day, announcements were made and they knew it, too.”


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District

“I was at work and went down to get a cup of coffee and heard the news. Everyone gathered around the TV and watched as the towers burned. When the towers collapsed, a sickening feeling came over me. I knew there were thousands of people inside, and there was no way they could survive.”


Contributor, Ken Burns’ “The War”

“My daughter in Montgomery called and told me what was happening. She knew I didn’t watch much television. I called my brother, Sid, and told him. The attacks just shocked us, much like Pearl Harbor had years ago. But what made that September morning so different was the amount of news coverage we received. During Pearl Harbor, we received very little news. On 9/11 we saw everything; we were glued to the television. It was soothing, in a way, to know immediately what was happening, even though it was such a terrible tragedy. We were furious. The idea that someone would attack America like that just galled us.”


Author, “You’ll be Sor-ree!: A Guadalcanal Marine Remembers the Pacific War”

“My sister called and told me about the attacks, and I immediately turned on the television. My first thought was that it had been an accident, but when the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I knew immediately that it was intentional. I sat and stared at the footage and wondered what would happen next. It’s hard to look back because of how startling the events were: the burning buildings, the loss of life and the uncertainty.”


Architectural Historian,  Mobile Historic Development Commission

“I got to work, and the television was already on with the breaking news. When the second plane hit, we all instantly, chillingly, knew that this was war. Later in the day, I heard a friend muttering, 'We live in a different world. We live in a different world…' And so we have, ever since.”


History Museum of Mobile

“Only a few weeks prior to the attacks, four of my girlfriends and I were sitting in a restaurant in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. We were enjoying our lunch and chatting with one of the oldest security guards I had ever seen. He said that in all his years as a guard there he had only missed a few days and always for a special occasion. On the morning of the attacks, as I watched the towers crumble, I thought of that guard. I prayed that he was not in the building he loved so much and knew so well when it collapsed.”

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Share your memory below.

compiled by Scotty E. Kirkland 

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