Editor’s note: It’s often said that newspapers are the first draft of history. In the hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Newark Post reporters fanned out across Newark. This article, which was originally published Sept. 14, 2001, captures the raw emotion many Newarkers were feeling that day.
“She happened to look up and saw it go in,” said April Hubbard. “She may be one of the few people who actually saw the first plane hit the building.”
Hubbard said her daughter, Susan, who attends law school at New York University, was jogging along the Hudson River on Tuesday morning when a hijacked airliner struck the World Trade Center.
“She kept saying, ‘I just saw all these people die, I just saw all these people die,’” said Hubbard, who lives on Rahway Drive in Newark.
Hubbard said her daughter called from her dorm near the World Trade Center and asked what she should do.
“We wanted to say ‘stay inside where it’s safe,’ but we didn’t know if it was safe,” said Hubbard. “The buildings were still burning and collapsing. We didn’t know what to tell her.”
Ultimately, the young woman walked out of lower Manhattan to the apartment of someone she knows uptown.
“We’ve walked along that path where she was jogging and she pointed out the Trade Center and other sights to us,” said Hubbard, adding that the family visited the student just last weekend and took the subway at the World Trade Center. “She’s traumatized – we’ll probably have to get counseling for her.”
In a telephone call on Wednesday morning, Hubbard said her daughter was trying to decide whether to come home to Newark or try to return to her dorm.
“She said ‘it’s so awful, not seeing them there,’” Hubbard added, referring to the towering buildings which defined the New York skyline.
On Tuesday, the mood on Newark’s Main Street was hectic in some areas, somber in others. People bowed their heads in prayer at Newark United Methodist Church, while others gathered in Klondike Kate’s, all eyes turned toward the television set above the bar.
Inside the administration building at Christina School District, the only sound around 11 a.m. was a constantly ringing phone and the receptionist’s voice. “Christina School District, can you hold?” she told caller after caller, as she struggled to convey information about the suddenly unusual school day.
“We’re getting mobbed with phone calls,” said district information director Lisa McVey.
In another office, Dr. Nicholas Fischer, the district superintendent, fielded phone calls from other district superintendents wondering how to deal with the situation. Moments after a message came from Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner advising all schools and state offices to close at noon, Fischer and administrators met to discuss how to counsel parents to handle the news about the disaster.
McVey said district administrators were asking teachers not to speculate about the events with their students and that when students returned to school, they would receive information about ways to deal with the tragedy.
Kenny Wilson, an Office Depot employee delivering supplies to a Main Street business, took a few minutes to share his feelings.
“If I got a phone call right now and they said they needed me to serve, I would go in a second,” he said. “They’re killing families – I would go. Definitely.”
Diana Smith, known on Main Street as the hot dog lady, got periodic updates from customers before she managed to get a Walkman so she could hear what was happening.
“I hate to say it, but it’s been a great morning; people have been buying hot dogs all day,” she said. “As long as they don’t mess with my hot dog cart, I guess I’m okay.”
Across the street at Charlie B. Travel agency, Holly Voshell said the order by the Federal Aviation Administration to ground all commercial aircraft was already affecting her business.
“I got a lot of phone calls at home this morning. (One client is) stuck in Boston, and he has no way of getting back here,” she said around noon. “All airlines are closed and I don’t even know if Amtrak is running trains.”
“I think the only thing we can do right now is wait and see and sleep on it, and start thinking about it tomorrow,” she added.
Voshell has seen her share of airline crises.
“I’ve been through hurricanes, snow storms, the Eastern Airlines shut-down,” she said.
Hotels everywhere fill up fast, she said, because people are unable to travel.
“People are calling and canceling their flights – they don’t even care if they lose money,” she said.
Brenda DeSanno, manager of the Newark Newsstand on Main Street, said she had already called newspaper distributors to increase the store’s allotment of papers for Wednesday.
Some locals got more news on Tuesday than they expected. A cashier was explaining to a dazed-looking woman what had happened in New York.
“See, there’s a U of D professor who hasn’t heard yet,” DeSanno said. “Because we’re a newsstand, people come to us to hear the news.”
Andrew Lang, a University of Delaware student, said he heard the news while he was sitting in German class.
“Some kid came in and said he was late to class because a plane crashed into the side of the World Trade Center,” Lang said.
Students from Glasgow High School filled the parking lot at noon, shaking their heads in disbelief at the day’s events.
Senior Tatiana Harvey said students were able to watch coverage of the crisis in their classrooms since just after the second plane hit.
“When people heard about it, some of the students were mad because they couldn’t use their cell phones,” she said. “Some of the students were really upset and crying because they know people in New York or Washington.”
Senior Vince Turner said his uncle works at the Pentagon, but his family had not yet been able to talk to him.
“It doesn’t seem like anywhere is safe anymore,” Turner said. “These are supposed to be the most protected places in our country.”
Some students started talking about World War III and were worried about the Dover Air Force Base because of its location between Washington and New York, said Joan Hall, another senior.
Junior Elspeth Briscoe was walking into her social studies class on Tuesday when the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
“We talked about it in my chemistry class and how we might go to war,” Briscoe said. “It’s disgusting. I never thought anyone would do that to the United States.”
Olivia Briscoe, a ninth grader, said some students talked during lunch about how they felt the responsible party is probably individuals because a country would probably have its own planes.
The Boys and Girls Club on Route 40 opened at 1 p.m. on Tuesday due to the school’s early dismissals.
“We are just trying to get the kids here; we pick a lot of them up from the schools,” said unit director Stuart Sherman. “Once they are here, we will gather them in to one room and explain what’s going on. We have social workers to counsel the kids if they need it.”
Newark Fire Marshall Kenneth Farrell said emergency personnel from around the state were massing at Christiana Hospital late on Tuesday to go to the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
“Aetna Fire Company in Newark is sending an ambulance,” said Farrell. “We’ll be leaving all together in a convoy.”
Farrell also said he had talked to the headquarters of the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association about sending volunteers to fire companies north of New Castle County.
“They might be left empty in areas where personnel went to New York,” Farrell explained.
The longtime emergency worker added, “In my lifetime, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Newark Police reported the town was quiet on Tuesday.
“There is nothing to be concerned about here right now,” said Officer Gerald Simpson. “We might take measures later today if it becomes necessary.”
However, calm was the norm in Newark as businesses and streets emptied early, and the only lights in many windows came from the glow of a television screen.
And, as the long day finally faded into night, students at the University of Delaware and other residents held a candlelight vigil on the campus.