Neighborhood Photographer Shares his Photos of 9/11 After 20 Years; ‘I Always Have a Camera With Me’

Text and photographs by Stephen Harmon

There are certain events that touch you so deeply that you will forever remember where you were, who you were with and what you thought when you experienced or learned about the event. The assassination of President Kennedy and the attack on the World Trade Center are, for me, two such events. On the 20th anniversary of the World Trade Center attack, I keep remembering that morning in vivid detail. At the time, I was an Upper West Sider and a partner in a law firm that had three floors of offices in the Chrysler Building.

On the morning of 9/11, I was having breakfast in Times Square at the Marriott Marquee Hotel with a client who was going to give a deposition later that morning at my office in the Chrysler Building. After breakfast we caught a cab going east to Lexington Avenue. The Chrysler Building is on Lexington at the corner of East 42nd Street. It was a little after 8:45 am.

As we were driving and talking, the cab driver interrupted us and said we might want to hear the news he was listening to on the radio. We heard a vague report of a plane crashing into the north tower of the WTC. We immediately thought it was a Cessna or some other small plane. As the cab pulled up in front of the Chrysler Building, I saw hundreds of people pouring out and asked someone what was happening. The person told me a plane crashed into the WTC and the Chrysler Building had to be evacuated because it was so tall and could also be a target. No one had yet mentioned a jet plane. I was not sure what to do. Even though I was a lawyer, I was also a photographer and always had a camera with me.

My dentist was on the 59th floor of the Chrysler with views directly south over Manhattan to the WTC. I had no thought of the towers collapsing and at that time still thought a small plane had crashed into one of the towers, so I decided to go up to the 59th floor to see if the office was open so I could take a photograph to record this “historical” event. When I got there the office was open but empty. I could not believe what I saw. I snapped two photos which I have shown to only a few friends and family members, but which I now post here feeling the confusion, fear and chills I felt then. I quickly left and then had to walk back to the Upper West Side, because by then the subways were shut down and there was no bus service. All of midtown was one big parking lot.

HISTORY, NEWS | 11 comments | permalink
    1. Never Forget says:

      Mr. Harmon,
      THANK YOU for these and for your other great photographs!
      On this Saturday morning, 20 years after that horror, let us all join in saying or thinking, “NEVER AGAIN and NEVER FORGET!”
      And, hopefully we will find a way to help President Biden make public the documents discussing Saudi Arabia’s role in this national tragedy.

      • EdNY says:

        “Never again and never forget” – sounds good. The problem is that you have to have remembered something not to forget it. Check out how many young people know anything about the Holocaust.

        • Sarah says:

          This is a really good point. It brings to mind another scenario based on a bit of critical thinking:

          What if events we experienced actually occurred differently? And we learn the truth through a declassification as Never Forget suggests above?

          How will people who lived through history making events process the revised facts? In this case, younger people may have an advantage. :))

          • EdNY says:

            I agree. But the fact of our having been attacked won’t change (notwithstanding the efforts of the right-wing media to decide someday to create some kind of alternate reality to suit their agenda). Unless we think this was a false-flag operation (and I’m sure there are some who do), I can only imagine that whatever might be revealed could further muddy the analysis of our military response that fall. So it leaves the question: “Never Forget” (at least for those of us who remember it), which is only as valuable as the degree to which it changed our behavior toward each other – well, I won’t go there; and “Never Again” – what exactly does that mean in terms of 9/11? As it relates to the Holocaust, no reasonable person would argue that the U.S. bore any responsibility for it (yes, the S. S. St. Louis incident was a black mark), whereas the 9/11 attack can arguable be tied to the nature of American foreign policy, which no one wanted to talk about. That doesn’t make the U.S. responsible for it, but does make the “Never Again” claim a bit muddy in its potential execution.

            • Sarah says:

              So who delivers the truth about our history can make the difference in whether it is accepted by the majority.

              At least, that may be true for this area of NYC.

              An UWS poll of who is a trusted source for declassifying information could be interesting!

            • Teddy says:

              Actually it was those on the Left who spread the conspiracy theory that 9/11 was an inside job in hopes of damaging George Bush.

    2. LL says:

      Thank you very much for these photographs. And…wow.

    3. LivableCity says:

      I used to go to a dentist on one of those high floors in Chrysler – so high it had a small, tilted triangular windows in the waiting area! I could not resist opening one – it was an old fashioned casement window with lift – and – push latch. One could look out and down onto one of the great curved chrome arches at the building top. Then a straight drop to 42nd St…whew. I always regretted not having a camera on those visits, especially in clear weather. You truly used your dental office view for historic purpose. What a tragic day. What a horrible couple of decades of consequences. So many gone. (It’s useless, but I can never forget that it might have played out so differently head we managed to actually finish electing a different candidate in 2000. Better continuity in foreign policy priorities before 9/11 might well have foiled the WTC attacks. Elections matter all right. )

      • EdNY says:

        “Elections matter all right.” Tell that to Democrats who gave the election to Trump in 2016 because they didn’t like Hillary. Just imagine what the makeup of the Supreme Court could have been.

        • Brn says:

          If you guys think Al Gore sitting in the Oval Office for the first 9 months of 2001 instead of Bush would’ve somehow prevented 9/11, you’re completely insane.

    4. Sally Dorst says:

      thanks for sharing your experience.