Hobart Rowland Reflects on 9/11

We all remember where we were during those heart-in-the-throat moments just after the first airliner tore into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. I was in the car, driving to my new job as an editor for an Atlanta paper. I arrived in the newsroom just in time to gaze at the television bolted high on the wall. Smoke and flames were billowing from the same iconic structure that, six months earlier, I’d seen every morning on my hour-long commute into Manhattan from the Jersey side of the Hudson River.

“They think it might’ve been an accident,” a colleague commented, the tone of her voice implying otherwise.

Then the second plane hit, followed by news of a third airliner on its way to the Pentagon. Ninety minutes later, I was still looking up at the small screen, my neck aching as I struggled to process the monumental carnage unfolding before my eyes. There would be no work that day.

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Many of us recall the days that followed as a string of tragic and disturbing images played over and over—frantic victims running from the immense cloud of destruction hot on their heels, firemen and rescue workers caked in dust, crying widows, bodies plummeting from the windows of what were once the two tallest buildings in the world. There was panic and unease as we struggled to come to terms with our sudden and overwhelming vulnerability to evil from any direction. The gas masks, crop dusters and anthrax-tainted envelopes seem almost surreal now.

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As the months and years went by and the anxiety and sadness subsided, images of the steel “trees” jutting from the wreckage of the Twin Towers became enduring symbols of healing. “They’re the unforgettable vestiges we recall when we think of the aftermath of the fall of the towers,” says Melinda M. Williams.

Photo by Robert O. WilliamsLast April, Williams and her veteran newspaper photographer husband, Robert, covered the solemn return of these tridents to their source, Lukens Steel in Coatesville. In honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, “Sacred Steel” documents the tractor-trailer convoy that transported the columns from New York City to Coatesville’s upstart National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum. At the time, 400 newspapers and 80 broadcast stations worldwide covered the event. “Now, people can touch the steel that formerly held up what were once the tallest buildings in the world—and in their fall, protected many in their wake,” says Williams.

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: We spotlight 24 of the area’s most compelling success stories in our annual “Women on the Move” feature. All will be honored at a luncheon on Sept. 15 at the Villanova Conference Center. The event’s keynote speaker is Joan Carter, the first female president of the Union League of Philadelphia. For more info, call (610) 325-4630 or email tickets@mainlinetoday.com.

Hope to see you there.

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