Where I Was When the World Stopped Spinning
Updated: Dec 26, 2021
I (was) getting trained on 2 major attractions (at the Magic Kingdom) when my manager told both me and my trainer what had just happened in NY. We quickly went to the nearest Cast Member Break Room and I managed to see the second plane hitting the tower "live." The room was packed with all sorts of managers and I remember very vividly the (very surprised) reaction on their faces when the ABC reporter said:
"This just in: (The Walt Disney Company) has just announced that (it) will be closing (its) theme parks worldwide."
And literally less than a minute after the reporter said that, their beepers started going off like crazy and they walked out of the break room.
About 5 - 10 minutes after that incident, they notified cast members of what we were going to do.
First we shut down all the attractions and restaurants and merchandise shops to get the guests out in the street. We were strictly forbidden from telling them what was the real reason why we decided to close the park. Which caused some confusion; and maybe even some irate guests at times. But it avoided (quite effectively) the cause for panic from our guests. They even gave us a simple spiel to tell them in case they had questions.
Once the guests were forced to the streets of the park because all the rides were closed, all the cast members were instructed to hold hands and basically form a human wall and gently (without touching any one) walk towards the hub of the park and eventually towards Main Street. That way we could basically force the guests out of the park. Disney Security obviously followed each human wall and made sure no one got past it.
That "human wall procedure" was done at all 4 parks, by the way. And guests were given complimentary tickets at the turnstiles as they left the park.
—WDWCASTMEMBER, Jim Hill Media, 2006-7
Chuck D's All-New Classic TV Club House: [T]he 9/11 reports immediately took me back to being a then-22YO and waking up that fateful morning, but not immediately grasping what had happened due to lingering sleepiness, my initial thought was that it was an errant, low-flying aircraft that struck the WTC.
Ben Minnotte: I had the same reaction on 9/11--saw a plane had hit the WTC and thought it was some horrific accident. Then the second plane hit (and I saw it happen live) and the situation hit me like a ton of bricks.
—comments between a user and host Ben Minnotte, Oddity Archive, episode 190: “Special Bulletins (or, We Interrupt This Archive...)”
The only female NYPD officer to lose their life in 9/11, Moira Smith was known for her intense dedication to being a police officer. According to NYPD Angels, this was her second time risking her life in an extremely disastrous situation to help others. The first was during a 1991 subway crash in Union Square, which she survived and received the Police Department’s Distinguished Duty Medal for. Sadly, the second situation on 9/11 Smith did not survive, though she was seen selflessly saving others.
On 9/11 she became known as the woman with the flashlight who helped prevent mass hysteria and the blocking of exits. She saved hundreds of lives by directing people out of the South Tower and encouraging people to “Don’t look down; Keep Moving.” There is even a famous photograph of Smith heroically leading a bloodied businessman to safety, and an account written by another man she saved.
—Jessie on a Journey, “Never Forget: The Important 9/11 Stories You Need to Hear”
Jillian Reid, my sister, was 21 years old. She was running late for work at 1 New York Plaza. She says: “Dressed in an A-line black skirt with a huge flower on it, a solid pink tank top and my new pink snakeskin Versace sunglasses (it was 2001), I got on the 4/5 train downtown at Union Square to travel the two stops to Bowling Green.
“We were stuck there for a while and I began to panic about being too late for work. There was some commotion about a plane and the Trade Center but no-one seemed to know anything.
“We finally moved and then stopped between stations for a while. The conductor announced it was because of “police activity”. When we got to Bowling Green I tried to run out of the station as people raced in screaming ‘turn around, they’re closing the subways down!’ By this point both towers had been hit.”
Instead of walking to her office, Jillian walked in the opposite direction.
She says: “I stood frozen in confusion in front of the World Trade Center as ants gracefully fell out of tippy top windows. It was like they were falling from the sky. My brain failed to grasp these were people jumping to their deaths.
“When I finally arrived at my building, co-workers were standing outside, unsure what to do. We couldn’t go inside but the subways were now officially closed.
“The Staten Island ferry, about a block away, was still running so I buddied up with my co-worker Tara, who had a relative on Staten Island who could pick us up on the other side.
“As the first tower fell we ran to the ferry station and bumped into Jacki Esposito and a colleague of hers. For a while, ferries stopped running and we sat in the station with all the windows shut. We didn’t want to breathe in soot from the towers.
“A lady with a transistor radio was listening to the Howard Stern show – that was our news. The air seemed to clear for a while and then turned black again – the second tower had fallen.
“I buried my face in that lady’s shoulder and burst into tears. I learned about the Pentagon and Flight 93 from her radio and feared other attacks. There were so many rumours. After a little while, who knows how long, they announced we could get on a boat and women and children ‘had to wear life vests’.
“I constantly tried to make calls from my phone and finally got my grandma as we were halfway to Staten Island. I tried to keep it together for her. I still couldn’t reach anyone else and didn’t know if Tara’s aunt could pick us up. When we got off the ferry I looked out over the water to downtown Manhattan and thought it was burning to the ground and I’d never see it again.”
“Tara’s aunt picked us up and Jacki’s co-worker listened to a voicemail left by her brother. He was in the towers and told her he loved her. I think about him all the time.
“We stopped by a deli for some ‘baconeggandcheese’ – the gold standard of New York bodega breakfast sandwiches – and a case of beer. I’ve no idea what time it was.
“When we got to Tara’s aunt’s house we put on CNN and got really drunk. Jacki said Osama Bin Laden’s name before anyone did on TV. We tried to reach our families throughout the day. At some point we heard the bridges had opened and planned to drive to Brooklyn so we’d be one borough closer to home.
“We got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic and had to drunkenly pee in someone’s back garden only to find out it was a rumour – the bridge was not open. So we went back and waited for an official announcement.
“Once it came, we made it to Bayridge, Brooklyn right over the bridge. By that point we were exhausted, drunk twice over and had no idea what the world was going to look like tomorrow.”
—Briana Warsing, The Focus, “9/11 survivors' stories 19 years on”
"I was boarding the bus for kindergarten," said Christi Breinlinger, 20, now a junior at the University of Tampa.
"I remember it clear as day because smoke started coming into the classroom," said 22-year-old Nadine Young, who grew up in New York and is now a senior at the University of South Florida.
"My teacher at the time, her brother actually worked at the Pentagon, so she was called out of the room," said Jessica Figueredo, 25, who was 10 on 9/11.
UT Jr. Chante Pleak, now 20, was 5 on 9/11 and on a base in Japan.
"A month prior to 9/11, we had just had an earthquake where buildings did fall, there were cracks in the road, so being 5, I thought, 'oh, that's just another earthquake.'"
But she soon realized this was very different.
Pleak continued, "My mom said, 'where are you going?' He said, 'I can't tell you.' [She asked], 'how long are you going to be gone?' [He replied] 'can't tell you.' Hugged my mom, my sister and I, left for the elevator and we didn't see him for a month and a half."
Nadine Young grew up in Brooklyn, and says terror poisoned her friends and family, and made mere survival seem like an achievement.
"When we went on a plane, when we landed, everyone was clapping, everyone had this sigh of relief," said Young.
Christi Breinlinger says it had a tremendous impact on her mentality, as she came to understand what it all meant.
"It makes me scared to go out in places," she said. "People can leave their house in the morning, say goodbye to their kids and they won't see them again because people are attacking."
—FOX 13 Tampa Bay, “College students recall experiencing 9/11 as children”
There's no denying that September 11, 2001 was a horrible, life-altering day for practically all Americans. The tragic day varied from person to person and place to place, with many unnerving and harrowing stories that happened (or not), particularly in Disney theme parks and most obviously, New York City and Washington, D.C. I was also alive during 9/11. But I didn't live in any area special to the attacks, like Boston, D.C., or NYC. Nor did I attend anything major during that time, like college or in the media or airline or entertainment industry. I was nine years old on September 11, 2001, just starting fourth grade, and living in New Jersey. More specifically, South Jersey, closer to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania rather than the effected North Jersey area. So, as you can guess, compared to other people's accounts and memories of that day, my 9/11 experience was rather anticlimactic.
Like many for that day, 9/11 started off normally, nothing out of the ordinary seemingly happening. I attended school and sat in my classroom to learn stuff. The first my class and I heard of the events was a solemn announcement from our teacher. He sat at the teacher's desk in front of the class and glumly told us that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City in a terrorist attack. Now people say that we got out of class early that day, but I don't remember that. I do remember leaving school for the day some time later with my mother, most likely around 2:30 PM, the time school ends normally.
We were walking home, passing by that part of the sidewalk featuring an eroded stone part that, at the time, sort of looked like the state of Minnesota. She looked sad, too. I told her what the teacher told me, asking if she heard about it. She gloomily replied that she did. Being a naïve nine-year-old fourth grader, I told her the word “terrorist,” which had been part of my vocabulary for however long it was after the teacher announced the events to us earlier that day, sounded like “tourist” and that the occurrence in New York was probably an accident. Mom sadly and sternly told me that that wasn't the case.
Mom and I arrived home and I went upstairs to watch TV as I usually would after school. I might not remember much of my time at school on 9/11, but I have this hunch that we didn't get any homework assignments on that day. I turned to channel 17, the Delaware Valley's The WB affiliate WPHL or Philadelphia's WB17, to tune into the Kids' WB! block. Kids' WB! wasn't on however; just reports of the attacks in New York City. I saw the images of the towers with black smoke coming out of them. The only feeling I remember seeing this image, as a nine-year-old boy who didn't live near the Big Apple, is disappointment that Kids' WB! wasn't on, just news.
I flipped through other channels to see if something else was on. While going through the channels, I noticed some strange and foreboding things. Some channels, most notably Food Network and HGTV (of all channels), were off the air due to the attacks in New York. Having different priorities at age nine, I was concerned that there would be nothing on TV for us kids. Fortunately, PBS Kids, at least one of my local affiliates, NJN (or New Jersey Network, now NJTV), was still showing programming, including a rerun of Arthur. Nickelodeon was also running partial programming. They were still showing reruns of shows, but what was most notable was their afternoon block, Slime Time Live. More specifically, the fact that it wasn't airing that day.
For those unaware, Slime Time Live was an afternoon programming block on Nickelodeon, shot at the Nickelodeon Studios in Universal Florida, hosted by Dave Aizer, featuring shows from the station that were wrapped around with segments showcasing a series of silly and messy games that a select group of kids, split into two teams (red and blue), would partake in. Notable games included a version of Musical Chairs called “Musical Pies” where team members would line up and pass a whipped cream pie to each other as music played and whoever was stuck with the pie when the music ended had to throw the pastry into their own face.
Each day (or at least since 2003 or so), the block would end with the Mystery Bucket (replacing the previous ending game The Big Shaboozie), where one of the team members would be in a chair and another kid would call the show to find a match of a certain Nicktoon character behind a series of nine squares called the Nicktoon Game Board within a certain time frame to win a prize, like Twilight Sports Balls from Huffy Sports, Vertical Bikes, or a Burger King gift certificate, and get the kid slimed due to the bucket overturning.
Getting back on topic, I would often watch TV in the living room during dinner time at 5 PM, with a blanket on the living room floor. Sometimes I would watch the last programming of that day's PBS Kids block, but other times I would watch Slime Time Live, too. As aforementioned, the block wasn't airing on 9/11. There were no games being played that day. My parents were in the kitchen. I think they seemed sad. I asked them if Slime Time Live wasn't on due to the attacks in New York and my mom replied sadly that it was very likely. They didn't seem all that talky that day, particularly Mom. At around 5 PM, an Invader Zim episode (“Parent Night/Walk of Doom”) was playing. Even as a young, clueless nine-year-old boy, I noticed the irony of the latter cartoon airing that day, due to shot of the massive skyscrapers, when Zim yells, “YOU WON'T MAKE A FOOL OF THIS IRKEN INVADER!”
In case you haven't noticed by now, I was nine years old on 9/11 and was more concerned that normal television broadcasting, especially kids' programming, wouldn't be on. Shows and channels being preempted due to the events didn't really scare me due to the graphic attack footage as much as it worried me that nothing but news would be on and no kids' shows would be seen. I didn't view it as horrific, but more as a severe inconvenience. For what it's worth, I started understanding the importance almost a year after the event.
I remember, during that time, I asked my mom if the people who were killed when the planes crashed burned to a crisp like cartoon physics (don't ask how this conversation got started; I don't remember) my mom sternly said yes, that's what happened. The younger me initially thought it was like cartoon physics, where people were burned to ash, but still alive with their eyes remaining and still able to blink. Also, on September 11, 2002, I recall waking up at around 5:52 AM or so, before getting ready for school, and turning on Toon Disney to catch a rerun of the Little Mermaid animated series. The episode ended with Ariel apparently defeating a villain by singing a song about living in harmony and even at ten years old, I noticed the irony of this episode airing on the one-year anniversary episode of 9/11. I also later learned more about the attacks including the Pentagon attack and United 93 later on in the mid-to-late-2000s. So, rest assured, I wasn't always a silly, immature nine-year-old fourth grader.
In comparison to people's other excruciating and terrifying 9/11 experiences, mine was pretty tame and lackluster. Not fully aware of the severity of the situation at the time, due to being a nine-year-old fourth grader in New Jersey and living closer to Philadelphia than New York, I ironically hardly remember anything from the original day. I don't even remember many details from then, like school ending early and our parents coming home for us. I just remember feeling inconvenienced and let down that many normally-airing programs weren't on that day, including Slime Time Live and all of Food Network. As the years passed, I soon came to realize the seriousness of the events on that Tuesday and happily got my priorities straightened out.