A team of five panelists from throughout the community gathered at All Saints Episcopal Church on Washington Street on Wednesday evening to reflect on how the community reacted to and coped with the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Sandra O’Connor Carey, who lost her first husband Keith in the attacks, worked with her husband John Carey to organize the panel discussion.
“I married into the 9/11 family,” said John, a longtime Hobokenite, during the introductory remarks. “There’s a story that we each have and there are many compelling stories…we thought we would do something, and it eventually morphed into what we have tonight.”
“People went where they felt comfortable.” – Ann Wycherley, former bartender
Richard Evans was scheduled as the incident commander for three area hospitals, including St. Mary in Hoboken, on 9/11.
Approximately 15,000 people who travelled from Manhattan via ferry went through a decontamination center set up by St. Mary, Christ, and St. Francis hospitals near the Hoboken transit terminal on 9/11. But officials didn’t know what was in the dust.
Evans said that when his staff thought the immediate threat was over, and as the sun set on Sept. 11, a new wave of work began.
“At the end of the day we started getting phone calls asking [for loved ones],” he said. “Phones had five lines on them, and all of the lines were ringing. I left at 4 a.m. [on Sept. 12] but other people stayed just picking up phones.”
Operating a school
Jill Singleton, a panelist, was a lead administrator at Hoboken Charter School during the Sept. 11 attacks.
Singleton said she immediately went to the classrooms that had a view of lower Manhattan to close the blinds. They did not make an announcement to tell children what had happened.
“The first thing we did was start to create lists of parents’ work numbers,” Singleton said. “When we heard from them we crossed their names off.”
Singleton said as parents came to retrieve their children, other students became suspicious.
“We made a plan to tell the children there was an accident,” Singleton said.
Singleton said one father on the list never made it back to Hoboken.
“Sadly,” she said, “he had actually called in to his wife to say he was okay, and we had crossed him off the list as being okay.”
Behind the bar
As Sept. 11 wore on, Hoboken’s some of young professionals gathered at bars.
Ann Wycherley, a panelist, and was a bartender at Duffy’s on Third and Bloomfield streets.
“One of the first people who came in the door didn’t know he was in New Jersey,” she said. “He had no idea where he was…I spent five minutes telling him he was okay…within a couple of hours all the bars were packed.”
She added that many in Hoboken lived by themselves in apartments, so since they couldn’t go home to their families, “people went where they felt comfortable.”
A handshake deal to remember
Former Mayor David Roberts served on the panel on Wednesday night, and spoke about how proud he was of the city during that time. But one moment stands out for Roberts, who discussed a “handshake deal” with the Port Authority that he still remembers today.
Roberts said in July 2001 he had met with the executive director of the Port Authority, Neil Levin. They made a handshake agreement regarding development on the waterfront. The Port Authority had, in prior years, planned big developments for the lower waterfront in Hoboken, and Hoboken would benefit from millions of dollars in revenue. But in the end, city residents pushed for those plans to be scaled down.
In the handshake agreement, Levin agreed that the Port Authority would build less, but they would maintain the same revenue stream to the city.
Roberts admits it wasn’t a great deal for the Port Authority. He remembers that Levin had a love for Hoboken, and agreed to the deal.
Levin died on Sept. 11 in the “Windows on the World” conference room in the World Trade Center.
A few months later, Levin’s replacement came to Hoboken for a waterfront dedication. The man told Roberts, “As you know, all of our records were destroyed.”
“There wasn’t a single record maintained from [the meeting],” Roberts said. “But there was an attempt by the Port Authority to accommodate the city of Hoboken… the Port Authority maintained that it was honoring the handshake, unenforceable deal, and we were touched by that.”
The first list of the missing
On the morning of the Sept. 11 attacks, Rev. Laurie Wurm, who wasn’t ordained at the time, was in charge at All Saints Episcopal Church. Wurm served as a panelist on Wednesday.
Wurm said after she realized what was happening, she retrieved a notebook, wrote a prayer on the page, and left it by the door for people to come in and write names of people they were praying for.
“What I was amazed by…when they arrived back in Hoboken, [people] didn’t go back to their apartments; they came here,” Wurm said at the panel on Wednesday night.
Wurm said she stayed until 2 a.m. on Sept. 12, but kept calling the Diocese asking them to send a priest. But Hoboken was isolated on that day, leaving her in charge until a priest could come into town.
Wurm said she noticed that the names on the petition seemingly became “the first organized list of people we lost that day.”
Wurm eventually began putting together a support group for 9/11 widows and widowers that met for over a year (see last week’s cover story).
At the end of the panel discussion, the floor was opened up to the public to share stories that wouldn’t be recorded. But the audience began talking among themselves, and no one spoke at the microphone.
The main panel discussion was recorded, and the recording will be turned over to the library and the Hoboken Historical Museum.
The event was sponsored in part by the Hoboken Public Library and Hoboken Historical Museum, as well as All Saints Episcopal Church.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com