On Sept. 11, Paper Memories Fell from the Skies All Things Considered co-host Robert Siegel reflects on the scraps of paper that cascaded from the skies on Sept. 11.

On Sept. 11, Paper Memories Fell from the Skies

Paper debris after Sept. 11
Bernd Obermann/Corbis

Robert Siegel's radio archive is full of treasures large and small. He joined NPR in 1976 and is currently a host of All Things Considered. In this new column, Siegel will dip into his radio past, reintroducing the stories that have meant the most to him over the years.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was, by chance, in midtown Manhattan scheduled to go downtown at 9:30. Events intervened and I spent the week co-hosting All Things Considered from the confines of NPR's New York Bureau, which swelled with reporters arriving from distant locations. Another familiar face seemed to turn up every hour.

The day after 9/11, I went downtown to the edge of the inferno that we had just begun to call Ground Zero. The brief essay that I wrote about scraps of paper that lined the streets nearby struck a chord with many listeners. Paper, after all, is the great product of Manhattan: securities analyses, stock certificates, depositions, federal filings, licenses. It is the stuff that enters the workplace unfinished and exits filled with the marks of commerce, finance and government, signed, sworn or notarized. The papers underfoot, I found, documented what a nexus the World Trade Center had been, linking people all over the world through commerce.

One note that I added on the first anniversary of 9/11 still bears repeating: When we were in New York that week, with each day it became more likely that the skies held no further menace and the attacks were over, but we could not be sure. Every noise, or commotion or expression of interest by the police in a parked van sent the adrenaline flowing. Time, distance and experience may have diluted that sensation, but its essence survives in our national preoccupation ever since with security and counter-terrorism.