Sifting Tattered Artifacts of World Trade Center Lives
An Essay by NPR's Robert Siegel

audio Listen to Robert Siegel's commentary on the attack on America.

Photo of Robert Siegel by Tony Nagelmann
Robert Siegel
Photo by Tony Nagelmann

Sept. 12, 2001 -- Nature ordained a blue, cloudless sky for New York today -- a perfect canopy for a temperate, end-of-summer, not-quite-autumn day.

But as you walk south toward the World Trade Center site, you have to look back uptown to remember the impeccable weather.

At Chambers Street, where Hudson and West Broadway form the point of a triangular vest-pocket park, the sky is overcast with dust and ash. The air is so thick with it, it makes you cough. The emergency workers all have masks.

The sidewalk is coated with a dusting of the stuff -- the pulverized remains of hundreds of offices, offices that employed as many people as you would see in a major league ballpark during a pennant race.

And in the dust you find: paper. Some newspapers. Some magazines. But mostly, artifacts that document what people did for a living in those towers:

• A single page, with three holes punched for a loose-leaf binder, is a New York State tax form. The Chugoku Bank of Japan filed a "surcharge return" in 1998. Their offices were in One World Trade Center.

• A tattered page from a court reporting service is the deposition of one P. McJoynt. It is page 159, ripped from the context of whatever litigation occasioned it.

"I didn't see that information in here," P. McJoynt is quoted as saying. Question: "Okay, what information would we need to find?"

P. McJoynt turns out to be Pat McJoynt, a banker with Keefe Bruyette & Woods in Columbus, Ohio. She told me this afternoon the deposition was on file in the firm's New York office, at the World Trade Center. That's where their General Counsel "is." (The past tense still comes unnaturally to people.)

There is a resume for Gil Avital, an Israeli with a diploma from the Sommelier Society of America.

I called him up, and he knew at once what I had found. He had just sent in the resume, applying for a job as dining room manager at Windows on the World -- the famous restaurant in "the World," he called it. It was the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center, with a view of New York so vaunted that from its windows, the islands of New York City actually looked like islands.

Mr. Avital told me that he and his wife had wondered aloud : What if he had been called for an interview? Now, the resume is one just one among many scattered artifacts of jobs and dreams that were.

Robert Siegel is senior host of All Things Considered, and has been with NPR since 1976.