This special issue of New York Magazine was originally published on September 5, 2011.
Here in New York City, we heard it first, the drone of the plane down the West Side, surprisingly loud. Then, if we were outside, our heads pointed in the right direction, we could see it: the dull-red gash in the North Tower, smoking ominously. Just as we’d begun to absorb this strange sight, wondering what pilot could have been so dim as to steer his plane into one of those towers on what seemed the clearest, bluest September day anyone could remember, came a second plane, then a terrible blossom of flame, then the billowing smoke enshrouding downtown. There would be more, of course, two planes aimed at Washington, one that would dive into the Pentagon, the other downed in a field in Pennsylvania. But for New Yorkers, it was the most intimate of tragedies. Within weeks, the day had become a number, a kind of shorthand for a whole universe, one that hadn’t existed on 9/10.
Many of us here remember going to work that week, searching for an appropriate journalistic response to a world that was changing in ways we couldn’t yet see. As this anniversary loomed, we found ourselves asking the inverse of the same question: With all we now know, how to begin to address the enormity of the event? Our solution was not to shrink from its scale but to embrace it. We decided to reach back to an old form that might allow us to account for a wide assortment of what was created in the wake of the destruction: heroes and villains, great and awful ideas, twisted fates, pop songs and myths and wars. The alphabetized jumble of an encyclopedia, with its preposterous aspiration to describe whole cultures and continents and bodies of knowledge in a single place—that, we thought, might be an interesting way to take in the multiplicity of 9/11’s effects. So we asked our own writers, and a host of distinguished others, to explore a range of subjects that might in their aggregate add up to a kind of idiosyncratic assessment. Some of the resulting 92 entries we kept in the vernacular of a reference book; some we allowed to deviate to accommodate remembrances and other emotional responses. We sought imagery that either felt fresh to us or hauntingly familiar—we were looking throughout to balance sentiment with distance. Borrowing from the old musty volumes on hand, we ran illustrations and data and artifacts up the margins.
In spite of its form, our encyclopedia makes no claim to be comprehensive. It’s neither a first draft of history nor a verdict—just a set of impressions from some point in between. September 11, 2001, changed everything, or it did not; it will take a lot more than ten years to figure that out.
Pastoral deathplace of a terrorist mastermind.
Where the new normal has become (almost) routine.
Post-Osama, now what?
An idea with many authors.
How terror created a rush to judgment.
The things left behind.
His American fatwa had terrible repercussions.
A touching, unnecessary sacrifice.
The mayor’s tough, crucial attitude: Get over it.
What everyone would remember first.
Building 7, Collapse Of
The conspiracy-theorist’s favorite structure.
What the president used to find his voice again.
Bush, George W.
Will history judge his presidency the way it did Truman’s?
The firm that lost the most.
Liz, Jacko, and Marlon: The starriest refugees in history.
The other leader of the free world, 2001–2008.
How artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, video-game designers, and quilters responded to the attacks—a selection.
Commander in Chief, Accidental
The brief, harrowing administration of Richard A. Clarke.
Dead, Accounting of the
From the dust, a numerology of loss.
A season of suspicion in Little Pakistan.
How America’s Mayor created New York’s mayor.
Secrets left in an airport parking lot.
A potent coalition forms and fractures.
Wrestling with the myths of martyrdom.
A race to the scene, and then—chaos.
The heroes of the day weren’t all men.
What’s in a word? A culture war.
Frozen Zone, Life in the
Behind the fence, a kind of Utopia.
Despite the fast-food counters, Twilight Zone endures.
Giving him his due.
Gold, Recovery of
The Towers’ buried treasure.
A phone call from the 105th floor.
The almost mayor.
A label to rally around.
Forgoing flight, at peril.
Who were they?
The family for whom the truth is more important than the money.
Big threats, bigger government.
Timing was everything.
Hunting for a link.
Irony, The End of
Why Graydon Carter wasn’t entirely wrong.
A story of reformation.
Why the most haunting images of 2001 were hardly ever seen.
The kindergarten class of P.S. 150 remembers.
Catchphrase for a rattled country.
The lessons of the master planner.
Live from New York
The return of Saturday Night Live.
One name, three guys.
Affecting remembrance or adornment for real estate? A review.
Street art with awful power.
Memory, playing tricks.
What we were before; what we are now.
9/11, Name of
We had to call it something.
Looking for terrorists, the police look at everyone else.
One World Trade Center
Making the Freedom Tower safe for Condé Nast.
Person of interest.
Paper, Dispersal of
The odd sparkle of devastation.
The kitchen-sink approach to national security.
The target the terrorists got right.
Philip, Sneha Anne
The most mysterious of the missing.
Portraitists of Grief
2,400 lives, each in 200 words or less.
An idea whose time was made.
The dumbstruck city.
When Bushworld came to town.
Choreographer of a war presidency.
The Pentagon poet found his rhythm, then lost it.
In the smoke, a sign.
Sex and the City
Was it still okay to drink cosmos?
The only way out.
The unsettling question of the Sublime.
Surfing the Collapse
A Tony Hawk–meets–Tom Cruise fantasy, based partly on fact.
Survivor, Last Pulled Out
Only twenty escaped from the rubble.
The last days of intermediation.
Love (or at least lust) in the ruins.
Where the new way of war failed.
Once anathema, now a choice.
“The air quality is safe and acceptable.”
Total Progressive Collapse
Why, precisely, the towers fell.
Tribute in Light
The first memorial.
Twentieth Hijacker, The
Who else was supposed to join the attacks?
The ongoing task of cataloguing hell.
Union Square, the gathering place for public grieving.
Wall Street Journal, The
A long commute.
Wall Street West
The backup plan that wasn’t.
Widow, the Fake
The making of a perfect victim.
Windows on the World
It was never about the food.
The politics of the mosque.
An architect whose legacy didn’t work out as he’d planned.
Baseball as therapy.
The face of terrorism to come?