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That Day, Again

Sep 15

In Stories at 12:01am

We’re seven years downriver from the day that everything changed. I spent the morning, as I have since then, at Ladder Nine/Engine 33 on Great Jones Street in NYC. These two companies lost 10 men on 9/11.

I’m not part of the house, obviously, so I just stand in the back, simply to pay respects. This year, for the first time in 7 years, I made a frame.

They were the first house I approached with the notion of coming to the giant Polaroid camera for the project that came to be known as Faces of Ground Zero. I went there cause they were literally around the corner from the Polaroid studio. All I had to show them was a 4’x9′ Polaroid of a ballerina in a tutu.

When I rolled it out on the firehouse floor, the reactions were predictable.

These were all I had to show as examples of work. For the one opportunity I had to work the camera prior to 9/11, I had invited Jennifer Ringer, an incredibly lovely dancer, and a principal with the NYC Ballet. She was gracious enough to help me out that day, and I gave her one of the giant Polaroids. She was amazing, staying on pointe in the dark while we spooled up the camera, nailing her position time and time again. (At f45, the camera has only a half inch of depth of field.)

Despite the firehouse banter, that print must have left an impression, cause later that evening came the rap of a halligan against the steel door of the giant Polaroid studio. I opened it, and the company had rolled the truck around to 2nd St. Firefighters poured into the studio.

I worked fast, cause being an active company, they could get called out at anytime. The very first guy to step in front of the lens was John Baldassarre, now the lieutenant at the house. John, a natural leader, broke the ice. The rest of the guys stepped up, and the project grew. Soon, on 2nd St., there would be firetrucks, ESU units, paramedic emergency vehicles, patrol cars, the bomb squad, and, eventually, Mayor Giuliani’s security detail. Along with a bunch of ordinary New Yorkers, all of whom became extraordinary during that desperate time.

I’ve become friends over time with numerous folks who came to the camera, among them Mike and Nuri Wernick. I’ve mentioned them in my blog before. Super people, super couple. Mike was a veteran firefighter at Ladder Nine, survivor of the 93 WTC bombing, and among the first responders on 9/11. He and Nuri run Rising Wolf Garage, one of the only motorcycle garages in all of NY.

It was a natural thing then, for young firefighter Gerard Baptiste to turn to Mike for advice on buying a motorcycle. Gerard had his eye on a real beat up old Honda CB750. A fixer-upper, to put it mildly, seeing as it cost $100, street sale price in the East Village. Along with some other guys in the house, Mike advised against buying the bike.

Gerard was determined, however, and eventually pushed this two wheeled rust bucket in through the firehouse doors, and leaned it against the back wall. It had “long term project” written all over it.

Then Gerard jumped on the truck on 9/11. He was one of the 10 who did not return.

The bike stayed at the back of the house, a reminder of a promise unfulfilled. Until Gerard’s brother firefighters at Ladder 9 and his previous company, Engine 220, got together with corporate support from Honda, and turned the bike into what is now called the FDNY Dream Bike. A small documentary film was made, which you can get a flavor of on youtube.

Fifteen months of restoration later, that old fire sale Honda became the FDNY Dream Bike. (Picture Credit: Kickstart Productions)

It is currently on view at FASNY, the Museum of Firefighting, in Hudson, NY, which houses the biggest and most inspirational collection of firefighting artifacts I have ever seen.

This bike, though, can’t really be described as an artifact, or a display, or a piece of memorabilia. It is the two wheeled dream of a young firefighter who never came back.

Michael George says:

on September 15, 2008 at 2:40 am

I know in your last post regarding these Polaroids you detailed where they will be housed. However, I was wondering if there any events on the horizon where the public might have the opportunity to see them?

Adam Swords says:

on September 15, 2008 at 5:28 am

There has been lots of TV shows about 9/11 on British TV just recently because of the 7 year anniversary.
Even when I see the images today, they still don’t feel real. It’s just a scene that my brain can’t process, it almost feels like a movie.
My heart goes out to everybody who was affected by the 9/11 attacks and I continue to be astounded and filled with respect for the heroes that arose from the rubble of the twin towers.

Kevan Goddard says:

on September 15, 2008 at 5:42 am

McNally – you never cease to amaze me. A world class photographer yet your writing, as much as anything, pulls at the heart strings.

Joe says:

on September 15, 2008 at 7:03 am

God rest their souls.

Paul Watson says:

on September 15, 2008 at 8:22 am

What a powerful post.

Brought tears to my eyes.

Thanks for sharing.

Ally Brasko says:

on September 15, 2008 at 9:01 am

I’m here at school reading this on my phone trying not to tear up.

Alessandro Rosa says:

on September 15, 2008 at 10:23 am

Surprisingly this anniversary has been a lot more difficult for me than most. Maybe it was the NY Times article that I read on Lauren Manning last week.

Mrs. Manning worked for Cantor Fitzgerald at the time and was in the lobby of the WTC when the attack occured. She was burned over 80% of her body and spent months in the hospital. Her life was permanently changed in an instant and still lives with the very painful reminders of that moment.

I think this really affected me because I was thirty feet from being inside the lobby at exactly the same time as Mrs. Manning. I escaped unharmed because I was on the otherside of the glass wall and revolving doors of the lobby and that held back the fireball that engulfed the lobby and Mrs. Manning. I felt its heat as I turned to run, but I had luck on my side that day. Mrs. Mannings story is what could have very easily been my story….

Even though I was able to escape on my own, I am eternally grateful to the brave men and women who risked their lives and gave their lives that day to try and rescue the victims. Having experience the overwhelming instinct to escape, it still boggles my mind today that these heroes could overcome millenia of nature and rush into those buildings to help those in need.

Joe, I have always been greatful that you took the time and care to tell their story. I don’t think that their are very many journalists that have your level of compassion to have been able to tell this story with as much dignity as you did.

Thank you.

Martin says:

on September 15, 2008 at 12:39 pm

Joe, your work is truly inspirational. You honor these heroes by living your life in a way that values their immense sacrifice. We should all strive to do the same.
Keep up the awesome shooting and writing.

Jan says:

on September 15, 2008 at 1:11 pm

It is a instant forever burned in my memory. I think that I feel about that date the same way that my parents must feel about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I saw it happen live on tv. I saw the reactions of the news anchor, how they strained not to show emotion. I had visited NYC many times and been to the towers and looked up in awe at their height. I knew the space around them. That familiarity made it all that much more painful.

I knew some folks who were in the towers that day – none came home.

The firefighters and other first responders who put themselves and familes second to their job must be put on that same pedestal as those who fought battles overseas. In this instance, these men and women were the first defenders of this country.

Thank for this posting.

Mark K_NJ says:

on September 15, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Thanks for this, Joe. Well put.

Seven years and it still feels like yesterday.

john fowler says:

on September 15, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Joe, as a Canadfian I’m proud of what help we were able to provide the many on incoming flights that were diverted to our airports while your folks tried to get a fix on what was happening.
And yet it seems so little, and the whole thing seems so surreal and almost unreal to us. Thank you, sincerely, for your words and imagery that help us all feel the reality.

Jason says:

on September 15, 2008 at 11:57 pm

Damnit! I was not expecting something this emotional today! Not only an inspiration, but just incredible photography to boot!

John Campbell says:

on September 16, 2008 at 2:04 pm

It’s a crying shame that any projects such as this had to be done, but what a prefect tribute to all firefighters, everywhere, is the restoration of Gerard’s bike!

Kindest regard’s

rook_1e says:

on September 18, 2008 at 9:24 am

Mr Mcnally, Im your big fan man. Im from Malaysia and really love your photos. Really outstanding photos. Going to buy my first flash (unfortunately not nikon) tomorrow. Do hope to produce pictures like yours..


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