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SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

Stories are shared about the fateful day that changed a nation

 photo by SSGT John Valceanu, USA
A family member of a victim killed during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon holds yellow roses and an American flag in remembrance of his loved one. (click for larger version)
September 07, 2011
She was an eighth grader at the time, in the nurse's office to treat her asthma with a prescribed inhaler. For St. Louisan Elyse Pickle, and for most of the nation, any relief that day would prove short-lived.

The nurse, at Selvidge Middle School in the Rockwood School District, was watching the news on her computer. Pickle, now 23 and a Clayton resident, had never heard of the Twin Towers and had never been to New York. She joined the nurse at her computer. The date was Sept. 11, 2001.

Elyse Pickle (click for larger version)
According to Rockwood's pre-set calendar that year, students had just a half day of school on 9/11. During those few hours, Pickle recalls, faculty and most staffers tried to "keep under wraps, to not scare us," the news that 19 al-Qaida terrorists, on American soil, had hijacked four commercial passenger jet airliners.

Two of the planes were crashed intentionally into the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center. A third plane smashed into the Pentagon. A fourth, headed for Washington, D.C., until passengers tried to take control and redirect it, crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania.

All told, nearly 3,000 victims and the 19 hijackers died. In the World Trade Center attacks alone, 2,753 people lost their lives. Among them were numerous friends of native New Yorker Rosemary Lanes. In 2006, Lanes and her husband, Al, relocated to The Hill neighborhood in St. Louis.

Rosemary Lanes (click for larger version)
Rosemary Lanes

Asked about 9/11, Rosemary Lanes grows quiet.

"I lost my business partner that day. I very seldom talk about it," she said.

The office for their Princeton Art Appraisal Services, now relocated here, had been housed in one of the Twin Towers. Lanes was not at the office that Tuesday morning.

What she remembers, she said, are "the heavily purple- and black-draped" New York fire and police departments. As a result of the World Trade Center attacks, 343 firefighters and 60 police officers from New York City and the Port Authority died. Lanes likewise recalls posters with such messages as "Last Seen on 9/11, 5-foot-3, 25 years old, blue eyes."

The Laneses were reeling, too, from their sky-high mortgages, disrupted businesses – Al, now retired, was an engineer and consulted for insurance companies – and what Rosemary describes as constant white dust, as if from a volcano.

To painstakingly choose new surroundings, she spent three years, in combination with business trips, visiting and rating 25 American cities in 13 states. The Hill here, a walking, historic Italian-American community in a city with universities, hospitals, lectures, symphony, other music and opera, emerged as the front runner.

During a recent business trip to New York, Lanes confided, she caught herself thinking, "'Boy, I'm really tired. I'll be glad to go home.' I kind of giggled."

Rev. Suzanne Webb (click for larger version)
Rev. Suzanne Webb

Another present St. Louisan, the Rev. Suzanne Webb, also lived in New York on 9/11/01. Now senior minister at Union Avenue Christian Church in the Central West End, she was then serving as interim senior minister at Park Avenue Christian Church on New York's Upper West Side.

A frantic call from the church's organist had alerted her to turn on the TV and then run to church. Once there, she and an associate began telephoning parishioners, especially those who lived or worked near the Twin Towers.

One congregant, who said he had cleaned out his bank account, brought bread and milk to church. Webb instructed him to fling open the church doors so that passersby, hordes of them, on foot since the mass-transit system had closed down, could come in "to pray, to sit, to do anything they needed to."

One distraught neighborhood woman could not find her roommate. A week later, Webb co-officiated at a memorial service for the roommate. Her body was never found.

Despite erratic phone service, Webb kept calling parishioners. Only when her own family and friends got through to her, did reality sink in.

"That's when it all hit me," she said.

Webb spent a second year with the Upper West Side church and then was transferred to Ohio, where she served as regional minister, in charge of 200 churches. Seven years ago, she was sent here.

New York taught her much about herself.

"I'm methodical. I plan. I organize," she said. "So rushing into the midst of something is not who I am. Well, I found out that I could do what was important and care for my congregation."

Rabbi James Stone Goodman (click for larger version)
Rabbi James Stone Goodman

Ten years after the fact, Rabbi James Stone Goodman continues to think, write poetry and essays, often on his stonegoodman.com/blog, and also put Biblical verses into song, with a focus on 9/11.

In December 2001, he represented Missouri at a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services think tank on mental health in the tragedy's aftermath, convened in New York. Although it was not part of the meeting's agenda, he invited a New York photographer/friend to accompany him to still smoldering Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center complex had stood.

Goodman, of Clayton, serves both Congregation Neve Shalom in Creve Coeur and Central Reform Congregation in the Central West End, where his wife, Susan Talve, is the founding rabbi.

Midnight at Ground Zero with his friend was "like a walking meditation. It didn't feel like sight-seeing, but like this hushed ritual," Goodman said. "On this temporary wooden wall around the site, there had appeared this spontaneous expression. They were like altars, shrines to individuals, a giant gravesite."

For the anniversary of 9/11, Goodman plans to continue what he calls his peace vigil and to sing again for his congregation his adaptation from Lamentations, chapter 2, verse 19.

"The verse reminds us," he said, "to split the darkness with your song, pour out your heart like water before God and lift up your hands toward heaven for the sake of the young children, who still suffer."

The ordeal of processing and remembering 9/11 is not over, he said.

Elyse Pickle, now a digital project manager with Fleishman-Hillard International Communications, could not agree more. "It's pretty sad that my generation is having to understand and accept that tragedies happen," she said. "I don't think we can live in fear. But I will always carry a sense of worry."

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