Zadock Pratt Museum Feature 

In 2000 and 2001, we ran a number of Prattsville History Features
This is a special feature, No. 13 in our series, by David Cernikovsky, 17, a student at Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan. 
David has also been a resident of Prattsville for 16 years on weekends and summers, and spent two summers as a tour guide at the Pratt Museum. 


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"I saw it all."

"I have to keep reminding myself of what I saw because if I don�t, I know I�ll end up convincing myself that I never really saw it.  However, maybe it would be better if I did forget.  What I saw was the most awful thing I imagine anyone could ever see.  This is the story of what I, David Cernikovsky, a Stuyvesant high school student and a lifelong native of New York, saw on September 11, 2001."                    

Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001

           "The day started out normal.  I live within walking distance from school but I usually take a bike.  That day, however, I was having my senior class (12th grade) photos taken for our yearbook.  This meant that I had to walk, since my parents didn�t want me to ride a bike and risk ripping my dress jacket and good shirt.  My parents, themselves, had left that morning at about 7:45 for the airport; they were going to China.  My sister and I were to stay in the city and would have had a few of my parents friends look in on us from time to time while they were away.  My sister had also left at about 7:45 for school.  Her classes begin at 8:10 every day, but we live close to her school too, so she can walk as well.  I left at 8:15 for school as my classes begin at 8:45."

"About a third of the way to school I realized I had left the ticket that I needed for the class photos at home.  My school had sent me a ticket with my picture time and where to go to take them.  It also served as identification � there are 900 students in my senior class- that I really had that time for my pictures.  So I needed to return to home to get it."

           "Before I continue I would like to describe where I live.  I made a map that will describe locations.  My house is about two and a half blocks from the World Trade Center Twin Towers.  First there comes Church Street directly adjacent to the Twin Towers to the east, and then one more street east is Broadway.  Then one more and you get to Nassau where I enter my apartment building.  You can get a better perspective with the landmarks I drew on the map."

            "When I returned home I knew I was going to be late for school but since school just opened for the year I didn�t want to leave a bad impression so I decided to go against my parents wishes and, for speeds-sake, take my bike back to school.  So I rode to school, directly going past 5 World Trade Center on my way.  This is a shorter building with only about seven stories.  This, however was the building I most often visited because Borders, a good bookshop, was located inside. It too would later collapse. 

            "When I arrived back at my school it was � from what I know about the official time of the attacks � 8:44." 

            "Now I will describe the location of my school.  It is only about 5 blocks north of the Twin Towers on the other side of the West Side Highway.  From the WTC complex there is, in order from north to south, Vesey, Park Row, Murray, Warren, then the street Stuyvesant High School is located on: Chambers.  You again will see it better on the map.  I was under the bridge that spans the West Side Highway.  This bridge was made so that the students of my school and those of the Elementary school next to us can cross the highway safely. The West Side highway is a very busy and very dangerous street for pedestrians."

             "Under the Bridge is a series of bike racks made for all of us to lock up our bikes.  It was as I was locking my bike to the pole that it happened."

             "Now this next paragraph all happened in just a few seconds mind you." 

"The view I had was perfect, perfect I say in the sense that I could see well, not that it was something I wanted to see.  I heard a loud whirring noise like an extremely large truck go right over my head.  Naturally, as a New Yorker, very little catches my attention; but it was just so loud.  I turned to look at the street first, then I looked up.  What I saw was awful.  A plane flew directly into the North Tower.  I remember hearing a lady screaming and thinking to myself in such a New York way, �Come on lady no one screams in New York, nothing gets to us,� even as I watched it hit.  As I kept watching it exploded.   The tower exploded! Then it sank in. I stood mesmerized just watching this huge fireball.  Then as the fire cleared, I saw the hole in the tower.  It was shaped almost like an airplane.  I saw it before smoke started pouring from the hole, when you could actually see the airplane.  That hole was one of the most lasting images of the day.  I say �one of the most� because something later would top it." 

"When it all really came to me that a plane had hit the world trade center, it hit me like a sack of bricks.  I started cursing.  That�s it.  I started spouting off �What the F***!�, �What kind of S*** is that!�, and the one I repeated most through the day: �That doesn�t F***ing happen, man, that�s movie S***!�, or other such profanities to the same extent.  A biker beside me seemed to share the same opinion.  Next I heard a lady screaming, �My cell don�t work, my cell don�t work!�.  Then after about 2 minutes of staring, cursing and staring some more, I just turned around locked my bike up, (that was no easy task though, with my hands shaking the way they were it took about a minute and a half to lock the damn thing) climbed the stairs to my school and went in.  I was the only one who had arrived at that time so after I was literally pulled into the building by the security guard, I was the one who told all of the people hanging out around the lobby, �Hey, the World Trade Center just got hit by a plane!� Everyone needed a second to believe it - they all thought the sound was one of the many sounds you just hear in NY, a car backfire or something." 

"Then I went up to my classroom.  I was convinced at the time that there had been a malfunction in the cockpit, no doubt, and the poor pilots couldn�t do anything.  I entered the classroom and said again �Hey, umm, a plane just hit the World Trade Center.� They just didn�t believe me.  The class is on the north side of the building so they had heard nothing.  After a few minutes of explaining, they still didn�t believe me.  Then over the loudspeaker the principal of the school said: �this morning at 8:45 a plane hit the WTC�  - that�s when they believed."

"Now, I know they did not hear the first plane because I didn�t hear the second.  It wasn�t until another guy walked in and said, �I saw the second plane hit.� Now, this, no one believed.  Everyone, like myself, believed that the controls on the first plane had gone crazy, so we didn�t, couldn�t, believe that two planes had done the same thing.  After a little time we realized that it was intentional - an act of terrorism or something."

"The principal would later in the period come on and tell everyone to continue with the normal day and to go to the next class.  So we did.  My next class however was anything but normal."

"We had no lesson.  We just turned on the television we had in the room and watched the footage.  We discussed how they would evacuate the people in the WTC.  We determined that a helicopter would have to airlift all people above the crashes oblivious to the horrid idea that they would actually collapse.  We watched the footage of the second plane hit over and over from every different angle.  There was no footage from the first, so I was the only one in that class to have seen it."

"Later in the period, I went to the bathroom to put on my jacket for the pictures - my time was going to be during the next period so I might as well get my jacket on now.  When I came back from the bathroom, I heard about the Pentagon.  That really freaked me out, for two reasons.  One it meant that this was not just a New York thing, the nation was under attack and anything could be next.  The second was that I thought that without the Pentagon, how would we stop these people? The pentagon was our military, damn it, and now their all dead (one of my many irrational thoughts of the day: the pentagon is far to big to be destroyed by one plane, but forgive me, I was not really in the best condition then).  So, for another 20 minutes or so (I can�t tell how long) we just sat and watched footage over and over on Channel 1." 

"Now, again I go into a location description.  From my classroom we were too far east to see the actual towers, a building was in the way.  Just barely.  One classroom to the west and the angle would have been fine.  All we could see was the street directly adjacent to towers.  Also we were on the eighth floor so we could see the street clearly.  This is important, since what I saw on the street was horrifying.  From the windows we could see the police cars, ambulances, fire-trucks and rescue workers under the WTC." 

"Now, near the end of second period on the news a very calm newswoman was describing the scene.  The press is supposed to be calm, always.  Never are they fazed,  never are they scared.  This is how they seem to us.  So when the news lady went from almost casually describing the scene to screaming at the top of her lungs, we freaked.  She started screaming �Oh, my God, IT�S FALLING!!!!!!!�

"We ran to the window and what we saw was awful.  Now we could see the tower, or see parts of it anyway.  We saw tons and tons of 2 World Trade Center  (no doubt with people in it) falling.  Falling right onto the street below.  Onto the fire trucks.  Onto the ambulances.  Onto the police cars.  That wasn�t the worst part of what I saw.  I saw people: cops, firemen, good people there to help save others in the street between the vehicles.  I watched as the WTC fell on all of those people.  All of the cars and trucks; yes, that was an awful sight too but they were at that distance: still cars.  You had to imagine people in the cars to realize it fully there.  But there were people in the street.  I could see people on the street, people I didn�t have to imagine to see, and then I couldn�t see them at all.  They were gone, crushed, and most likely dead beneath the south tower."

"After that everyone went crazy.  The TV had gone out in the school and so had the lights, but only for a few seconds.  But after the collapse the girls (and some guys) started crying.  I personally was in shock and I just stood at the window screaming obscenities again.  This time, I wasn�t alone - believe me.  A good portion of the class was doing and saying the same thing.  After it fell we were evacuated.  They said the dust cloud was coming towards us, so we had to go.  On the way down the stairs a few other guys and I had to carry a boy in a wheelchair three flights because none of the elevators were working.  When we got down to the ground I met a few friends, and we all left the building.  The police men led us north on the now empty West Side Highway.  About two blocks into the walk a loud rumbling began and, as I turned to look, I saw the TV needle atop the north tower collapsing into the rest of the WTC and watched in horror as the rest of the second tower went down too.  We all saw, and were again all shocked.  But this time we were beyond cursing.  I guess we had just reached a point were we couldn�t curse or scream anymore.  We just turned around and started walking north again.  The idea that there were no Twin Towers started sinking in, oh, so slowly.  Even after watching the footage on TV in class and seeing the plane hit, it never occurred to me that they would fall.  I had kept thinking: �how the hell are they going to fix those holes?��thinking, �God, there must be 500 people dead�! When they fell, the number that popped in my head rose to 100,000.  Irrational, yes but it�s what I thought." 

"Later, my friends and I went to the house of one friend who lived on 9th street.  On the way we stopped and looked down 6th avenue at the �nothing� that used to be the World Trade Center.  It was unbelievable." 

"The rest of the day was spent watching the news and waiting for news of my parents.  I knew I would be waiting longer than most anyone as my parents were in Brooklyn at the Airport.  It did go through my mind at one point that they might have been in one of the planes. There was really only one plane I knew they could have been on: the one that crashed in Pennsylvania the others were too early. Then I found out that was a United airline and we always use American, which is of course the company of two of the other three planes. (Later I found out they were on Japanese airlines so my worrying was pointless).  But, I spent most of my time worrying about my sister, who has Down�s syndrome.  How she was, where she was, was she okay? Her school wasn�t all that far from the WTC, and she was east of it, almost directly in the path of the dust clouds that would envelop lower Manhattan.  I couldn�t contact her because the phones weren�t working."

"There�s not really much more to say, really.  My parents eventually found me after I wrote an e-mail from my friend�s computer. They arrived about seven hours after the first plane hit.  They had walked from Brooklyn over the Manhattan Bridge.  My sister had gone home and there met with the superintendent of our building.  He took her to his brother�s house on 7th street - 2 1/2 blocks from where I was.  We then all walked back to Brooklyn over the Manhattan Bridge to a car they had rented from the airport - and drove to the house we have in upstate New York." 

             "I am still here in upstate New York writing this.  In the days after the tragedy I have received so much support.  I am not traumatized.  My �New York-ness� keeps me hard.  We�re hard to faze, so something like this surprised, shocked and scared me, but didn�t traumatize me.  What I�ve seen in these past few days has filled me with mixed emotions.  I personally went to give blood about three hours after we were evacuated.  I couldn�t - the lines were too long.  You may hear about how we are sticking together through this.  There is no way to describe how true that is.  In 4 hours from when the first plane hit there were already posters everywhere - and I mean everywhere - asking people to donate blood.  There were makeshift stands everywhere with people giving out water and cookies to the donators.  This has filled me with happiness.  Well, after something like this, it is hard to be happy but I have been touched.  Conversely, some things I have seen on TV have angered me.  Obviously, towards whoever did this, but as well, I also am disgusted by all of these things I see on the news.  I keep seeing all of these people from Michigan or Oregon crying as if they were the ones who saw what I did.  I know it is awful and they have the utmost right to but it still for some reason pisses me off.  The news channels should show people from New York or Washington reacting to this.  We saw the people dying, not on TV but with our own eyes.  Whenever I go over the building falling on those people in my mind I realize what I saw.  I saw hundreds of people dying less than one half kilometer from where I stood in less than one second from each other. We should be the ones crying on TV Except those from New York won�t cry as much as much as the others. We are a strong city and have steeled ourselves after this attack. We cried, yes, but many of us have stopped crying and started wanting to help others. When you are helping others there is no crying.  We must be strong, for if those we help, and the rest of the nation sees us strong, then they too can be strong." 

            "The ones who did this are cowards and I want them to know that those who were there are not afraid of you.  That there is not one person who could have witnessed what we did and not felt the way I do.  And the way I feel? I f you were here right now in front of me I would not cower in fear: rather, I would rip you apart."

"I am 17 years old and what I saw on September 11, 2001 I will never forget.  What I feel now is sorrow for those who died and anger at those who did this.  But President Bush could not have been more right when he said that all this did was bring us closer together.   I have no doubt that together we will punish the heartless cowards that did this, but with just actions � that will be our revenge."

David's map shows the location of his home, school and escape route on September 11, 2001

This history feature is written by

David Cernikovsky

Stuyvesant High Student

New York, USA

September 15, 2001


David has also been a resident of Prattsville for 16 years on weekends and summers, and spent two summers as a tour guide at the Pratt Museum.

You can write to David at:



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