Lebanon residents who were there remember 9-11, painfully

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local
When their subway car stopped on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Madeleine Cariati and Sharon Hopkins had no idea what was going on.
The two Lebanon residents were midway through a 10-day Elder Hostel tour of New York City with the nonprofit group Road Scholar, which offers educational travel for seniors. They and their group were staying at the West Side YMCA and touring the city with guides.
The previous day, they’d visited Battery Park on the south tip of Manhattan and taken the ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
On Sept. 11 the group was headed south to Little Italy in lower Manhattan when the subway ground to a halt.

Cariati’s group leader, left, tries to get cellular service after disembarking from the subway.

“They said, ‘Due to an emergency, we need to back up to our previous station and let you out,’” Cariati recalled. “Once we got out, we realized the towers were burning. Everybody knew the towers had been hit.”
It’s a painful memory for both, they said.
“I haven’t really wanted to talk about it,” Hopkins told a reporter. “It was a pretty hard time. Still is.”
Cariati said she thinks it’s important for people to think about the episode, but not “celebrate” it.
“To me it’s not something to celebrate, though I know we need to remember.
“It was a very frightening time for all of us,” she said, recalling that over the course of the day they learned that the Pentagon had been hit and another plane had crashed in northern Pennsylvania.
“They held us in the subway for a while, with us not knowing what the heck was going on. Then we went back to the station and they let us off.”
Outside the subway station in Washington Square, they tried to figure out how they were going to get back to the YMCA on 63rd Street, some 3½ miles away.
“I felt bad for our young tour guides,” Cariati said. “What were we to do? All the transportation had stopped.”

THE TWIN TOWERS can be seen burning from Washington Square Park in this photo shot on Sept. 11, 2001.

Hopkins and another woman were able to get a cab and some tour members started walking back to their lodgings. Cariati saw a van owned by a restoration company.
“We asked if we could get a ride in the back of the van since they were going north,” she said. “They warned us about slivers. I didn’t care about slivers.”
They could see the World Trade Towers burning.
“People were on roofs, watching. It was truly a frightening time. There were a lot of rumors.
“The air was awful; you could hardly breathe,” she said. “It just permeated everything in the city. The sirens were constant. It was very eerie. The streets were totally deserted. Can you imagine New York City with nobody on the streets? Everybody stayed inside. Nothing was open.”
Cariati said she was relieved that they hadn’t been on the Ellis Island trip on Sept. 11.
“I’m glad it didn’t happen when we were on the ferry. We wouldn’t have gotten back to where we were going.”
The guests at the YMCA were from all over the world, she said.

LEBANON RESIDENT Madeleine Cariati holds a scrapbook of photos from her trip to New York City, where she was when terrorists struck the World Trade Center. She’s wearing a shirt she received from a company whose van gave her a lift on that day. (photo by Sarah Brown)

“One of the persons I saw was a man from overseas, who had been at the World Trade Towers. He had an injured knee, but he’d managed to make it back to the Y.”
She said cell phone towers, which had been on the World Trade Center, were down, so residents at the Y had to stand in line and wait to use a single landline to contact relatives.
“I was able to get in touch with my family pretty fast,” Cariati said. “They were glad to hear from me.”
At the Y, they laid low for a day until things started to open up again, Cariati said.
They eventually were able to go to a show and an opera.
“We did find the Tavern on the Green open, so we went there for a drink,” she chuckled.
She recalled seeing a giant poster of University of Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, a Heisman Trophy nominee that year, on display in Manhattan in his Ducks uniform.
“That made me feel at home,” she said. “A little touch of home.”
Elder Hostel staffers did their best to keep patrons occupied, even arranging a trip to Harlem.
“Nobody could get out of the city, so they did some things with us,” Cariati said.
Their stay extended a day or two beyond their original plans, she said, but once ground travel started moving, Cariati and Hopkins were able to secure the last two seats on a train headed west.
“AMTRAK gave us credit for our airline tickets,” Cariati recalled. “There were kindnesses.”
She said as they arrived at Penn Station for the trip home, they saw firefighters from across the nation arriving to help out in New York.
“I was so glad to get on that train and get out of there,” Cariati said. “We took it to Chicago and made it home. I was never so glad to see the Columbia [River]. I was like, ‘Yeah, almost home.’”

A tribute to John Lennon bears a scrawled note left after the attacks, reading: “We just should have listened to you. Love, U.S.”

“We were lucky,” Hopkins said. “We weren’t hurt. We got out of the area before it got too bad.”
Cariati said one thing that struck her was the kindness shown by the people of New York. She took down the name of the company that owned the van that gave her the lift back to her lodgings, Carleton Restoration.
“I sent them a box of chocolate-covered filberts, from Oregon, and they sent me back a shirt with their company name on it,” she said. “People were really just trying to help each other a lot. People were kind. That was a good example of the things that were going on.
“I think that’s important. I think our nation needs that kind of kindness right now.”