Day of tears and terror


Marcie Donohue averted her face as a kindergarten class passed her in the corridor of P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen School, holding hands and smiling. She had just heard that the second tower of the World Trade Center had collapsed. She didn’t want the children to see her cry.

Hundreds of families hovered by their telephones, praying for a call from a loved one who worked downtown. At P.S. 7 Spuyten Duyvil, Herb Barret was manning a polling place, his Walkman glued to his ear.

His 43-year-old son works for Chase Manhattan Bank on Wall Street. Tears blurred his vision as he took off his headphones.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t listen anymore.”

From the streets of Riverdale, the day was bright, the sky blue. The black smoke of terror rising from the television seemed worlds away. But Riverdale was not exempt from fear.

At the Three Counties Tavern in Kingsbridge, the patrons had come to watch the tragedy together, not to drink.

“The scariest thing is this is where the highest Jewish area is,” Gary Gray said. “Riverdale. they are going to come up here sooner or later.”

Police placed a guard on every local Jewish house of worship, but despite the fears, all of them were quiet. Students of the Yeshiva of the Telshe Alumni played a desultory game of basketball outside their school building on Henry Hudson Parkway on Tuesday afternoon.

Rabbi Stephen Franklin scheduled a special service for Riverdale Temple on Wednesday to pray for the dead and injured.

“We can only pray because we don’t even know what other challenges we should expect,” he said. “Hatred is dividing the world.”

Shortly after 9 a.m., on Tuesday at the West 238th Street subway station, disgruntled commuters filed down the stairs, shaking their heads and complaining about train service. Then they heard the news.

“It’s not safe to go anywhere anymore,” said Geanina Chauca, a student at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, as she learned she was stranded miles from her home in Brooklyn.

Groups of Manhattan College students congregated along Broadway, wondering how they would get home. The school canceled classes and hosted an afternoon prayer service in their stead.

“Today it was them. Tomorrow it could be you,” said Malik Santos, 19, as he contemplated walking home to Manhattan.

Supermarkets appeared to be doing a brisk but normal business, however. Shop Rite was brimming with shoppers, and at the Food Emporium, people standing on line leafed through Mademoiselle and Vogue, talking of gridlock in Manhattan as though this were a day when the president had come to town.

Throughout the day, parents streamed to local schools. At M.S./H.S. 141 David A. Stein Riverdale School, many embraced their children, thankful to have them back. Parents seemed more business-like at P.S. 24 and P.S. 81.

Donohue was one of many parent volunteers who offered to help at the schools — schools which were instructed to stay open to care for children whose parents were stranded and unable to get them. School buses were instructed not to drop off children unless a parent was there to meet them. Evening and after-school programs were canceled.

At Keenan’s Bar on Broadway, bartender Dan Duffy said people had been filing in and out all day to watch the television. He said the patrons had been crying.

“They just want for people they know to call home,” he said. “Some of their sons are down there. Nobody knows right now what’s gonna happen next.”

Originally published Sept. 13, 2001