Who was the falling man from 9/11?
September 11, 2019 2:18 PM   Subscribe

"The Falling Man: An Unforgettable Story" by Tom Junod for Esquire [CW: pictures of the iconic falling man]

In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying. He appears relaxed, hurtling through the air. He appears comfortable in the grip of unimaginable motion. He does not appear intimidated by gravity's divine suction or by what awaits him. His arms are by his side, only slightly outriggered. His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually. His white shirt, or jacket, or frock, is billowing free of his black pants. His black high-tops are still on his feet […] He is, fifteen seconds past 9:41 a.m. EST, the moment the picture is taken, in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down. In the picture, he is frozen; in his life outside the frame, he drops and keeps dropping until he disappears
posted by Johnny Wallflower (63 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by katra at 2:40 PM on September 11


This photo showed up in my Twitter feed today and even though I’ve seen it before, I wasn’t ready for it today—I physically recoiled and gasped out loud. I wouldn’t have minded a warning first.
I’ve read the article in the past. It’s excellent but so tough. I can’t even imagine.
posted by bookmammal at 2:42 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


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posted by jquinby at 2:44 PM on September 11


His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually.

In this he always reminds me of the Hanged Man.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:54 PM on September 11 [50 favorites]


I work across the street and have to see people on fucking 9/11 tours daily. I get that people want to come and see it, and that part i dont really mind, even if it is grim as hell.

The tour guides who use (and sell) the glossy pamplets with images of burning buildings and aftermath, I wish they didnt fucking exist.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 3:04 PM on September 11 [23 favorites]


Double.
posted by scruss at 3:09 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


On 9/11/2001 I was woken up around 7am Pacific to a phone call from my mother, who was saying something about one of the Twin Towers falling over. I had no idea what she meant. I made my way to the TV and turned it on. I was frozen in front of it for hours, until they started showing footage of people jumping. That's when I turned it off.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:10 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


9/11 tourists (from which group I obviously exclude people with personal connections to the tragedy) are the worst. Vultures and ghouls.
posted by praemunire at 3:12 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Double.

From 13 years ago.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:14 PM on September 11 [8 favorites]


9/11 tourists are the worst

But at least they helped me contextualize my feelings about all the instagram influeners taking snaps at Auschwitz.

/s
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 3:16 PM on September 11 [9 favorites]


Heartbreaking.
posted by Splunge at 3:17 PM on September 11


I'm just really boggled by the family that would prefer their husband/father to have burned to death rather than jumped. Or that anything would be wrong with doing that. Religion has a lot to answer for.
posted by tavella at 3:17 PM on September 11 [43 favorites]


Also, this version of the story is from 2016, so it cannot be a double of a post from 2006.
posted by tavella at 3:20 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


It looks like Esquire has republished a 2003 story in 2016
posted by mbo at 3:32 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


[Y'all we're not gonna delete a 10+ year old double for doubleness in any case; let's not argue the details.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:38 PM on September 11 [18 favorites]


I feel horrible. I was driving to a doctor appointment and noticed all the flags at half-mast. I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until I got home and turned on NPR that I discovered it was 9/11.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:46 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


The documentary of this, and On Top of the World are the two 9/11 stories I've kept in my library.
posted by krisjohn at 3:48 PM on September 11


I made it about halfway through that story. There's a story to be told about tragedy and grief and how we collectively handle it. This was not that story.

There's another story to be told--and sorry if this is a derail--but it's one where the suppression of authentic grief and recovery left space for duplicitous actors to project their own false narrative onto the events of that day. We live in the shadow of that deceit, where the deaths on all sides are compounded daily.

America went mad in the aftermath of 9/11 and in the process we destroyed and are destroying everything we supposedly stand for. 9/11 is an ongoing tragedy and there seems to be no end in sight. We need to stand up and say, "Enough! No more!" Big swinging dicks cannot be the only possible response to acts of terror. Just to be practical, we should by now understand that it can never work anyway. I remember when we still had better angels we still sometimes (not often enough) listened to. Am I crazy to hope we will again someday?
posted by sjswitzer at 3:50 PM on September 11 [75 favorites]


I remember watching this happening and thinking "Head first. Fuck me. Head first." Props to the courage of that man, and fuck all the actors that caused him to have to make that choice.

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posted by Floydd at 3:55 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I doubt that guy woke up that morning with any intention of becoming iconic.
posted by otherchaz at 3:55 PM on September 11 [5 favorites]


I thought the family of this person didn't want this photo used anymore. Am I remembering something else?
posted by Glinn at 3:56 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


I won't click. You don't have to either. I remember seeing that photo exactly once, maybe a few months after the event, and I've never been able to un-see it.
posted by simra at 4:11 PM on September 11 [20 favorites]


... y'know, I'm definitely coming around to Jim Wright's view on this day, and this kinda post is maybe exactly why.
posted by Archelaus at 4:37 PM on September 11 [10 favorites]


Back in 2003 I was at a new job sharing an office with a guy I didn’t particularly like. I didn’t like him, but he was an interesting guy nonetheless. He had a side-gig as a broker of sorts for blood and blood products. Australia doesn’t export blood but the United States certainly does and this guy’s whole operation changed after 9/11. So many Americans donated blood in the aftermath that the US had a seemingly inexhaustible stockpile, a lot of which was exported overseas. Whenever some new horror emerges from the US I always remember how after they were attacked ordinary Americans donated so much blood that the rest of the world floated on an ocean of it for years afterward.
posted by um at 4:54 PM on September 11 [62 favorites]


Whenever some new horror emerges from the US I always remember how after they were attacked ordinary Americans donated so much blood that the rest of the world floated on an ocean of it for years afterward.

I'm going to be haunted by this phrasing for the rest of the day. Thank you. (I mean that sincerely.)
posted by sobell at 5:06 PM on September 11 [22 favorites]


I always read the Falling Man article on 9/11 anniversaries, and also this beautiful story about Father Mychal Judge.
posted by tizzie at 5:17 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


There's also this Rolling Stone article by David Foster Wallace about his experience on 9/11 in the Midwest.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 5:24 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


Father Mychal Judge

He was a dear, dear friend -- a surrogate parent for my adulthood. We talked every week for 22 years. I miss him so much.

18 years have gone by in a blink of an eye.
posted by jgirl at 6:05 PM on September 11 [43 favorites]


sjswitzer: America went mad in the aftermath of 9/11....

This. I'll be honest, I've been heads-down with work all day on purpose. Not because I don't care, I do. Those poor people, who went to work like all of us do and then were faced with the end of their lives and all the holes they were going to leave behind.

I weep for them every time I think of it, and if you don't well I don't want to know you.

But we f*cked this up on so many levels it's staggeringly depressing to consider. The terrorists got exactly what they wanted, a war. They got the means to recruit and fund and we're bombing hills in Afghanistan while Saudi Arabia sails on, powered with our gifts and weapons.

The good guys did not win. Chaos is winning, and we're leading the charge with bibles and flags and gerrymandering and an orange buffoon who at least restrains his more bloodthirsty minions more than Dubya did.

The baby boomers who sang "give peace a chance" howled for Muslim blood 30 years later, and boy did they get it but not much else.

Nothing to memorialize, nothing to celebrate except the end of the open world for everyone but dark web fascists and conglomerates.
posted by lon_star at 7:02 PM on September 11 [44 favorites]


This may, this will, be too much for some; but it's powerful and heartfelt -- a short narrative about that terrible day and the falling people, by Brian Doyle. I've always remembered hearing it read aloud and I remember it like I remember turning on the television and seeing the second tower falling each September 11. But Doyle's essay tries to find a moment of the tiniest redemption in the horror.
posted by slab_lizard at 8:53 PM on September 11 [5 favorites]


You may not have liked the what followed 9/11 but it was not “what the terrorists wanted.” Bin Laden wanted Jews out of Israel, the deposition of the gulf and peninsular monarchs and the Syrian and Lebanese regimes by Sunni extremists. He got none of this. He did not wars that ousted the Taliban, led to Iranian Shiite dominance of Iraq and killed hundreds of thousand of Sunni in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria - and he got all of those things.
posted by MattD at 9:04 PM on September 11


You may not have liked the what followed 9/11 but it was not “what the terrorists wanted.”

Oh, I curse George Bush and Dick Cheney and swear I can hear Bin Laden laughing from his watery grave every time I have to take off my shoes in the airport. Bin Laden exposed to the world the simultaneous cowardice and brutal blood thirst of Americans. The country may never recover.
posted by JackFlash at 9:18 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I'm definitely coming around to Jim Wright's view on this day, and this kinda post is maybe exactly why.

Jim Wright's view at Stonekettle Station.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:28 PM on September 11 [18 favorites]


In the picture, he is frozen

Photograph from September 11.
posted by hat_eater at 12:03 AM on September 12 [7 favorites]




The brother of my significant other at that time worked at Marsh & McLennan. I was on the phone with her before the South Tower fell, watching the television and describing what I was seeing. It was a pivotal year in her life; her sister-in-law is one of the more prominent 9/11 families advocates. I wasn't there or nearby, like some mefites were, and anything I've felt is nothing compared to what my former SO and her family felt and feel -- but, for me, this has always been very real in a personal way, at least as much or more than as a world historical tragedy. The jumpers in particular -- I've preferred to believe that he was killed instantly by the aircraft fuel explosion.

I have not sought these photos, they make me very uncomfortable, but I haven't especially felt that I had a moral responsibility to look away. I'd not read this piece before today, but now eighteen years later I find that I am persuaded by its argument. What was an entirely justified and reasonable desire to respect the dead and their families grew to become a kind of partial erasure of these victims and their particular experiences. We ought not be voyeurs to some horrors even as we have some responsibility to witness them. Or at the very least we ought not deny their existence.

I certainly don't endorse efforts to identify any particular individual. It's unfortunate that one photo became iconic because when we single out that one photo we end up facing the choice of either refusing to acknowledge that this is a specific person and therefore reduce him to a symbol, or to identity him and intrude excessively without necessity. But the same isn't true of all these videos and photos collectively -- we can acknowledge their existence, see them, without wholly appropriating a particular person's death.

Frankly, I think we have looked away from and denied these images mostly because we simply cannot bear to see them. It's about us, not them. But what makes these images so unbearable is precisely why, in some circumscribed but very real sense, they should be seen.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:07 AM on September 12 [5 favorites]


Wow, the Jim Wright piece linked here really struck me. There is a short story by South African author Nadine Gordimer, in which a wealthy white family living in post-apartheid South Africa puts up a barbed wire fence. They build a very secure perimeter, mainly of dangerous wire, around their home so to keep would-be attackers out. Their toddler is exploring the yard winds up tangled in the concertina wire; he dies graphically that way and the parents have lost everything that matters.

That's the image that I have had of my country since 2006 or so. I remember very little of the day, because my family didn't have a TV and we didn't watch the news in school. So the images aren't seared in my memory like they are for others. But I do remember my male classmates registering for the draft in the shadow of those wars. People cried about it. And the ones who joined up, packing off to kill and be killed in Iraq & Afghanistan based on our country's leadership lying to us about what it would take to keep us safe.

As an adult, on 9/11 I think mostly of the people in Afghanistan and Iraq whose lives we took or ruined.
posted by Emmy Rae at 5:52 AM on September 12 [10 favorites]


Thank you for posting the Jim Wright essay. I hadn't seen it and am glad I did. I feel like I should print it out and and add it to a personal book, along with The Sparta Fetish is a Cultural Cancer and a recent graphic essay on the military design aesthetic that I can't put my hands on right now.

The graphic essay might have shown up here - the artist traced the migration of the design elements that have crept their way from the hidden edges of the military (special forces, etc) to the deaths-head stickers and matte-black paint jobs that are a commonplace.
posted by jquinby at 6:50 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


The graphic essay might have shown up here - the artist traced the migration of the design elements that have crept their way from the hidden edges of the military (special forces, etc) to the deaths-head stickers and matte-black paint jobs that are a commonplace.

Yes, it was a FPP in the last year or two I think. I am not quickly finding the link, but someone will remember the right keywords for it.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:00 AM on September 12


Found it: About Face
posted by jquinby at 7:02 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


I've read that there were many who jumped, US media seems to have created a blackout on this. For me, it brings home the individual horrors for hose individuals. I can guess at the loss their families still feel.

I was been dragged to the site 2x on visits to New York. The 1st time, there were still posters up hoping to find news of the missing. To me, it's a cemetery and the site of a horrible change in the US, exploited mercilessly by the Far Right.
posted by theora55 at 7:18 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]


Poem: Photograph from September 11 by Wislawa Szymborska.

Used to read that to my middle school students on 9/11.

They got why the poem ends:
I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

posted by Peach at 7:19 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


The baby boomers who sang "give peace a chance"

The nomenclature "boomers" is convenient, ahistorical, reflexive prejudice just as lazy as the "millennial" nonsense. The specific cohort of people of a certain age who are foul, right-wing, ignorant jerks were much the same then, too, and anyway, it wasn't anything like you think it was.

The people who vilified Muslims after 9/11 were vicious and ignorant, and I know people like that. Of all ages.
posted by Peach at 7:28 AM on September 12 [6 favorites]


I saw something that said the best way to remember 9/11 is to live like it's 9/12. Something something unity.

I worked in the PVD train station at the time. 9/12 was the day the police arrived in SWAT gear and pulled a group of men off a train at gunpoint. Their crime? Being Sikh. Where was the unity for them? Where was the unity in the crowd of bloodthirsty white bystanders who screamed "Kill them!" as the handcuffed men were brought to the cars outside?

It's bullshit. And so I just avoid social media on 9/11 and avoiding the sometimes performative memorializing for only a certain subset of victims is my unity.
posted by Ruki at 7:33 AM on September 12 [9 favorites]


You may not have liked the what followed 9/11 but it was not “what the terrorists wanted.”

This may suprise you, but there are time scales longer than a presidential election cycle.
We might be startled about what things look like fifty years after AQ so precisely hit one of the US's many weak points.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:41 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


America went mad in the aftermath of 9/11

And never recovered.
posted by Billiken at 8:09 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


As with the 9/11 Museum, or any politician along any part of the ideological spectrum who speaks on this, or any media pundit or cheap journalist, any time I see FallIng Man reprinted or discussed, I choose to turn away from the act of exploitation in complete disgust.

The image I have burned into my memory remains indelible. I don't need to see it again, even if it captures America's own slow-motion suicide, since, in perfect fidelity.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 8:48 AM on September 12


Recovered to...what, exactly?
posted by agregoli at 8:50 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


I lived on Chambers St. then, and have some photos from the day that include falling people. It is so troubling to think of the circumstances that bring you there.
posted by snofoam at 10:09 AM on September 12


I understand the need to excoriate those who used 9/11 as an excuse for war profiteering and racially based hatred and all of the other evils we inflicted on the world. I just feel it needs to be asked: How could we as a nation have reacted any other way? How does a nation prepare itself for such a singular psychic trauma? I'm sure many will disagree with this notion or dismiss it as pathetic excuse-making. Those who do may be right. I just think a blanket self-indictment of our reaction to 9/11 lacks a necessary nuance.

I also thought the article was a gripping read and well written. YMMV.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 10:56 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


I just feel it needs to be asked: How could we as a nation have reacted any other way? How does a nation prepare itself for such a singular psychic trauma?

I don't understand this question. There are many many people who did not react to 9/11 with violent racism/Islamophobia, plenty of people who did not decide to become mindless jingoists, plenty of people who reacted by trying to strengthen their communities rather than cast people out. Why do you think the shittiest of us should get to dictate "the national reaction?"
posted by praemunire at 11:11 AM on September 12 [16 favorites]


Well, since I started it, I'll bite. It's also clear that 9/11 brought out the best in America. The selfless heroism of the first responders, the blood drives, Father Mychal Judge, all described above. And the fleeting feeling that we were pulling together in horror, but also out of deep concern for the victims, their families, and the people who risked life and limb to help. There was even a brief moment where we calmly considered how to best respond, and honest pleas not to scapegoat innocent immigrants. Personal anecdote, I feel that the event even transformed New York City from a brusk, unfriendly hubbub to one of the friendliest cities in America. Visiting several years afterward, I was surprised at how many people would stop and, for instance, volunteer subway directions. Little things, but I could scarcely recognize it from a decade earlier.

It's fair to say that the events of that tragic day brought out our best and, ultimately, our worst. It's indecorous to dwell on the worst, perhaps, but we now live in the aftermath and the worst is mostly what we're left with.
posted by sjswitzer at 11:18 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]


For me the sight of falling people on 9/11 is singularly repellent, not because of any moral failing on the part of the fallen or any desire to erase them or that event from history, but because that event - a person forced to make an unthinkably horrible decision to choose the least worst way to die - is so intensely personal and private and incomprehensibly awful, despite having taken place in the public eye, that IMO we do the dead a grave disservice by looking. That the titular image of the falling man is described in terms of symmetry and symbolism and photographic greatness is, to me, vulgar and completely lacking in empathy. This is not a dead body, devoid of life, or a shot of a person alive and well moments before their death - this is a person in the process of dying. What good does it do, what value does it bring to the world to remember not the person, but the garish spectacle of their unthinkable descent? What virtuous behaviors or emotions do those images galvanize in the public spirit?
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:27 PM on September 12 [12 favorites]


Last week it occurred to me that it’s been 18 years - so much has happened in the interim yet that day and the weeks and months that followed are there beside me every time I so much as turn my head. 18 years and yet it’s still right there. Last summer we went back to NYC with our kids and, at their behest we went down to the site. It was a fucking nightmare, frankly - a quiet, touristy, crowded respectful nightmare. A couple days later at dinner with friends (with whom we lived through those days) I mentioned the memorial and the whole ... just how fucking terrible it was ... and had anyone else been down there? ‘No’ came the answer, ‘I already fucking lived through it once why would I want to go back?’
The people jumping is one horror, among many from that time that I just can’t shake. For all the time that’s passed, it’s really no time at all.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:28 PM on September 12


I just feel it needs to be asked: How could we as a nation have reacted any other way?

By asking why someone would attack us in this manner and what we could do to keep people from feeling like attacking us like this. To explain the attacks, not to excuse them. All we got was "they hate our freedoms" when Osama bin Laden specifically listed the motives for the attacks:
  • U.S. support of Israel
  • support for the "attacks against Muslims" in Somalia
  • support of Philippines against Muslims in the Moro conflict
  • support for Israeli "aggression" against Muslims in Lebanon
  • support of Russian "atrocities against Muslims" in Chechnya
  • pro-American governments in the Middle East (who "act as your agents") being against Muslim interests
  • support of Indian "oppression against Muslims" in Kashmir
  • the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia
  • the sanctions against Iraq
Of course not all of those are due to the US, but many of them are. We should at least examine the (possibly unintended) impacts and consequences of our actions overseas.

A two-state solution that guaranteed the security of Israel and Palestine would remove one motive. Cutting ties with Saudi Arabia, the repressive jihadi-training country where most of the attackers came from, would address another. And we did withdraw our troops from Saudi Arabia. Instead, bin Laden said the West was at war against Islam and we played right into his hands by invading Iraq on false reasons.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:42 PM on September 12 [8 favorites]


The article has a focus on the idea that jumping was shameful, or something to be denied - and that I cannot understand. It's an entirely rational choice, or a desperate grasp at a wished-for-hope for survival. You can contrast that with the Triangle Shirtwaist fire nearly a century earlier - there is nothing made shameful or unmentionable about the people who jumped from that fire and died. What changed in that time?
posted by Vortisaur at 1:31 PM on September 12 [6 favorites]


sjswitzer: Am I crazy to hope we will again someday?

Yes. We've all read about the impossibility of convincing humans to change their minds by presenting them with facts that contradict what they believe, when what they believe is all lies. There's no coming back from where we are now, especially since we've had 15+ years of social media where fiction is indistinguishable (and arguably more convincing) than truth. America is the bad joke That One Relative tells every year on Thanksgiving except every year it gets more and more racist, sexist, homo-and-xenophobic, and just plain uglier.

You can recover a nation from blind, uneducated ignorance. You can't recover a nation from willful, purposeful ignorance funded by the Koch Brothers, preached by the Republican Party, and spread far and wide by Fox News. We're done.
posted by tzikeh at 3:22 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


tzikeh: There are still more of us than them. We just need some backbone and some faith in the next generation. (Also, we need to not screw over the next generation.)
posted by sjswitzer at 3:59 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


I just feel it needs to be asked: How could we as a nation have reacted any other way?

I look to Norway's handling of its right-wing terrorist mass murderer and the aftermath as evidence that there are different ways to be. We chose to respond with murder and rape and atrocities and war crimes, and we continue to make that choice today. It was not inevitable.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 4:49 PM on September 12 [7 favorites]


The people who vilified Muslims after 9/11 were vicious and ignorant, and I know people like that. Of all ages.

You're right - too broad of a brush there. I should have not been so specific. I didn't mean just the hippies or counter-culture types.

I just watch those old news stories and documentaries and news stories from the 1960s and 1970s, showing people of that generation after the sentiment had turned against the war talking about there was no point in American involvement in Vietnam, why are we fighting there with people we have no quarrel with....

and wonder how many of them - how many of all of them - voted for Bush in 2004 when we knew that war was a lie and quietly drove around with those "Support Our Troops" magnetic yellow ribbons, quickly taking them off after Abu Ghraib.

Time makes hypocrites of us all, I suppose.
posted by lon_star at 8:13 PM on September 12


Every word of this story was beautiful. It reminded me of the previous post about the nurse encountering anti-vax parents giving birth in the hospital. It is always worth remembering that everyone has their own, intensely personal experience of the events that shape their lives. To some of us, at a remove from the actual events and families, it's a metaphor or cause for a national impact. But I really appreciated the focus the article put on the families. Grace indeed.
posted by wnissen at 9:00 AM on September 13


I thought this was a good article, no matter when it was from. 9/11 doesn't seem so long ago, but long enough ago that I was shocked that was a digital photograph.

Sometimes I wonder how it compares with Pearl Harbor. Obviously more of a traditional war, but a similar size attack. We did seem to go a bit insane after that, or at least a little extra racist and bloodthirsty: internments, firebombing, nuclear bombs. The war was long since over in 1959, but I'd guess there were still plenty of raw feelings. We didn't have a national investigation into the internments until 1980, and didn't apologize until 1988. So if that's any guide, we've got a while left before we get over 9/11.
posted by netowl at 10:01 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


sjswitzer: tzikeh: There are still more of us than them.

Vote-wise, there are at minimum three million more. It doesn't do any good.

We just need some backbone and some faith in the next generation.

Sorry, have you not looked at the faces in the Charlottesville march? That's the next generation.
posted by tzikeh at 8:03 PM on September 14


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