9/11 Survivor Allison Gilbert On The New September 11 Museum And Covering Catastrophe

The Irvington resident recounts that infamous Tuesday and her impressively generous book.

From almost any spot at Scenic Hudson Park I can see where I nearly died on 9/11. The scene is often unavoidable for me: I live in Irvington and during baseball season that’s where I go to watch my son play home games for his Middle School team. With my back to the Hudson, I wouldn’t trade the view for the world.

Nearly thirteen years ago, I was a producer at WNBC-TV and was sent to Lower Manhattan. At 10:28am, when the second tower collapsed, I was thrown to the ground by a torrent of glass and macerated cement. The dust cloud made it impossible to see. My mouth filled with soot. I was certain I’d never see my son again. When I’d bolted out the door that Tuesday morning to do my job, our babysitter was feeding him blueberries one by one in his high chair. He was 18 months old. 

An emergency responder pulled me from the rubble and soon a triage tag hung around my neck. That triage tag is now on display at the new National September 11 Memorial Museum, which opened to the public Wednesday.

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It’s a humbling experience having your story be part of a museum. My tale, after all, is no more important than anyone else’s, especially—and most strikingly—the nearly 3,000 people who died. But I agreed to tell my story because I needed what happened to me to have some sort of meaning. It’s the same urgency that propelled me to co-edit the book Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11, donating all the proceeds to September 11-related charities, and collaborate with the US State Department to turn the book into a documentary. It’s also why I agreed to record my oral history for the museum and lent my voice to its official audio tour. I got to see the triage tag again Monday night when collection donors were invited to the museum for an advance look. It’s been placed in the section of the museum devoted to the horrors of the day—behind glass, with a written portion of my 9/11 story to the left of it.   

I also want my near-death experience to preserve the history of the attacks. It’s the same desire, I imagine, that convinced so many survivors and victim families to donate their objects to the museum, too—bloodied high-heel shoes; shirts covered in ash; a wrist watch. These objects tell the painful story of 9/11 and will enable this day to be remembered for generations to come. And it’s why, timed to the opening, all publishing rights to Covering Catastrophe have been transferred to the Museum. The goal: to financially support the Memorial Museum so its programs, exhibitions, and research can continue in perpetuity. 

All of this means my view at Scenic Hudson has shifted over the years. When I now look South, I’m no longer consumed by flashbacks of being taken to the hospital and doctors putting tubes down my throat. By giving back to the Museum, I’ve altered my post-9/11 perspective: I allow myself to see a city rising. I give myself permission to witness an island rebuilding. And I know, in some very small way, what happened to me did matter.

Read further: Westchester Magazine Interviews Families Of Westchester County’s 9/11 Victims On The 10-Year Anniversary Of The Attacks

Allison Gilbert is the author of “Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children,” winner of the 2013 Washington Irving Book Award, and “Always Too Soon: Voices of Support for Those Who Have Lost Both Parents.” She is co-editor of “Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11.” Like Allison on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @agilbertwriter.


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