The World Trade Center Man: 21 years after 9/11

Harry John Roland, known as the World Trade Center Man, reflects on the Sept. 11 attacks and the impact the day has had on his life.

Edward Franco

Edward Franco, Video Director

Sept. 11 marks 21 years after the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and a field in Pennsylvania. Here at the September 11th Memorial and Museum, people have gathered this Sunday to honor those lives lost and look back at the past.

The ringing of the bells and the reading of the names happen every year during the commemoration ceremony on Sept. 11 as a tribute to those killed in the 9/11 attacks and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Washington Square News reporters captured the moments day by day in a city that still grieves. 

Next to 4 World Trade Center is the New York Fire Department’s Ten House, where I spoke to a former South Tower tour guide known as “The World Trade Center Man” who is there every day to talk about the area’s history, especially about Sept. 11, 2001.

“And that’s in the span of 20 minutes. First plane hit. Sixteen minutes, then comes the second plane. Now, the call goes out that both towers are hit. The main thing was — is another plane going to come? When the second plane hit, everything went out the window. The second plane was like ‘Woah!’ I ran like everyone else to the Brooklyn Bridge. I can’t even get to the bridge yet because it comes to a standstill getting to the river.” — Harry John Roland, The World Trade Center Man

After not being able to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, Harry was telling me that he found a ferry to get on and he recalled a conversation he had with the ferry’s captain.

“‘It’s [the tower] going to fall.’ And he goes, ‘Any minute now.’ When he pulls [the ferry] out, the building does come down and I see the dust cloud. The second tower would be the first tower to fall. And that’s where I tell you that it was confusing when it hit the building because most New Yorkers didn’t see the first tower. They [FDNY] got a call that there’s a fire.” — Harry John Roland, The World Trade Center Man

Many calls were made on that Tuesday in September. Two thousand nine hundred and seventy seven lives were lost that one day, though Harry emphasizes that many more died in the days and years afterward because of 9/11-related illnesses. Throughout all these years, he just asks for people to listen and learn, even as he wipes down the plaques honoring 343 fallen firefighters.

“I’ve been here for years. I could tell a guy. I holler for a dollar. I cry for a dime. All I ask for your time. All you got to do is listen to one of my rhymes.” — Harry John Roland, The World Trade Center Man

People all around the world have come here this Sunday to honor those lives lost. NYU members were also affected, as Washington Square Park is minutes away. From the National September 11th Memorial Museum, I’m Edward Franco reporting for Washington Square News.

Contact Edward Franco at [email protected].