One of  many 20th anniversary commemorations, 9/11 Archives: “A Day Like No Other” offers unique insight. Firsthand accounts of National Archives staff in New York on 9/11 were originally published in the NARA employee newsletter. Now they have been released to the public in an article written by NARA staff members Victoria Macchi and Jessie Kratz.

“A Testament to That Day”

Robert C Morris, then director of NARA’s New York office, recalled arriving at work that day. NARA’ offices were located on the top floor of 201 Varick Street, a 12-story Federal building in the western part of Greenwich Village.

When I arrived just before 7:30, most staff members were already settling into their normal routines. For the next hour and a half they checked their email, re-shelved naturalization records, answered reference letters, and assisted researchers in the reading room.

At 8:34 I responded to an inquiry about the best date for a program review. Around 8:45, senior records analyst Karen Lucas began her records management workshop with a short instructional film.

“Then All Hell Broke Loose”

 9/11 Archives: “A day like no other”

An image taken from the building that housed the National Archives at New York City office on September 11, 2001. The original caption reads: “From the roof of 201 Varick Street, just one floor up from NARA’s office, archivist John Celardo captured the moment a hijacked airliner crashed into the second tower.” (Courtesy John Celardo/NARA)

A few minutes later, archivist John Celardo was putting the finishing touches on a genealogical inquiry: “Copies of the naturalization records you requested, along with a bill for…”

Then all hell broke loose.

In the stacks, archives technician Joe Majid heard an airplane overhead followed moments later by a loud rumbling. Karen Lucas saw a blinding white light through the drapes in the conference room. And when someone telephoned to say that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center, 20 blocks south of us, employees from all over the building began streaming to the café on our floor, where they could get an unrestricted view of lower Manhattan.

We were stunned by what we saw: Smoke billowing from 1 World Trade Center and a gaping hole toward the top of the building. Archivist Greg Plunges informed Karen Lucas what had happened, and she told the workshop participants. One person started screaming that it was a terrorist attack. Another turned on her portable television. People began asking if they were going to be dismissed.

John Celardo instinctively ran back to his office, grabbed our new digital camera, and headed for the roof. He snapped a few pictures, moving from one side of the building to the other to get the best shot. At 9:06, eighteen minutes after the first crash, three staff members saw a second jetliner fly directly into the other tower. With seven pictures still left in the camera, John captured the horrifying moment when a massive ball of orange flames erupted from 2 World Trade Center.

9/11 Archives: “A Day Like No Other”

The rest of this account of New York NARA staff documenting their experiences on 9/11 is available here.

John Celardo, who has since retired from the agency, has made 23 images he shot that day available to the public .

And here is a blog post about records lost on 9/11: