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Long Read of the Century: The Falling Man by Tom Junod

Do you remember this photograph? In the United States, people have taken pains to banish it from the record of September 11, 2001. The story behind it, though, and the search for the man pictured in it, are our most intimate connection to the horror of that day.

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. In all the other pictures, the people who did what he did—who jumped—appear to be struggling against horrific discrepancies of scale. They are made puny by the backdrop of the towers, which loom like colossi, and then by the event itself. Some of them are shirtless; their shoes fly off as they flail and fall; they look confused, as though trying to swim down the side of a mountain. The man in the picture, by contrast, is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the buildings behind him. He splits them, bisects them: Everything to the left of him in the picture is the North Tower; everything to the right, the South. Though oblivious to the geometric balance he has achieved, he is the essential element in the creation of a new flag, a banner composed entirely of steel bars shining in the sun. Some people who look at the picture see stoicism, willpower, a portrait of resignation; others see something else—something discordant and therefore terrible: freedom. There is something almost rebellious in the man’s posture, as though once faced with the inevitability of death, he decided to get on with it; as though he were a missile, a spear, bent on attaining his own end. 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…

RTWT: Who Was the Falling Man from 9/11? – Falling Man Identity Revealed

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ghostsniper September 13, 2020, 4:21 AM

    This is one of those strange places where I can’t seem to go, when I think about it I can only go so far then I hit that brick wall, mentally speaking. Being in the position, maybe a thousand feet up, where the smoke, heat, and flame is so intense that jumping out the window to certain death is preferable.

    I’ve heard there are circumstances where death is preferable, like intense and sustained very painful torture, or an attack by large violent carnivores. Maybe that is the way the jumpers seen their position. I always try to see at least 3 steps ahead so being caught in such a way is sort of incomprehensible to me. What a horrifying place to be. Just guessing, the jumpers achieved a few seconds of calming peace from their torture, before the end. shudder

  • Kevin in PA September 13, 2020, 4:56 AM

    Yeah, shudder!
    It’s an awful thought to contemplate and you sure wouldn’t want to be in the position of having to decide.

    The authors point about “looking at” and facing the horror is an interesting thing to consider as well.
    Are the photographs necessary in order for us to remember? Maybe not, but they add a dimension to our ability to comprehend the situation that certainly strikes at one’s heart and soul. Perhaps the visual effect is helpful to sear into the national collective memory.

    It was a long read though.

  • tired dog September 14, 2020, 4:52 AM

    I despise the ‘censors’ who decided that we shall never see the horrors of this day and removed from view and from memory those who stepped out into eternity.
    Know the horror, know your enemy. Prevail.
    Godspeed

  • Tom Hyland September 14, 2020, 9:59 AM

    @ tired dog…. The “censors” wouldn’t let us see Osama bin Laden with a bullet through his forehead because it was too icky. The American people couldn’t have handled the shock. The emotional fabric of the nation would have come unravelled. The entire day of 9/11 was susposedly orchestrated by OBL, a guy living on kidney dialysis somewhere in a cave in Afghanistan. We WERE allowed to see Ghadafi stabbed to death on the hood of a pickup truck and we WERE allowed to see Saddam Hussein drop through the gallows floor on the end of a rope… because those events actually happened. The OBM whacking in Islamabad was a hoax. About a month later a bunch of Navy Seal Team members were about to blow the whistle on that farce and they got obliterated in a helicopter explosion. Here’s the actual official story of 9/11 as we were told. Watch this 5 minute film and see if you can believe anything at all.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZhIO2KXEeE

  • wmprof September 15, 2020, 12:36 PM

    Tom,

    Moon landing, OK City, 9/11, etc.. Hard to know what to believe isn’t it?

    I watched 9/11 in real time, so tend to take the official story. Not much that happens these days is represented correctly. This keeps up, I’ll have to go back to being a religious zealot. Only place the truth actually exists.

    Will be more fun to slaughter the progressives if I image it is a religious war and I am slaughtering worshipers of Moloch. Oh, wait…