Normal Library Collects, Shares Personal 9/11 Stories In New Exhibit
Everyone remembers where they were when they first heard about the 9/11 attacks in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
Some McLean County residents were deeply impacted by the terrorist attacks and the response that followed 20 years ago. Dozens of their stories are part of a new exhibit at the Normal Public Library.
Lindsey and Lou Mucciolo live in Normal. Twenty years ago, they lived in New York City. Lindsey Mucciolo worked at a bank next door to the World Trade Center. Lindsey said she walked through the World Trade Center every day, but she wasn't at work that day. She was on maternity leave for another week. She said their newborn may have saved her life.
“If I had not been on maternity leave, I would have been right there front and center and if I had just taken five minutes to buy a card or a book which I often did in the (World) Trade Center, I would have been there when the plane hit," Lindsey Mucciolo said.
The Mucciolos are two of more than 30 people from McLean County who shared their 9/11 stories as part of an oral history exhibit with the Normal Public Library and the McLean County Museum of History. The project shows that many who walk among us in McLean County were directly impacted by the events that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
Many of their stories detail the sorrow they felt after the attacks, but that sorrow was especially deep for the Mucciolos. They knew people who attended funerals for weeks as they said goodbye to loved ones.
Lou Mucciolo said they also noticed how quiet it was in New York for days after 9/11. They lived between LaGuardia and JFK airports and were used to a constant cacophony of planes going to and from. Air travel was shut down for days.
“It was very strange, very eerie to just have complete quiet and the occasional fighter jet come by, which was very memorable,” he said.
“For a city that never sleeps, the silence was deafening,” Lindsey Mucciolo added.
Rick Anhalt of Normal was one of those grounded pilots on 9/11. Anhalt landed in Madrid, Spain that morning. He flew a Boeing 767, the type of plane hijackers had targeted.
“We learned of 757, 767-type aircrafts being used as flying bombs and the entire crew knew it could have easily been us,” Anhalt said.
Anhalt said he figured then the flight crew members were surely the first to be killed and that he and colleagues were now on the front line of a new war. Anhalt said he was able to call home and tell loved ones back in Normal that he was OK.
Anhalt said 9/11 brought his family closer together “not only in relief and thanks for our good fortune, but also in learning again a whole new terrible way that each day is a gift.”
Anhalt spent five days in Spain before he was able to return home.
“He looked at my mom and I and he said ‘This is World War III.'"
Susan Woolen of Normal wasn't sure she would be able to make it home to San Antonio, Texas for her mother's graveside service the week after 9/11. But flights resumed just in time for her to get to Texas. Woolen’s father told her not to come if she wasn't comfortable flying, but Woolen said she felt safe.
“We said, ‘Dad it won’t be any safer than on Saturday to fly, if they allow flights to go, I will be safe. I’ll probably be safer on that Saturday than I will ever be flying on a plane,’” Woolen said.
Woolen recalled seeing the flight crew arrive at the St. Louis airport. She said people stood and applauded.
“It wasn’t because we could actually leave, I think it was because they were showing so much courage after part of their flight family had been murdered,” Woolen said.
Many who shared their 9/11 stories shared a sense of duty.
Leslie Gully of Normal was a high school senior on 9/11. She was home alone for the first time. Her parents were out of the country and her older sister was away at college. Gully and a friend didn't know what to do.
After the initial media reports linked 9/11 to the oil-rich Middle East, Gully said they decided to go fill their gas tanks.
“She got in my mom’s car and I got in my dad’s car and we drove to a gas station and there was a line,” Gully recalled. “We realized that everybody else had the same thought. We both got out of the car and I looked at each other (and thought) 'This is real.' Here we are standing in gas lines in America in 2001.”
Gully said when she got home, she dug the American flag out of their garage and put in on display.
Jackie Schneider of Normal said her father also decided to fly the stars and stripes when he heard about the terror attacks. Schneider said her father served in the Navy during World War II. She said when the second plane hit the Twin Towers, and it became clear this was no longer an accident, her father collapsed on the couch.
“There were tears in his eyes and there was a look of disbelief as if something in him just died,” Schneider recalled. “He looked at my mom and I and he said ‘This is World War III.’”
“As soon as I was away from work, I got back to my room and I couldn’t stop crying. I was just an emotional wreck."
War was certainly on the minds of those who were serving in the military in September 2001. Rebecca and Joey Brown of Normal were stationed at the Osan Air Base in South Korea. They had just started dating shortly before 9/11.
Rebecca Brown recalled it was late at night in South Korea when they heard about planes crashing into the Twin Towers. Rebecca and her crewmates huddled around the only television they could find.
“We all knew that it was not an accident. All of us were military and most of us were in intelligence, so we looked at each other, all went to our rooms, grabbed our gear and went in for a long night of work,” Rebecca Brown said.
Joey Brown said he worked about 30 hours straight before his boss ordered him to get some rest.
“As soon as I was away from work, I got back to my room and I couldn’t stop crying. I was just an emotional wreck,” Joey Brown recalled.
The Browns said the military base was on lockdown for three weeks. They had to wear chemical protection gear to go anywhere. Joey Brown said he felt American bonds strengthen with the Korean people in the days after 9/11. Brown said he and an Air Force buddy would frequent a convenience store when they'd go mountain biking, but after 9/11 they hadn't been there for weeks. When they returned, the Korean couple behind the counter pulled out a map of the U.S. and asked if their homes were safe.
“It was so touching that this couple that really didn’t know us learn some English so they could see if we are OK and if are families were OK,” said Joey Brown, adding many Koreans displayed American flags as a show of solidarity.
Lou and Lindsey Mucciolo said they felt the same way after 9/11 when they lived in Queens. They recalled families with heritage from all over the globe flying American flags as a show of patriotism.
Rick Anhalt of Normal said he remembers the shared sadness he felt after 9/11 when he was in Spain waiting to fly home. He said that sense of community is largely gone today. Anhalt, who is now retired, said too much of politics and so much of our everyday lives has become tribal.
“It’s not just Cubs versus St. Louis, sometimes it can be deadly. We are witnessing that 20 years later in the events of Afghanistan today,” Anhalt said.
Anhalt said it's important that we never forget what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
Exhibits like the one at the Normal Public Library are intended to make sure we don't forget.
Remembering 9/11 is on display at the Normal Public Library's art gallery through the end of September. The exhibit includes posters from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.
Visitors also are asked to write their 9/11 recollections on note cards that will be compiled and added to the exhibit. The library also has collected images of memorabilia the public has shared. They are available online.