Elsie Harris, New York City

Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.

Astoria, New York

Nothing keeps Elsie Harris, 82, from singing her heart out. The retired dressmaker and daughter of Russian immigrants was born in Brooklyn and grew up in an orphanage. Today, she lives in Astoria, Queens (one of the New York City boroughs). She and her first husband, who is now deceased, had one daughter, Barbara, and a son, Martin. Elsie is now married to Irving Harris, a native New Yorker and veteran of the entertainment industry. Elsie loves traveling, the theatre (especially “Madame Butterfly”), dancing, singing and simply being outside. When terrorists struck on Sept. 11, Elsie was at the doctor’s office on 72nd Street. She watched the horror unfold on a television and then wondered how she would get home. Irv hopped on a bus and came to her rescue. “We walked the streets all afternoon,” she said. “I couldn’t get home because the bridge was closed.” Elsie finally made it back to her apartment around 7 that night. She wrote her letter at the end of September.

Dear Jenna,

At a time like this, it’s a blessing to hear from loved ones. Forgive me for not writing about the disaster as you wrote about. It will take me forever to calm down.

I was close to the twin towers in comparison to Long Island, where your aunt lives. It happened downtown, and I was on 23rd Street. Your uncle was not allowed to go to his office, one block from the nightmare. There was no water or telephone or lights for three weeks. As I write this, he still could not go to his office. Thank God he was in court that morning and not near his office.

For miles around, whoever was near the towers either died or disappeared. The fire that burned is still burning. From the window, we saw the black smoke coming uptown. The ambulances roared back and forth with dead people. On 23rd Street, one could smell death. (I guess I wrote a little about it.)

Six thousand people were in the towers and I met so many people who lost someone. They hardly know how to clean up. It’s like no one has seen anything like this. Hundreds of funerals are going on all around.

You came up with a good idea putting words together about it. If you can, I would like to see one. Oct. 9, I will be 82 – this has aged me beyond my elder years. I’m afraid to ride the trains to get to my doctors. Life is completely turned upside down.

So sorry for this dismal letter. My heart aches for those lost souls.

All my love to you, Jenna,

Aunt Elsie


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