Holding on to 9/11

A September morning became a living nightmare. A collective memory began to grow, a mix of shock, sadness and anger. Here — more than 2,400 miles from New York City, Washington, D.C., or Pennsylvania — there was little to do but watch.

On Sept. 11, 20

01, and in the dark days that followed, some gathered more than awful memories. They saved newspapers and magazines. Driven to do more, others wrote poetry or attended memorial events.

Nancy Gunderson bought so many newspapers, magazines and 9/11 commemorative books after the attacks that

her husband, Burt, bought her a gun safe for storage. A family with a long history of military service, their home near Lake Stevens is decorated with American flags, veterans’ photographs and other symbols of patriotism.

Their daughter Aimee, now 31, was in the Air Force in 2001.

“She was a surveillance technician on an AWACS plane,” said Burt Gunderson, who served in the Army in Vietnam. Their daughter flew after the attacks, when no commercial planes were flying. “She was in the air that night and said it was the most eerie feeling,” Burt Gunderson said.

Nancy Gunderson began her 9/11 newspaper collecting as soon as she finished work that day. She works for the Arlington School District.

Now she has scrapbooks filled with newspaper articles and photos describing 9/11 and its aftermath. Scrapbook pages trimmed with red, white and blue stickers and ribbons tell a comprehensive story. It includes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I’m making history books,” Nancy Gunderson said. She hopes they will be appreciated by her children Aimee, Aaron and Heidi, and by her grandchildren. “I want them to remember what this country went through,” she said. “To me, this was therapy.”

Every year on Sept. 11, Burt and Nancy Gunderson wave American flags from an I-5 overpass near Dagmar’s Landing in north Everett. “People honk and salute,” she said.

Written chronicles

Many readers contacted The Herald to say they saved copies of newspapers, Time, Newsweek and People magazines, and books chronicling the attacks.

Jo Sunderlage, of Lynnwood, has had kept a Sept. 24, 2001, People magazine on her coffee table shelf for a decade. Its stunning cover shows smoke rising from the first World Trade Center tower that was hit as a plane approaches the second tower.

In 2001, Sunderlage was working in Seattle’s tallest high-rise, the Columbia Center. She remembers the silence of passengers on her bus that morning. “Was there a plane heading for Seattle? It was unsettling,” she said. The Columbia tower closed that day. Sunderlage said she went home, “unable to stop watching.”

Collage of images

Bill Brightwell was in the Navy and working on Guam on Sept. 11, 2001. As threat alert levels were raised “way up” on U.S. bases, he said, “it was a long day.”

He later worked at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. That’s where he acquired a collage of Sept. 11 photographs. Brightwell got the 3-foot-tall collage from a photo lab that was closing at the Whidbey base. He displays it near a flagpole outside his Lake Stevens home every year on Sept. 11. “A lot of people have seen it. They all love it,” Brightwell said.

Special keepsake

Everett’s Anne Solle Stearns saved nine copies of Time, Newsweek and People magazines from the weeks after 9/11.

The keepsake that really tugs at her heart is a snow globe from a Macy’s store. She bought it in June 2001 when she was in New York for her daughter Carrie’s graduation from Cornell University.

It plays the song “New York, New York” and shows the city skyline. “And of course this beautiful globe features the twin towers — how sad to see,” Stearns said.

Up in the towers

Betsy Haber, of Monroe, kept a Sept. 24, 2001, issue of The New Yorker. Its stark cover shows a black background with an even blacker silhouette of the lost towers.

A former New Yorker, Haber also has an amazing memory. When the towers were under construction, she had a friend working as a night security guard at the site. “They were 50 or 60 stories at the time, just a frame and an elevator,” Haber said.

The friend asked if she wanted to go up. “We only went up about 20 floors. I was scared to death,” she said. “It was a terrible feeling to be up high in an open structure. I couldn’t take it.”

Kindness of Londoners

Joann McDevitt has a copy of London’s Daily Telegraph from Sept. 11, 2001. The Bothell woman and her husband, John, were in London after a monthlong visit to Ireland. Her British newspaper has the headline “Attack on America.” McDevitt said they were about to travel to France via the Chunnel when they heard the news. They didn’t go.

“I was so impressed with the Londoners, how empathetic they were. They kept coming up to us to say, ‘We’re so sorry,’ ” she said.

Their flight home was delayed a day, and they had to return through Vancouver, B.C., instead of Seattle.

Thankfulness and remorse

Sandra Tanis also saved newspapers. And on the first anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, she took a red, white and blue flower arrangement she made to a Lynnwood fire station. The Lynnwood woman wanted to show appreciation and acknowledge the loss of firefighters on 9/11.

Dennis Vannoy, of Granite Falls, wrote a poem on Sept. 12, 2001. Called “Goodbye,” it is written from the perspective of someone who didn’t make it out of the towers. It ends with “these are the last words of my life.”

He sent his poem to Rudolph Giuliani, then New York’s mayor, to President Barack Obama on Inauguration Day in 2009, and to several other officials. Their letters thanking him are among his 9/11 keepsakes.


Avril VanderMerwe, a native of South Africa who lives in Edmonds, took pictures at a memorial event at the Seattle Center shortly after the attacks. Her photos show police cars and the International Fountain covered with flowers and balloons.

She also wrote a poem, titled “America Rising.” Her words capture a nation’s heartbreak: “Dark mourning’s bells are tolled: The knells to loves and lives untold.”

Sunderlage can’t bring herself to recycle that decade-old People magazine.

“Evil in our own country — we will never forget,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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