By Austin Steiner
More than a decade ago, on September 11, American lives were forever changed. The events of that fateful day have resonated with the American spirit and have continued to be a controversial topic for those of different perspectives. Documentaries and third party investigations have bombarded the public with political and moral questioning.
A 2006 documentary, “9/11 – The Falling Man,” directed by Henry Singer, depicted how press editors handled this tragedy. As memories of survivors and heroes are often recounted, it is those tragedies of a smaller scope that disappear into history. This is the story of those courageous people who were determined to choose their own fates and refused to be defined by the horrifying attacks.
One photograph became a symbol for all: a man shown plummeting to his certain death, hands down at his sides, head first. The image ran in newspapers and magazines throughout the country and was rightfully named “The Falling Man.” The Morning Call, of Allentown, Pa., printed it as a large image covering half of a page. This caused an outrage from citizens all across the Lehigh Valley.
That day, Michael Hirsch, a business editor at The Morning Call, strongly voiced his opinion as to why the image should be printed. He remembered the open staff discussion was incredibly passionate, as his colleagues disagreed about the picture. Was the picture too gory to show? Or does it fully encompass the situations those people faced? Ultimately the photo was printed, and consequently received one of the largest reader responses he has seen in his 13-year career. Still poised to this day, Hirsch has backed his opinion, noting that it fully grasped the day’s emotions and events.
It is estimated that around 200 people fell or jumped to their death that day. Some attempted to reach the ground with makeshift parachutes, as others tried crawling down concrete columns before losing their grip. Another picture shows a pair taking the fall together, hand in hand. No matter how or why these people chose to jump, they carry a common theme: hope.
Although the illustrious “falling man” has never been officially identified, it is believed to be Jonathan Briley, a sound engineer, who worked on the 106th floor of the North Tower.
Responding to questions of her late brother, his sister Gwendolyn said “People have to get over wondering who this man was; he’s everybody.”
He represents something more than a final stand or a single death of the almost 3,000 who perished.
Even though the jumpers have largely been airbrushed from history, their actions have represented 9/11 and events proceeding the attacks. Americans have refused to give up hope in the face tragedy. As painful as they are to view, these pictures represent a resilient attitude, one that showcases fearlessness in the presence of death and destruction.