Taken by Richard Drew in the moments after the September 11, 2001, attacks, it documents one person’s individual escape from the collapsing towers. The image was published in the New York Times, and other newspapers around the U.S., but backlash from readers forced it into obscurity. I had almost forgotten about it until the Don DeLillo Novel, Falling Man was published in 2007.
They began jumping not long after the first plane hit the North Tower, and kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped from the offices of Marsh & McLennan, the insurance company; from the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading company; from Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors—the top. For more than an hour and a half, they jumped.
At fifteen seconds after 9:41 a.m., on September 11, 2001, the Falling Man jumped too.
Falling Man’s identity is still unknown, but he is believed to have been an employee at the Windows on the World restaurant, which sat atop the north tower. Who was Falling Man? The only certainty we have is that at fifteen seconds after 9:41 a.m., on September 11, 2001, a photographer named Richard Drew took a picture of a man falling through the sky—falling through time as well as through space. The picture went all around the world, and then disappeared. Drew’s photograph, our photograph, became an unmarked grave, and the Falling Man became our generation’s Unknown Soldier. Richard Drew’s photograph is all we know of him, and yet his innocence reminds us of who we were then, and makes us reflect on who we are now. The picture is like the monuments dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers everywhere, it asks that we look at it, and that we remember.