When terrorists struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 a small fleet of boats on a rescue mission converged on lower Manhattan. In one of the less told stories of 9/11, on those vessels—which ranged from ferries to tug boats to boats that host dinner cruises—mariners carried to safety almost half a million people.
Saved at the Seawall: Stories From the September 11 Boat Lift (Cornell UP, 2021) by Jessica DuLong with a foreword by Mitchell Zukoff, tells their story.
DuLong brings to this book her own skills as a journalist and her experiences as the chief engineer on the 1931 New York City fireboat John J. Harvey, a historic preservation project that was called back into service on September 11 to fight the fires around the World Trade Center.
Saved at the Seawall is more than a book about September 11. It is a story of work, New York Harbor, and how the skills and mindsets that mariners developed over many years were summoned up on a terrible morning. Together, they pulled off the largest waterborne evacuation in history—larger than the evacuation at Dunkirk in World War II.
Drawing on her own experiences, her reporting and the writing of Rebecca Solnit, DuLong argues that the story of the maritime rescue operations on September 11 is not one of heroes or superhuman powers, but of “pragmatism, resourcefulness and simple human decency.” The mariners who stepped up in the middle of the catastrophe, she concludes, embodied the best of our individual and collective possibilities.
Robert W. Snyder, Manhattan Borough Historian and professor emeritus of American Studies and Journalism at Rutgers University-Newark, is the author of Crossing Broadway: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York (Cornell) and co-author of All the Nations Under Heaven: Immigrants, Migrants and the Making of New York (Columbia.) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert W. Snyder, Manhattan Borough Historian and professor emeritus of American Studies and Journalism at Rutgers University. Email: email@example.com.