Michael Walton and Kristen Kupniewski both live in Port Richmond. They’re in the same place now, but 12 years ago, they weren’t. Each was mired, on a September morning in 2001, in separate situations some 90 miles apart.
Walton was here, in Philadelphia. The 57-year-old chief of Mayor Michael Nutter’s security team was a police sergeant on duty the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was assigned to an undercover detail in Center City.
Kupniewski was in Manhattan, only four blocks from where the World Trade Center towers fell. She said she heard the rumble of the second tower fall from within the building where she worked.
They are bound, like all Americans, by their experiences that fateful day more than a decade ago.
Kupniewski is originally from Port Richmond. She moved to Brooklyn, she told Star in a phone interview last week, when she got a finance job at Brown Brothers Harriman in Lower Manhattan, in October of 2000.
By the time Kupniewski got to work on Sept. 11, the plane had hit the first tower. She didn’t know yet, she said, what was going on — she only heard snippets of conversation from passerby.
“When I got off the train, you could already see papers blowing around, everyone was freaking out,” she said.
Once she got into her office, Kupniewski said, everyone was still there. A company head told employees he was staying at work, and that the company was concerned people could be walking into yet another attack if they left the building. Kupniewski decided to stay.
Because of that, she said, her experience of 9/11 is “a lot different” — she didn’t know much of what was going on outside.
“We had a TV that only got one channel; we were getting such bits and pieces of info. We couldn’t see out the window, everything was dust-covered,” she aid.
Once she left her office at about 2 p.m., when a coworker offered to drive her home, Kupniewski was stopped by firemen on the street asking where she was heading. She explained her group was trying to drive back home to Brooklyn.
“The fireman said, ‘If you can get your car out of here in the next month, that would be a good thing,’” Kupniewski said. She was directed to take a ferry home. When the boat docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Kupniewski said the passengers were greeted there by more than 100 hospital workers with wheelchairs.
“I don’t think they knew what state people were going to be in, coming off that boat from the city,” she said.
Kupniewski said because she stayed in her building, she avoided much of the chaos of the attacks. She said she felt a lot safer in her building than if she had tried to go home.
“I honestly didn’t realize what had happened until I got home and saw it on TV, which is good — I probably would have had a heart attack.”
In the months following 9/11, Kupniewski said the city was “depressing.”
“When I went back to work, there was soot everywhere, you could still smell the burning. It made me so depressed, I couldn’t stay there,” he aid.
Kupniewski moved back to Philadelphia in 2009. She now works for the Department of Defense at a Navy base in the Northeast.
“It’s a very sad day for me,” Kupniewski said of 9/11. “You remember exactly where you were at what time. I don’t really watch the news coverage of it. I was in New York a few weeks ago, actually, but I can’t go into the memorial [the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at Ground Zero]. It’s something you never forget.”
She said that in Philadelphia, 9/11 memorial and remembrance events have “tapered off.”
“I remember the 10-year anniversary [of the attacks] in Philly was kind of a big deal. People of course remember it, but I don’t know if [attention to the anniversary] is as prevalent as it was in the beginning.”
Port Richmond’s Walton, who grew up in Kensington, is one of a group of individuals working to change that.
Search online for “Philadelphia 9/11 memorial,” and the first search result takes you to a webpage for a group of people who are working to construct the city’s second 9/11 memorial — the first was dedicated last year along the banks of the Schuylkill River, near the Chestnut Street Bridge. That memorial showcases a piece of a beam from one of the towers.
The potential second memorial, co-founded by World Trade Center First Responder Steven R. Saymon and Jeffrey Little, would be called “Mending Liberty,” and would be constructed in Franklin Square, not far from Northern Liberties and Fishtown. It would comprise a half-size replica of the Liberty Bell, hung between two marble columns representing the former Twin Towers.
A section of a World Trade Center beam, a limestone block from the Pentagon, and soil and stone artifacts from near the Flight 93 crash area would be included in the memorial.
World Trade Center steel would be “molded” into the crack of the replica bell — the concept being that the World Trade Center is “mending” the cracked bell.
Walton is a state registered architect and design consultant working on the project.
On Sept. 4, the Philadelphia Art Commission rejected the design of the memorial. Its fate is currently unclear. Walton wouldn’t discuss the project’s future in detail when he spoke to Star on the phone last week, but he did discuss its concept.
“It’s the concept of remembering all the sacrifices that have been made, and the ongoing struggle since that day,” Walton said. “It’s brining some recognition to the people who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and the continuing sacrifice of the men and women in all branches of the service.”
Walton recalls the chaos of Sept. 11, 2001, here in Philadelphia. He was posted at the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge, on the Philadelphia side, to make sure no one came into Center City.
“I can remember seeing the collapse of the tower on TV. I can still see it, it took my breath away. I remember the first thing I said was, ‘All those police and firemen were killed. Turned out it was true,” Walton said.
“It’s been 12 years and it’s still going on,” Walton said, referring to ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “God know if it will ever end.”
Kupniewski said she would welcome a second memorial in the city.
“If it had names [of those who lost their lives] on it, I could appreciate it. But if it had pictures,” she said, “I can’t look.”
“[The memorial] is just something that we’re trying to let people understand,” Walton said. “When New York was attacked, Philadelphia was attacked, the U.S. was attacked.”
“It’s just to remember,” he continued, “And not forget.”
To learn more about the “Mending Liberty” memorial, visit www.phila911.com.