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September 11, 2001
Collecting and Exhibiting a National Tragedy


Nancy A. Pope
National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution








Church Street Postal Workers

The morning of the attack, the employees of the Church Street station were busy at work inside the building. Window clerks were serving a steady stream of customers, as the register report from one window shows - recording transactions up to 8:47:22 a.m. No one in the Church Street building was hurt, as the building had been successfully evacuated by the time the south tower fell just over 10:00 a.m.

At first, employees were told that the roof of their building was on fire and they had to leave immediately. In fact, part of the jetliner that hit the north tower had landed on the building's roof. Jennifer Boykin, a station supervisor, and her safety officers sped through the offices, ensuring that employees and customers had left and the vaults were secured.

Picture of Church Street Station sorting facilities floor.
Church Street Station sorting facilities floor – sorting units after evacuation the morning of September 11, 2001.
Because of the severity of the damage to the Church Street building, its employees were detailed out the next day. Delivery and customer service employees were re-assigned to the Farley building. Processing staff were told to report to the nearby Morgan processing center. The Church street employees managed to set up a functioning version of their old office in just two days. On the ground floor of the Farley building, clerks have dusted off old surplus metal mailboxes and use them to help hold mail for the almost 4,000 post office boxes that sit remarkably undamaged, but inaccessible, at Church Street.

Picture of inaccessible post office boxes at Church Street.
Almost 4,000 post office boxes sit inaccessible, at Church Street.
The ten carriers whose daily rounds were made in the corridors of the World Trade Center complex spent the next several months sorting WTC mail into sorting units in the Farley building. They continued to work the mail for the 16,000 addresses that made up the twin towers.

Rafael Feliciano was assigned to Route 30, which covered floors 78 through 110 of the south tower. United Airlines flight 175 from Boston slammed into floors 87 - 93 of that building just after 9 that morning. For years, Feliciano had spoken to several people on those floors day after day as he brought them their postcards, packages and letters. He witnessed the destruction of the towers and noted sorrowfully that "if I live to be 90 I will never forget what I saw that day."

Long-time New Yorker Emma Thornton has worked out of the Church Street post office for over 20 years. She remembered watching the towers be built, and then watched in horror as they collapsed. Her route, 24D, covered floors 77 through 110 of the north tower, which was hit by the first plane that morning. Among her patrons were people she'd gotten to know over those two decades, including staff from the Windows on the World restaurant and financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald. As she said, "Every time I think about it, tears come to my eyes. A lot of my friends didn't make it." Thornton's sorting unit, listing the names of the larger firms on her route, was selected to be added to the National Postal Museum's collection.

Picture of letter carrier Emma Thornton inspecting her former sorting unit at the National Postal Museum.
Letter carrier Emma Thornton inspects her former sorting unit at the National Postal Museum. Thornton also provided the Museum with oral history of serving the trade towers. Thornton’s route was floors 77 – 110 of the World Trade Tower #1.
Clerks, carriers and supervisors outside of Manhattan did what they could to help out that day. Passaic, New Jersey carrier and military veteran John Hogan dropped what he was doing and headed into Manhattan after the second plane hit. "At first, I was shocked, but being a veteran, you don't think, you act." Hogan spent the day assisting fireman and police helping people escape the debris and getting them off of the streets. Workers at the Jersey City post office loaded some of the stunned, dust-covered survivors into postal trucks and drove them to shelters and train stops. As Charlie Wilson, the Manager of the Jersey City post office noted, "I figured this was one time we needed to break the rules to help out." Some of those who made their way across the bridge into Brooklyn were greeted by clerks and carriers from the Brooklyn post office who had gathered all of the water coolers out of the building and brought them down to the street, delivering water, not mail, to the people stumbling by.

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Chapter Titles:


Collecting and Exhibiting Tragedy


Discussions Regarding Collecting


Church Street Objects: Part 1


Church Street Objects: Part 2


Church Street Objects: Part 3


A Final Irony, A New Challenge


Church Street Post Office


Reestablishing Neighborhood Service


Church Street Postal Workers















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