ELLIS ISLAND, 32×42″, oil, 2005. Painting by Karen Batten.

By Karin Batten

In 2001 I had just moved to the Westbeth artist housing community, in the West Village, two months prior to the 9/11 attack. On the day of 9/11 the primaries for mayor were going on. I had just changed my district in New York City so I was re-registering to vote. I had a large amount of paperwork to fill out and the process was very slow, which in the end actually saved my life. I was given a grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Center to paint for six months on the 91st floor of Tower One (the north tower). When I finally finished voting I walked out of Westbeth to go to my art studio at the World Trade Center and I saw a man looking up at the sky, frozen. I heard sirens and I asked him what was wrong. He replied with “They’re at it again.” I had quickly realized that he was referencing the terrorist attack to explode a truck in a basement garage in 1993. I was supposed to meet an artist friend from Scotland. She was also painting with me in my studio at the Twin Towers and we had the day to paint. But at the moment all I could think about was my son, Justin, who was in middle school at I.S. 89 which is directly across the west side highway from Tower Two. I was worried that the tower might fall to the side, so I ran as fast as I could to get to my son. I saw a mother with her two children and said, “You got them out of there already?” she replied, “Yes you must run down there. They are keeping the children in the cafeteria—it’s insane.” I sprinted faster. The police who had already fenced off the area stopped me at Chambers Street and would not let me go any farther. Finally one of the officers told me that the National Guard were on their way to evacuate the children and that I should wait right here. In the time I waited for my son I took photos of the scene unfolding around me. Shortly after I arrived, a teacher brought my son’s class to me. The teacher was a friend of mine and had told me that my son’s class had watched the plane hit the North Tower. I took the children and walked about 500 feet. We turned around at the perfect moment to watch a tower collapse in on itself. I had brought my son’s class to Westbeth and the children stayed with me until I could contact their parents. I found out later that my friend from Scotland, who also worked in Tower Two, had run down from the 91st floor all the way to the lobby. When she arrived in the lobby she was met with firemen, destruction, and debris. The only thing you could hear was them yelling “run, run, run for your life.” Our lives were spared that day and we are both deeply grateful but will never be the same.

BARELY SPARED: The North Tower, where Karen Batten’s 91st floor art studio was located, was destroyed on 9/11. Photo by Karen Batten.

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