Wilmington photographer Alessandra “Nicole” Stokley will exhibit photos she snapped in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attack.
“September Morning” will commence at Film Bros. Movie Cooperative on Friday, Sept. 9 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The closing reception will be held Sept. 30. The exhibit will also be held at the Smyrna Opera House on Wednesday, Sept. 7 through Sept. 30. Proceeds will benefit Operation True Friend, a Wilmington-based nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting people in need.
On the morning of Sept. 11, the then 21-year-old Stokley was eating breakfast in the cafeteria on the eighth floor of the Emigration and Naturalization Services Building at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan – approximately 11 blocks from the World Trade Center. At the time, Stokley was a staff contractor for the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C. She and her colleagues were in New York City on business.
WHAT ‘September Morning’ in Wilmington
WHEN 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9 (opening reception). Event runs through Sept. 30 and will be held 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on closing day. Gallery hours between opening and closing reception are TBA.
WHERE Film Bros. Movie Cooperative, 205 N. Market St., Wilmington
COST Free except on Sept. 10 and 11; tickets for each day will cost $25 or $40 for two tickets. The fee includes admission to the reading of the play “Ethan’s People” – held on Sept. 10 and 11.
While eating breakfast in the cafeteria Stokley heard what sounded like a “cartoon missile” crash into the north tower.
Although some people in the building started to “freak out,” many believed American Airlines Flight 11 hit the tower by accident, Stokley said.
Armed with her brand new – and unused – Nikon N65 camera that she purchased specifically with her trip to New York in mind, Stokley decided to regroup with her colleagues who were in the conference room on the 41st floor of the Emigration and Naturalization Services Building.
After finally catching an elevator that wasn’t heading down to the lobby, she arrived at the conference room and began snapping photos of the “blemished” north tower. Meanwhile her colleagues were still holding their coffee cups, speculating about what had happened. Minutes later she and her team noticed United Airlines Flight 175 was heading towards the south tower.
Stokley quickly grabbed her camera and captured an image of the plane ablaze, right before it disappeared into the south tower. Once that plane hit, everyone in the room instantly realized “it wasn’t an accident anymore,” she said.
Yet she didn’t allow that unthinkable act to paralyze her.
“I think that in looking at everything through the small view finder, it seemed less real and therefore I was less scared,” said Stokley, a Smyrna native who graduated from Smyrna High School in 1997. “I realized in that moment that something much larger than any of us in that room was happening. I picked up the camera and I didn’t stop taking photos for the next 36 hours, basically.”
Page 2 of 2 - She and her team evacuated the building and she frantically took photos of people on the street, capturing the terrified expressions that registered on their faces like she was Peter Parker. And Stokley vividly recalls seeing the first tower crumble, since it “looked like a waterfall,” she said.
Once the tower collapsed, Stokley and her colleagues, as well as a crowd of pedestrians in Lower Manhattan, began running north. But to her surprise, the mood wasn’t chaotic.
“Everyone was running and helping each other over curbs and things,” she said. “A complete stranger grabbed me by the elbow to help me run faster. I never saw a nicer New York where people were helping complete strangers.”
During that 36-hour-timeframe, Stokley would continue to take more photos, including pictures of a makeshift memorial at Washington Square Park, where there were “people comforting strangers, crying on one another’s shoulder,” she said. “And people expressing anger, shaking their fist at the sky.”
She and her colleagues would spend the night at a motel, before boarding a train to D.C., on Sept. 12.
Having survived such a tragic event, Stokley anticipates “September Morning” will help bring “peace and closure so that we can all move on,” she said. “I know for myself that what I’m taking away with it is gratitude.”