Creighton economics professor Ernest Goss left New York City early Tuesday morning on September 11, 2001 because he drank too much coffee, unaware he was saving his own life by just a couple hours.
“It was a remarkable Tuesday. It was beautiful in New York before I left, it was beautiful in St. Louis when I arrived … It was a crisp autumn day. You just remember that.”
Two plaques and a restaurant receipt are the items Ernest Goss still holds onto today, relics from a day that changed his, and every American’s, life forever.
Goss, a Creighton economics professor, drank too much coffee on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, and flew out of LaGuardia Airport in New York City, narrowly missing the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Visiting the city to receive an award from the National Association for Business Economics for a paper he had written, Goss was staying at the Marriott Hotel, wedged right in between the twin towers, the weekend before the attacks.
“You really couldn’t tell when you were in the twin towers and when you were in the Marriott, they were that close. The lobbies were shared,” Goss said.
He had been in town with his wife of 14 years, but she left early to return to Omaha Monday afternoon. Goss was scheduled to speak in Des Moines that Tuesday afternoon, but after a restless night from drinking too much caffeine, he decided to leave early, not knowing he was saving his own life.
“I got up real early, about 5:30 or 6,” he remembered. “I packed my bags, went downstairs, and there was nobody in the lobby. I tried to check out online but the online checkout wasn’t working at the time, so I just went out and caught a cab to LaGuardia to catch the early flight.”
Leaving without checking out, Goss was en route to Des Moines when his flight got grounded in St. Louis.
He recounted the passengers aboard being asked to get off the plane, but he didn’t hear it.
“It was so eerie looking back on it,” he said. “All the planes were landing just one after the other. I heard the flight attendants talking and they were saying, ‘You think it was the Russians?’”
After exiting the aircraft, Goss said everyone in the airport was crowded around the bar watching the television, where he saw the World Trade Center buildings were on fire, and it was “clear it was not an accident.”
The professor stayed in a hotel in St. Louis that night, then rented a car in the morning and drove to Kansas City, where his wife picked him up and they returned to Omaha.
Upon his return, Goss’s wife received a phone call from the Marriott Hotel.
“They were concerned I was dead because I was one of the ones unaccounted for,” he said. “Everybody in the hotel was obviously destroyed.”
Another “strange” event he recounted was receiving another plaque for his award in the mail from the NABE because they “thought the plaque and I were destroyed.”
But there’s one thing that remains with Goss as the years go by, and the tragedies of 9/11 become more and more distant.
On Friday night before the events of 9/11, Goss and his wife spent a romantic evening at Windows on the World, a restaurant sky-high on the top floor of one of the twin towers. He remembered receiving great service from their waitress, and when she brought the Gosses their check, she wrote at the bottom: “Thank you for visiting – I hope you have a wonderful next few days.”
“I’ve still got it,” Goss said of the receipt. “Now I look at that and wonder if she was killed … Everything changed after that.”
Creighton business instructor Taylor Keen felt the blow and saw with his own eyes the second plane hit from his hotel room window in New York City on 9/11, and jumped into action, working tirelessly on emergency logistics at the Ford Foundation.
“Son, sometimes history picks people to witness things, and those people that witness it have the responsibility to share that with others. You’re one of those people.”
These words, received over a phone call to his father in New York City on September 11, 2001, were what emboldened Taylor Keen on that day – a day he said even 18 years later, he will never forget.
An instructor in the Heider College of Business at Creighton, Keen was in a New York Helmsley Hotel in Midtown at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Recalling it as a gorgeous, cool day, he was in the city for an interview at the time.
Keen physically felt the blow of the first plane striking the first tower, and witnessed with his own eyes the second plane hit with a full view from the window of his hotel room.
“It happened in an instant,” Keen said. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. I remember the curvature of it. I could see it. My mind immediately started doing the math … where there are two, there could be 10.”
Shortly after the attacks, in a panic, he received a phone call in his hotel room from a ranking officer of the Ford Foundation, requesting his assistance in emergency logistics. Keen had a clearance, so he jumped “into the belly of the monster” to help.
For hours on hours, Keen worked the logistics of the tragedy at the Ford Foundation headquarters, writing down countless names of people in transit and logging all the events.
“It was mayhem,” he said. “I don’t ever want to see it again.”
He shared only having a brief moment to speak to his family, where he said he told them he loved them, and went on.
“Nobody ate or anything. You just didn’t think.”
Working tirelessly, Keen shared a moment that has stuck with him vividly through the chaos – the moment he and the individuals he was working with were able to smell the smoke, and looked out the window at the wreckage.
“It was literally probably one of the most horrifyingly beautiful sights I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Smog makes for a heck of a sunset. That smoke on the horizon was dazzling.”
In that moment, Keen said, it felt as though “Rome was burning.”
“I think every single one of us in that room questioned at that point, is it over? Have we lost? Did they get us? Is this gorgeous experiment of America over?” he said. “It just weighed so heavy on all of us.”
After being stranded for days in New York City, Keen was one of the passengers on the first flight out of the city, which was when he said the tears finally came.
He struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder close after the events of that day, citing a recurring dream. However, as the years passed, he said he typically only tells his story the day of.
“I’ve not been back, yet,” he said of New York City. “I don’t know if I want to go back. I saw it. It was right there. It’s something seared into my memory. I’ll never forget any of it. I know it as well today as I did then.”
The biggest lesson Keen said he learned from experiencing the catastrophe firsthand was when he walked past a couple sitting in a deserted restaurant that day, holding each other, whispering and kissing.
“Nobody went to dinner that night,” he said. “Why [did this couple]? Because they were still in love. When you’re in love, you stay in love. Love trumps fear. I took that as a ticket from God. No matter what fear we have, love is everlasting.”