Patch Contributor Recalls Autographed Sept. 11 Photo
Photo became iconic image of the tragic event.
Tom Franklin appeared before my eyes on Sunday suddenly. We were now Facebook friends, after all these years -- or decades.
Let's go back to 1988 and Tom and I are running around Passaic County, N.J., me the rookie reporter and he the rookie photographer for The North Jersey Herald & News.
Now let's go back 10 years ago.
It's the Sept. 11 attacks on America. The nation is devastated. The New York City financial district is in ruins. The mighty World Trade Center towers have been reduced to rubble. And Thomas Edward Franklin, a photographer for The Bergen Record, has just snapped a picture of three firefighters raising the flag at Ground Zero.
You know that photo.
This iconic image, taken just hours after the attack, is considered one of the most identifiable and powerful images in history. Life Magazine listed it as one of the "100 Photographs That Changed the World," and the photo is part of the permanent collection of the Library of Congress.
It's a photo that Tom autographed for me a few years back when I wrote a column about him while I was editor of a newspaper in Massachusetts. It was the fifth anniversary of the attacks.
A week later, on Sept. 18, 2006, a note arrived from Tom saying that someone alerted him to my column.
"I can't believe you didn't call me for a quote!" he said. "Thanks for the kind words."
Tom told me that this time of the year is always rough for him, that he attends many 9/11 memorial services and that he has shed many tears. The flag-raising photo was made shortly after 5 p.m on Sept. 11, 2001.
Tom was standing under a pedestrian walkway across the West Side Highway, which connected the World Trade Center to the World Financial Center at the northwest corner. He said the firefighters were about 150 feet away from him and about 20 feet off the ground, while the debris was about 90 feet beyond that.
Tom rose to national acclaim for his coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks and taking that photo. His work made him a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize (He should have won the award).
Tom has appeared on numerous national television shows. He's served as a guest lecturer at colleges and universities across the country and has shared his experiences of that fateful day on Sept. 11, 2001.
It's one thing when a picture you've taken earns you celebrity status. But not everybody's work gets turned into a stamp. That happened in 2002 when the U.S. Postal Service introduced the "Heroes" stamp, featuring the flag-raising photo.
Proceeds from the stamp have raised more than $10 million to help families and rescue workers of 9/11.
Also that year, an autographed original print signed by Tom and the three firemen sold for $89,625 at Christie's Auction House, with proceeds benefiting two 9/11 charities. The photo has also been instrumental in raising money for other charitable causes, including Juvenile Diabetes, autism, cerebral palsy.
Yes, Tom certainly is a celebrity to a degree. You might not know him; but you know the picture.
I've kept my autographed picture in an envelope. Tom scribbled a note on it. "With great respect and friendship, Thomas E. Franklin."
I've come across a lot of journalists during my more than a quarter-century in the business and there were never any finer or humbler than Tom. There's one remark in Tom's letter that I'm sure he still feels the same way about today.
"And you are correct, I certainly would rather not have taken that photo, if it would only undo that hellish day."
Yes, I'm sure we all wish that day 10 years ago never happened.