The Falling Man

The Falling Man, taken by TIME on September 11, 2001 in New York City

It’s been 15 years since Richard Drew aimed his camera at the burning Twin Towers and captured the end of a life. His photo, dubbed “The Falling Man,” generated a myriad of praise and criticism in the days, months, and years following the attack. Many have worked to wipe it from the record of September 11, 2001, but the picture’s story, symbolism, and uniqueness has thwarted the effort to banish it.

They started jumping when the first plane hit the North Tower. As smoke and fire filled the building, people chose their fate, although not really. People jumped out of windows that had been broken by the explosion, then people jumped out of windows they had broken themselves. Their shirts billowed, their shoes slipped off their feet, and their arms flailed during their 10 second descent. The stream of bodies continued to rain down from all four sides until the building’s collapse.

But we have The Falling Man. His arms are held to his side, his left leg causally bent, and his body effortlessly descending. The juxtaposition of his peace and power in an unmitigated hell alone is unique. He defiantly tells onlookers that his death is decided, but the method is in his hands.

The independence he showed captured America’s attention during a time of great uncertainty. We felt violated and scared, yet we united in strength and determination. The Falling Man’s juxtaposition was a reflection of America in that very moment. Our fears and hopes were immortalized in a photo of a man falling to his death.

That day gave us pictures of burning buildings, panic, rubble, and mourning. It didn’t give us pictures of our dead. “The Falling Man” filled the void. No guts, no blood, no panic, no weeping, just peace.

We don’t know The Falling Man’s identity, but it’s assumed he worked at the Windows on the World restaurant located on the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower–the top. “The Falling Man” provided a bewildered populace a glimpse into the mind of a victim. We ask ourselves: Why was he calm? What raced through his mind? Where did he come from? What provoked him to jump to his fate?

In the picture he is frozen in time; in reality he continued to drop until he met his end. But it was his end.


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