Behind the camera: Thomas E. Franklin of The Bergen Record
Where: Thomas E. Franklin said he was standing under a pedestrian walkway across the West Side Highway that connected the center to the World Financial Center, located at the northwest corner of the World Trade Center site. Franklin said the firefighters were about 150 yards (137 meters) away from him and the debris was 100 yards (91 meters) beyond that. They were about 20 feet (6 meters) off the ground on top of WTC wreckage.
Photo Summary: The firefighters pictured were Brooklyn-based firefighters George Johnson (36) of Rockaway Beach and Dan McWilliams of Long Island (both from Ladder 157), and Billy Eisengrein of Staten Island (Rescue 2).
Picture Taken: Around 5:00 PM Sept 11, 2001
This picture of three Firefighter raising the American flag at the site of the WTC attacks is one of the most famous images from 911. Shot by Thomas E. Franklin, of The Bergen Record, the photo first appeared on Sept 12, 2001, under the title, Ground Zero Spirit. The paper also put it on the Associated Press wire and it appeared on the covers of several newspapers around the world. Due to its subject, raising the flag during important American historical events, this photo has often been compared to the famous Flag on Iwo Jima photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal during World War II. The photo which was distributed worldwide was a finalist in 2002 for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news photography.
Getting to Ground Zero
Thomas E. Franklin started his day like any other arriving at The Bergen Record, at 8 a.m. to start his day. When news that a plane had hit the WTC spread through the office, Franklin headed down to the riverfront across from New York. When he arrived he started taking pictures of ferries carrying the wounded from the city and a triage area being set up on the shore. It wasn’t just another story for Franklin as his brother worked close to the WTC and while taking pictures he, “scanning the faces in Jersey City, hoping that I would see my brother.” It wasn’t until later in the day that he was able to contact his brother and make sure he was OK.
Around noon, the police started to restrict access to the city, but Franklin was able to tag along with another photographer, John Wheeler, who had convinced police to them take a tugboat to New York. While wandering around taking pictures of the carnage, he met up with James Nachtwey, a Pulitzer-prize winning photojournalist. Around 5 p.m. the two decided to take a break and while eating Franklin noticed three firefighters with a flag. Thomas Franklin recalls what happened next,
I would I say was 150 yards away when I saw the firefighters raising the flag. They were standing on a structure about 20 feet above the ground. This was a long lens picture: there was about 100 yards between the foreground and background, and the long lens would capture the enormity of the rubble behind them … I made the picture standing underneath what may have been one of the elevated walkways, possibly the one that had connected the World Trade Plaza and the World Financial Center. As soon as I shot it, I realized the similarity to the famous image of the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima.
The photograph captured the Brooklyn-based firefighters George Johnson of Rockaway Beach and Dan McWilliams of Long Island (both from Ladder 157), and Billy Eisengrein of Staten Island (Rescue 2) running up the flag on an existing flag pole located on West St. The firefighters had been digging through the rubble around WTC 7 when they where pulled out as the building was about to collapse. While evacuating McWilliams saw a yacht in the harbor, Star of America, running an American flag and an empty flag pole sticking out of the wreckage on West St. He grabbed the flag from the yacht and together with Johnson walked toward the flagpole. The third firefighter, Eisengrein, saw what they were doing and offered to lend a hand. As they scrambled up the debris Franklin aimed his long lens in their direction, catching what would soon be an Iconic Image.
[bigquote quote=”911 still hovers over us” author=”Thomas Franklin”]
Where are they now
All of the firemen in the picture refused to do TV spots or interview requests and still work at their respective ladders. The photographer, Thomas Franklin, still works at his Jersey newspaper and told USA Today, “A lot of people involved with 9/11 really haven’t moved on,” Franklin says. “I would have thought we would have. But it still hovers over us.”
The flag came from the 130-ft. (40 m) the yacht named Star of America, owned by Shirley Dreifus of the Majestic Star, which was docked in the yacht basin in the Hudson River at the World Financial Center. Researchers were able to determine that the flag was originally manufactured by Eder Flag Manufacturing located in Oakcreek, Wisconsin. After the flag was raised by the firemen, it flew on the pole for about 10 days before the Fire Department took it down on the request at the request of the Navy. They wanted it to fly on the American aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), which was on its way to Afghanistan to support the upcoming fight against the Taliban. Before it left to join the Navy it appeared at a service on Sept. 23, at Yankee Stadium, where it was signed by Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the fire and police commissioners. Sometime before this signing, the flag was switched with a bigger flag. The yacht’s flag measured four feet by six feet, the impostor flag measured five feet by eight feet. The difference was first noticed by one of the firefighters when during a raising ceremony, in April 2002, after its return from the Navy he and the others confirmed that the flag was too big. The original owner, Shirley Dreifus, also noticed that the flag had been replaced and actually sued the city in hopes that it would be forced to return the flag. An investigation was launched which failed to find the flag and the lawsuit was dropped. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, when asked about the disappearance, stated that the city didn’t have it, “I don’t know where Osama bin Laden is, either.” As of Dec 2006 the flag has yet to be found Shirley Dreifus has even started a Web site (www.findthe911flag.com) to get the flag back.
The “Heroes 2001” stamp, USA Scott #B2, was unveiled on March 11, 2002, by President George W. Bush, in a ceremony attended by Franklin, Johnson, Eisengrein, and McWilliams. These stamps were semipostals: they had a purchase price (45¢) higher than their postage value (34¢), with the balance given to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief efforts. A special exception was thus made to the normal requirement by the United States Postal Service that subjects of stamps be deceased.
In December 2001 The New York Fire Department unveiled plans for a statue based on the photograph to be placed at the Brooklyn headquarters. Instead of the original three firefighters, the statue was to include African American, White American, and Hispanic firefighters. However, it was cancelled in an outcry about rewriting history.
From a different Angle
Franklin wasn’t the only photographer to snap the shot of the three firemen. Ricky Flores also took a picture that ran on the front page of his employer, The Journal News (Journal News serves the Lower Hudson Valley i.e. New York’s Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties). His picture is often confused with Franklin’s even though they are taken from two totally different angles. Ricky somehow was able to get into the second story of a building on Canal St. where he snapped his shot through a window that had its glass shattered out.