A decade ago, a few days after Chelsea Griswold entered eighth grade at Haddam-Killingworth Middle School, her world and ours changed forever with the September 11 attacks. In response, the teenager wrote a poem about 9/11, a piece which also had a significant impact on many.
Explains Betty Devlin, Chelsea’s Language Arts teacher who still teaches at HKMS, “To tell you the honest truth, I don’t know if she wrote the poem in response to a class assignment or if she wrote it on her own, but she sent the poem to her grandfather.”
Chelsea’s grandfather knew how to run a wrecking ball. “People weren’t using those anymore so they called him to New York City because they needed a guy who could run a crane and a wrecking ball.”
“Chelsea got very interesting feedback from the poem,” Devlin recalls.
Chelsea, who now works for ABC in New York, remembers what began as a class assignment but became much more for countless people. “It was some type of reaction to 9/11 – your thoughts. It could be anything from light-hearted to serious stories.”
She will never forget what started out as an ordinary day at school. “We actually watched the second plane hit on television. We weren’t supposed to. There was an announcement to turn it off but, by the time we had turned it off, we saw the second plane hit. I was 13 when it happened.”
Chelsea’s grandfather was called from Connecticut to tear down the remaining buildings that were destroyed.
“My mom and I decided to go to Lower Manhattan to visit him. The day before we left to go home, I handed him the poem that I had written for Mrs. Devlin’s class. He showed it to one person who showed it to another,” she said.
“You know how grandfathers are – I could have written anything,” Chelsea said and added, “he was hanging it in churches, on doors, in rescue tents and eventually that’s how everyone caught wind of the poem.”
Soon thereafter she started to receive letters about the poem. “I got letters from so many rescue workers and I’d try to write back to everyone. A lot of it was just random people that my grandfather had met but never known,” she said.
Chelsea adds, “For a few months, I remember I was crying all of the time. There were just so many emotions. I think people working down there just wanted to share their story so the letters were always deep and meaningful; they talked about their experiences as a way to share their feelings. A lot of them just wanted to reach out and say I read your poem.”
She was also called from class to take a call from firefighters.
A welder had taken materials from the wrecked towers and constructed statues of the Twin Towers. One was made for George Pataki, who was Governor of New York at the time. Another was made for Rudy Giuliani, Mayor of New York at the time. And, the welder made one for Chelsea.
“I’m sure by now there are lots of statues made out of the beams. I do a lot of news stories about them carrying the pieces all around,” she says.
Chelsea also recalls visiting the site. “To my memory, they didn’t allow people within blocks of the site; you had to have a special badge. A bunch of the rescue workers handed us one of the security badges and my grandfather got us in saying that we were with him. We were there where the tower would have stood.”
Chelsea, who graduated from Hofstra University with a BS in Video/Television, is working in the news business in New York. She started off at Good Morning America working the third shift two days a week and was was promoted from script coordinator to an entry level job for weekend Good Morning America.
“The hours were still kind of crazy so I ended up getting a second job within seven months. That job is on the other side of ABC news working for all of the platforms so I work with Diane Sawyer, Good Morning America, Nightline and 20/20. We help bring in video for all of the platforms,” Chelsea explains.
“Especially with ABC News, we’re doing a lot with the 10 year anniversary,” she says.
Part of her job is dealing with the ABC affiliates all around the entire country so she constantly has video coming in from newscasts highlighting where people were 10 years ago.
“It just brings back so many memories. I find myself tearing up at work. When you see people cry, your reaction is to get very choked up. I think about it all the time,” she says.
And, ten years later, Devlin is considering putting up some of the work done by her students after 9/11. “The kids that I have this year certainly won’t have a recollection of it, but I would put it up as a reminder of how far your words can go. You never know what influence your words have once you write,” she said.
Chelsea is living on the Upper West Side, quite different from growing up in Higganum. And her grandfather, Robert Tubbs of Clinton, is retired but still gets calls to take buildings down around the Nutmeg State.
“He’s one of my heroes. He’s very good at his job. A lot of the people were very selfless. I’m sure he fit right in and gave his last penny in his pocket,” she said.
Chelsea says she thinks about the assignment and the events thereafter all the time. “I think about how crazy is it to tell other peoples’ story about this when for so long so many people were reaching out to me. Now, to be able to stand back and take it all in and see what everyone else was doing.”
Her poem is below:
From Ground Zero I can see,
A city of people in misery.
A misery that has caused hearts to ache all over,
Everyone is lending a hand or a shoulder.
Lives were lost in a blink of an eye,
Not having a clue they were about to die.
People coming from far and wide,
With feelings and emotions they cannot hide.
Rescue workers, working night and day,
Hoping for a miracle to come their way.
Lives destroyed by terrorists and two planes by noon,
Our hearts bleed for the people that have left us too soon.
This tragedy has touched our hearts, which have sighed,
A million tears our nation has cried.
Now, stronger than ever our country will be,
The home of the brave and the land of the free.
I am proud to be an American and you should be too,
Living in the country of red, white, and blue.
Chelsea Griswold - 8th Grade (2001)
Haddam-Killingworth Middle School