"I had to suck it up and take that photo, it's what we were there
for," said Scott Button, photographer for the Cape Codder, a
weekly newspaper. "A crater," his voice dropping, "a
half mile wide, a half mile long, seven stories deep... There's just
Scott shot panoramic in the two minutes he was allowed at the edge
of the crater that had been the World Trade Center. The Boston Herald
held its front page for the shot, using it Monday as a back-to-back
wraparound. "It looked like (the movie) Independence Day. There
were a thousand pictures I could have taken. I focused on our guys."
The attack on the World Trade Center was global news, but when six
local firefighters from Cape Cod went to Lower Manhattan to work search
and rescue, Scott followed them to New York. When I heard from him
in Manhattan, my first thought was, "did he drive his Jeep there?"
I imagined him crossing the Bronx-Whitestone with his Massachusetts
News Photog plates, and wondered how far he went.
Scott took the Greyhound bus with reporter Karen Monahan. "I
called the Port Authority and they said they were running. I knew
it was only a few blocks from the site." He asked his local contacts
on Cape Cod to help him with PIO's at FEMA, the emergency management
agency on scene.
"The people get you in there and the people justify the trip."
To get an OK to work with the rescue team, Scott walked the crosstown
block and a half from the bus station to the Javits Center, where
one rescue officer said, "I can't believe the local paper from
Cape Cod is here," but thought he might be able to link Scott
with the local firefighters early Sunday morning.
Fearing that "people who get hotels miss the story," Scott
decided to stay on the street Saturday night. Surgeons from the rescue
center brought blankets and Salisbury Steak. "I'm not a rescue
worker," Scott was quick to point out. But sadly, the blankets
intended for victims were not being used and there was plenty of food.
The Cape Codder team slept in a Crown Victoria, offered to them by
a FEMA worker who promised to rap on the windows in the morning. Early
Sunday, Scott passed through several checkpoints between the Crown
Vic and the Javits Center. "It took two hours to walk 300 feet"
from checkpoint to checkpoint, until they finally got the okay to
go to the crater with the rescue team from Cape Cod.
Scott passed through more checkpoints wedged between two Hyannis firefighters
who warned him, "if anything happens, run and throw yourself
down on the ground."
"We had a state police escort to within 100 feet of ground zero,
with only one check point to get through, no less than 50 army guys,
state police and local cops. We walked in two's and showed our credentials,
they did try to stop me but I put on my 'do not fuck with me' face."
"When we were told that we were going to the crater the Lieutenant
told the army men that we were ok'd, and that if we stayed longer
than two minutes, they could boot us."
"No one in the world has seen this," thought Scott as he
shot from the other side of rubbled WTC.
smelled so bad we put Vicks VapoRub in our masks." He saw one
reporter on her knees, sobbing. Scott is what we in the trade call
a "newspuke." You do your job and stay tough. "I had
my shot, that was it. When we were on the way out I saw a steel worker
curled up in the fetal position crying on the sidewalk. I didn't even
stop to shoot it, I kept going... I was in a fog, we just ran twelve
blocks to make deadline."
After transmitting their pictures and story Scott and Karen walked
to a storefront where "two Muslims in a pizza shop bought us
lunch. We're not rescue workers," declined Scott, "we're
journalists. The guy told me, I can see it in your eyes. You've been
The experience for Scott Button "was very bittersweet for me."
The brother of one Cape Cod firefighter phoned Scott with tearful
thanks, "you showed our family why he misses birthdays and weddings."
The Cape Codder, ready to run a page one story about tuna fishermen
before the hijack attacks, printed an editorial acknowledging the
contributions of its young reporting team, and the Mansfield News,
Scott's hometown paper in Massachusetts, interviewed him. He declined
other media attention; it seemed wrong in a time of grief.
"I've cried myself to sleep every night," he confessed.
When I asked whether he would see a grief counselor, he told me "I
have an appointment at noon."
Scott Button pledged that when the WTC is rebuilt, he will be there
to take another photo. Meanwhile his life continues as a newspaper
photographer for the local weekly. His inglorious return to normalcy
was a comfort. He sighed with relief, "I got back and shot local
by Glenn Ritt,
Publisher, The Cape Codder
photographer Scott Button called me last Friday and said
he was heading down to New York City to cover the search
and rescue effort at the World Trade Center.
At first, I was caught short. Part of me admired his ambition.
But, frankly, a goodly other part felt that were on
Cape Cod and this was not really our story. Were a
weekly newspaper whose front page was going to be on tuna
fishermen before the terrorist attack last Tuesday.
we need to cover how Cape Cod is reacting to the tragedy,
and we did that with nearly a dozen pages last week in all
four of our Cape Cod newspapers. But, arent there
enough journalists at the site of the disaster? Wouldnt
it be presumptuous to go?
Scott, of course, steered us on the proper course. Along
with writer Karen Monahan, they understood that the tragedy
was everybodys. And the storys scope and depth
engaged us all.
It would have been presumptuous, frankly, to go had we not
had our own special reason: our six Cape Cod heroes at ground
Scott had seen our story last week on the half dozen firefighters
who, as part of the Massachusetts Search and Rescue team
were instantly recruited on Sept. 11 to set up camp by the
rubble of the World Trade Center.
He then reached out to the fire chief in Hyannis, who at
first rebuffed him. Scott wouldnt accept no for an
answer. He literally followed him in his car and finally
connected. Im going regardless, but I would
really appreciate you calling your lieutenant (Thomas Kenney)
and alerting him that we will be coming.
The chief did, and Scott and Karen were off in a bus to
When they got there, they walked to the Jacob Javits Convention
Center where all the rescuers congregated and slept between
They eventually were evicted, but not before making contact
with the team leader of the Cape Cod contingent, Lieutenant
That night, Scott and Karen slept in a car that belonged
to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The next morning,
they were roused and told to join rescuers heading to their
shift at Ground Zero.
They still had no assurances they could get anywhere near
the actual site. But, flanked by the Cape Cod rescuers,
they made it step by step until was side by side with them
at the edge of hell.
We are proud to share with you the story of our local heroes
at work, clawing and scratching to find some survivors against
We are very proud of Scott and Karen, too, not only for
their incredible work, but for their perspective. We need
to cry together on the Cape; we need to mourn together on
the Cape. We also need to see our own neighbors risking
their lives for their brothers and all the innocent victims
that spiritually are part of our family here.