This Dewey post is breaking allllll the rules by showing up on the first Tuesday of the month instead of the last Tuesday of the previous. Imagine this post in a leather jacket and riding a motorcycle, because it’s bad to the bone.
(I just really wanted to keep those travel-themed posts together, because splitting them up felt wrong.)
Anyway, after ten awesomely educational months of nonfiction reading, we’re now in the final section of the Dewey Decimal system! (But not the final post of this series… Will explain at the end.) The 900s are all about history, and my pick to read was Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero, by Michael Hingson, DD# 974.71044. Since this was a personal account more than academic, my post will not list factoids but instead summarize Hingson’s experience of escaping the Twin Towers during the harrowing attacks of 9/11.
Hingson has been blind almost since his birth in 1950. A premature baby, the doctors placed him in an incubator which they pumped with pure oxygen until his lungs grew stronger. This practice, it was later discovered, caused the blood vessels in the back of Hingson’s eyes to constrict, which in turn caused the vessels to leak, scar, and eventually damage the retina too severely to function (page xii). But Hingson wasn’t raised with limitations. He attended a standard public and even rode his bike around the neighborhood, clicking his tongue to sense vibrations from trees, walls, and other surrounding obstacles (page 37). He used the same technique with a cane, listening to the echos that came from his tapping to judge what objects were near. “For example,” he wrote, “if I’m walking in a parking lot, the sound of the tap changes if there is a parked car in front of me… The tap sounds change again as I near the curb, the sound waves bouncing off the six inches of cement…” (page 94).
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Hingson and his guide dog Roselle went to work at the Twin Towers as usual. At 8:46am, a enormous BOOM occurred, rocking the tower and tilting it so far that Hingson was sure it would plunge towards the ground. In the floors above him and his friend (who described the sight),the windows had blown out, fire was raging, and debris was falling past the windows (page 9-10).
As terrifying as that moment was, and despite his lack of visual information about what was happening, Hingson had an important clue the others didn’t. “Even while the people in the conference room screamed,” Hingston wrote, “Roselle sat next to me, as calm as ever. … If she had sensed danger, she would have acted differently” (page 11-12). Following his guide dog’s example, Hingson moved without panic towards the stairwell.
The upper floors did not fair as well. From USA Today: “A deafening explosion and a searing blast of heat ripped through the [78th floor] lobby. The air turned black with smoke. Flames burst out of elevators. Walls and the ceiling crumbled into a foot of debris on the floor. Shards of glass flew like thrown knives” (page 17).
Here is where reading became emotionally difficult, because while we know Hingson made it out, a colossal number of others didn’t. Many passages put a hard pit of sadness in my belly.
As they walked down the 78 flights of stairs, burn victims were carried past them. Hingson’s friend described them to him: “A woman… She is burned so bad that she doesn’t even look like a human being. … Deep in shock, she walks like a zombie, eyes straight ahead and expressionless. Her clothes are partly burned off, her skin blistered and separating, her blonde hair caked in gray slime” (page 49).
The stairwell was full with the odor of jet fuel – “a toxic stench beginning to sink into my throat and my lungs,” Hingson wrote. Like gulping a shot of kerosene” (page 33). When they finally made it to the bottom floor, it was covered with debris and water from the sprinklers. Outside, Hingson called his wife to tell her he was okay.
When the first tower came down, Hingson could only hear the screams, the ripping steel, the shattering windows. “A cross between a freight train and a waterfall of breaking glass,” Hingson described it (page 109). Hingson, his friend, and his dog all sprinted for their lives. A cloud of dust 300 feet tall blasted them with smoke, vapors, and gravel. Later he heard news reports of “eight-ton steel I-beams tumbling end over end. Cars launched through the air with chunks of concrete, metal ductwork, and shards of glass” (page 109-110).
Miraculously Hingson and his friend found each other. They walked to Manhattan where trains were still running out of Penn Station, and made it home. Afterward, Hingson did a number of interviews, including one with Larry King, where he was able to spread the word about his most passionate topic: the capabilities of blind people.
And let’s not forget the capabilities of guide dogs! The book didn’t go very deeply into guide dog training, so if you’re curious, check out these two amazing reads by Susannah Charleson: Scent of the Missing, about search-and-rescue dogs, and The Possibility Dogs, about service dogs for both physical disability and mental health.
That’s it for this post, but as I mentioned earlier, we’re not done yet! As a bonus round, I decided to include the section for memoirs and biographies, Dewey Decimal # 92. Technically 92 is part of the 900s, as 92 is short for 920. But my library splits the section off on its own, and the year’s not over yet, so why not!