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Writer Chronicles Downtown's Recovery after 9/11

By Julie Shapiro | August 23, 2011 11:10am

LOWER MANHATTAN — When Susan Fox moved to an apartment across the street from the World Trade Center site in August 2002, she had no idea what she was getting into.

Nearly a year after 9/11, the neighborhood just south of Ground Zero was a ghost town, with rifle-bearing National Guardsmen on the corners and streets that emptied at dusk.

"It was a very sad part of the city," Fox, 45, recalled recently. "Many people didn't understand or know what was going on. The community down there really had to fight to survive."

Fox's memories, and her interviews with dozens of downtown residents, workers and business owners from 2003 to 2004, form the basis of her just-released memoir "As the Dust Settles: Finding Life at Ground Zero."

Susan Fox wrote a book about her experience living across the street from Ground Zero from 2002 to 2006.
Susan Fox wrote a book about her experience living across the street from Ground Zero from 2002 to 2006.
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Susan Fox

The book traces Fox and her husband's first days in their new apartment at 120 Greenwich St. — which they picked because the landlord was offering three months of free rent — as they adjusted to the fact that they were living a few steps from the site of the worst terror attack in the country's history.

Fox had a few early moments of doubt about the move, first when a friend who stayed overnight said she couldn't sleep because she felt haunted, and later when the pounding construction on Greenwich Street sent constant waves of noise and vibration through the apartment.

But Fox was drawn in by the narrative of the neighborhood, by the stories of her neighbors and their commitment to rebuild. Soon she, too, felt that it would be wrong to leave.

"There was a sense of responsibility," Fox said. "We felt we had to bide our time where we were and see it through."

Published 10 years after the attack, Fox's book serves as a memorial, not just to the thousands who died on 9/11, but also to those she interviewed who have died since then.

The book is dedicated to three of them: Andy Jurinko, a painter who lived at 125 Cedar St. and shoveled debris from his apartment after 9/11; Leonard Rosenfeld, an artist who watched in horror as people jumped from the North Tower, and who later created artwork depicting the jumpers as angels; and Giovanni Natalucci, owner of the now-shuttered Giovanni's Atrium restaurant on Washington Street.

Natalucci died in November 2008 at age 73, Rosenfeld in December 2009 at 82, and Jurinko died of cancer in February 2011, at age 71.

Fox also dedicated the book to Jennifer Wong, her former student at Binghamton University, who worked in One World Trade Center and was killed on 9/11.

Fox wrote much of "As the Dust Settles" from Washington, DC, where she moved with her husband in 2006, because of his job. Fox had lived in DC before coming to New York in 2002.

Leaving lower Manhattan was wrenching, Fox said, but writing the book reconnected her with her former home.

"It's a biography of the community," she said.