9-11 commission for innocent awareness
November 3, 2012 11:40 PM   Subscribe

9-11 Story about about a girl attending elementary school telling her father about seeing "the birds flying around the world trade center".

The father played along as if they were birds, not people.

The story ends with the daughter saying as she is falling asleep that night "I know they weren't birds, daddy" revealing that she knew all along they were people jumping from the building to their deaths. Yet she lied to her dad to preserve the illusion of her youthful innocence to protect her dad from knowing that she knew the painful truth.

Help me find the article please!
posted by roboton666 to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I noticed no one has responded, so I'm throwing in my 2 cents. I have a strong memory of either reading this or seeing it in a movie.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 2:28 PM on November 4, 2012

I assume you mean this blog post:
The first may be an urban legend, but it certainly could have happened.

A family had an apartment that looked out on the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and they all went out to watch the fire. Everyone was speechless except for the youngest, the five-year-old: She chattered as she looked on, pointing out the birds that were on fire. "The birds, Mommy, look at the birds on fire." The parents had no idea what to say to her, so they just humored her and kept the TV off and acted as much as possible like it was a normal day. Finally, that night, the mother was putting the girl to bed.

"Mommy?" said the little girl.


"I know they weren't birds."

While this is actually labeled as apocryphal, it seems to draw from this unsigned editorial in the NYT a week after the attacks.

Once you start on the "birds/fire" keyword search you find many spiritual references, e.g., and this art exhibition, which takes its name from this individual artwork.
posted by dhartung at 4:31 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Without being specifically referenced or explained, the phrase "The Birds Were on Fire" was used as the chapter title for a book about school disaster responses including P.S. 234 on 9/11. There is also a repetition of the phrase, though not the larger tale, in the book Film and Television After 9/11.

There's also a poem that extrapolates a different story.

There was apparently an e-mail by one of the teachers at the school that found circulation, according to the book 9/11 in American Culture, so it's possible that is the ultimate origin. There are numerous published works which refer to this version.
posted by dhartung at 4:42 PM on November 4, 2012

That blog post is the same story, but it seems like I might have heard it on NPR or something.
posted by roboton666 at 7:02 PM on November 4, 2012

One way or another, the story seems to have achieved some currency, especially the better-sourced "Look, teacher, the birds are on fire" version. Village Voice example; it's also found in various middle-American contexts, especially religious.

The reference also turns up in this Lou Reed prose poem/song lyric (never performed?) from October 2001, Laurie Sadly Listening.

I haven't been able to find any alternate versions of the "Mommy/Daddy I know" version other than the one in that blog post, but there's been a lot of linkrot since 9/11.
posted by dhartung at 11:22 PM on November 4, 2012

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