Satan in the Smoke


Fifteen years has passed, but it may as well have been yesterday.

People still ask, “What was it like on September 11th?”

We never say the year. We don’t have to. It has joined the ranks of “Dates which will live in Infamy.”

I always loved the Twin Towers. Their box shapes dominated the skyline wherever you were. If you were lost in the West Village, you would just look for them and know that was south. They were comforting. They weren’t the prettiest buildings archetecturally, but they were grand. And when the sun hit them just right, they were twin pillars of gold.

The only reason I was home on September 11, 2001, was for a happy occasion. Andrea, Eliza and I were all going together as a family to Eliza’s first day of pre-school. We were up early, we were excited, and we had no idea what was really in store for us on that day.

It began with a shout from the living room. “Mark, come see this now!” my wife Andrea shouted.

The picture on the television screen was one we never dreamed could happen. The Today Show was broadcasting live footage of the World Trade Center’s north tower on fire. The impossible was underway.

Instincts took over.

Not even waiting for an explanation, I ran from the room, grabbed two cameras, and went to the roof of my home in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Living just three miles from lower Manhattan, I had photographed the World Trade Center Twin Towers many times from the deck atop my house.

As I raised the hatch to climb out on the roof, I heard the loudest explosion in my memory. Looking toward the city, smoke and flames were billowing from both towers.

I immediately raised my digital Olympus E-10 camera and took the first photo. THE photo. It was 9:04 am.

The rest of the day seems surreal now. Bits and pieces stand out over the 15 years. Sitting in front of the laptop sending images of the Twin Towers looking like two chimneys in lower Manhattan, the dust cloud after the buildings collapsed, the intense sorrow when the realization hit of how many people died, the intense relief at the sound of military jets over the city…..I could keep going on.

The one thing I will always be most grateful for is sitting with my wife and daughter late that night having a slice of pizza. So many lives were inextricably changed that day in horrible ways. The fact that we were together and safe washed over me at the end of our Day of Infamy.

We will always remember the Twin Towers — and not just the way they appeared on 9/11. They were beautiful. They were targets.

In 1993, when the first terrorist bomb was detonated in the parking garage, I managed to get in to capture the devastation of that attack. It was horrific as well. Terrorism is a word that should be excised from the language.

I want to remember the Twin Towers in their glory; a brilliant red sunset from under the Brooklyn Bridge with the towers soaring over the skyline; a ferry ride to New Jersey where the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers filled my field of view, welcoming me home; a Moon rise that climbed the side of the towers. These are the images that stand out in my memory.

We all changed that day. Unfortunately. evil exists in our world. Somehow I captured an image that embodied it. But always try to remember the good. It is the only way we will prevail over evil.

Authorized Usage around the Web and in books:

Satan’s Face: NY Magazine The Encyclopedia of 9/11
Demonic image causes photo stir
Fact Check: September 11th Faces in the Cloud
Illusion of the week: Satan in the Smoke
The face of Satan? Nostradamus calling it? Rumors abound
The Channeling of September 11, 2001
Angel and Devil on 9-11:
Devil Face in Smoke of 911 at the WTC



Read the full story of Mark D Phillips’ experience with a photograph that many felt captured the evil of 9/11. One of the first images transmitted over the Associated Press photo wire and published on numerous front pages, readers immediately spotted the face and didn’t hesitate calling the local papers and contacting Mark directly. He received over 20,000 messages about the image.

“Satan in the Smoke? A Photojournalist’s 9/11 Story” is available in Kindle Edition from