Icons: The 9/11 Series, Part 2

Posted on September 5, 2011


The oral history of the photographers who shot iconic images at Ground Zero on 9/11 continues today with the story of Shannon Stapleton, a New York City-based freelance photographer, and Thomas Franklin, a staff photographer for the Bergen County Record. Stapleton shot an enduring photo of firemen carrying the body of Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain of the city’s fire department. Judge had rushed to the scene after hearing of the terrorist attacks and administered last rites to the dying. He then entered the lobby of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, where a fire department command post had been established, where he continued his work. When the South Tower fell, debris flying through the lobby of the North Tower killed a number of people there, including Judge.

Later that day, at around 5:00, Franklin was photographing in the rubble of the two towers when he created what would become perhaps the best known image of the event: three FDNY firemen, Dan McWilliams and George Johnson of Ladder 157 and Billy Eisengrein of Rescue 2, raising an U.S. flag over the destruction. The image, which appeared on the cover of Newsweek, was likened by many to Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of U.S. marines raising the flag over Iwo Jima in World War II, and it became a symbol of heroism and pride at a time of grief and fear. It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and was used for a special U.S. postal stamp. Years later, Franklin would shoot a portrait of the three firemen for the cover of Newsweek.



Shannon Stapleton

“I could not get the picture of Father Judge out of my mind.”

The body of Father Judge, photo by Shannon Stapleton.

On the third nigh after the attack, I came home to my pregnant wife lying comfortably asleep.  I had seen her a total of three hours in three days, and just being in her presence gave me a sense of tranquility. I lay down thinking I could go to sleep from exhaustion but instead found myself an emotional wreck, crying my eyes out. I could not get the picture of the Father Judge out of my mind. I did not even know that the photo I had taken was of Father Judge until Thursday, when one of the newspapers identified him. On that Friday I received a letter from [Father Judge’s family]. The letter thanked me for such a “compassionate” photo.


Thomas Franklin

“The shot immediately felt important to me.”

Franklin's photo of McWilliams, Johnson, and Eisengrein

I have never been fully aware of the power of photography until I made this photograph of three New York City firemen raising the U.S. flag atop the rubble that was the World Trade Center. I have received literally thousands of phone calls and hundreds of emails, mostly from strangers. Some have told me about their lost loved ones, others about how they escaped certain death, and yet others just wanted to tell me how this one photograph have them hope and optimism in the wake of this horrible tragedy. The shot immediately felt important to me.”