Published January 13, 2015
After barely escaping from the 87th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower on Sept. 11, Adam Mayblum poured out his heart in an e-mail sent to family and friends.
Less than 24 hours after he wrote his account of fleeing the burning tower and sent it to about 25 people, Mayblum received nearly 100 replies — most from people he had never met.
And it kept building.
Since then, more than 1,000 strangers from around the world have responded to his harrowing story, which was so detailed that it described the smell of the smoke on the 87th floor and the conversations he had with people who never made it out.
"You don't know me," one woman wrote. "My son-in-law forwarded your story to me and I'm not sure who sent it to him but the thing is I felt it necessary to let you know how happy you made me. The fact that you survived ... helped to lift the terrible weight from my heart. We live in L.A. and when you were coming down the stairs we were watching the towers collapse with such a feeling of helplessness and despair."
Mayblum said he spent several hours writing his 2,100 word e-mail entitled "THE PRICE WE PAY" as he sat at his suburban New Rochelle home on Sept. 12, still stunned from the experience. He knew it would help to put his thoughts into words, but he also wanted to let loved ones know he was safe.
"We were moving down very orderly in Staircase A. Very slowly. No panic. At least not overt panic. My legs could not stop shaking. My heart was pounding. Some nervous jokes and laughter," wrote Mayblum, 36, an employee of May Davis Group, a private investment firm.
His cell phone worked, so he spoke with his parents and sister-in-law. He couldn't reach his wife, who had taken their infant for a checkup. He never heard the second plane hit the other tower.
Around the 44th floor, he began to see firefighters, police officers and other rescuers coming up the stairs. Mayblum told them about a friend who had stayed behind on the 87th floor, and a heavyset man who was resting on the 53rd.
"I later felt terrible about this," Mayblum wrote. "They headed up to find those people and met death instead."
The e-mail went out to his family, his wife's family and a few friends -- mostly in Florida, California, Connecticut and New Jersey.
"Within 24 hours it was ridiculous. I was getting responses from New Zealand. I got a postcard from Santa Barbara," Mayblum said. "I still get things like that, like the letter from a brokerage firm in Frankfurt."
His e-mail has been posted on several Web sites. Mayblum said the responses still come, several a day. He tried to reply to each one, but stopped after 500.
"I think the ultimate thing that made the e-mail is that it helped a lot of people understand what was going on inside the building at the same time they had seen what was going on outside the building," he said.
Mayblum has received prayers from Texas, praise from Seattle, best wishes from London and, from Paris, an apology that poor English skills didn't allow the writer to express her true feelings.
Some told Mayblum they wept while reading his story. Many thanked him for providing a window into an event that was so hard to imagine.
"Your writing really gave us a feel of the calmness, camaraderie and terror all at the same time," one woman in Baltimore wrote. "Your co-workers and you deserve a medal of honor and your quick thinking probably saved lives."
Mayblum said many respondents have called him a hero — including a group of 16-year-old girls in Los Angeles — but he doesn't agree. He wrote about heroes in his e-mail.
"Those men and women that went up were heroes in the face of it all," he wrote. "They must have known what was going on and they did their jobs. Ordinary people were heroes, too. ... If you want to make us stronger, attack and we unite."