The Tourist Guy of 9/11
By David Emery
Netlore Archive: A snapshot purportedly taken atop one of the World Trade Center twin towers seconds before the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.
Description: Email hoax / Viral joke
Circulating since: Sep. 2001
Status: Fake (see details below)
See also: WTC 'Tourist Guy' Parodies
Email example contributed by E. La Combe, Sep. 21, 2001:
Fw: Different Perspective on the New York Tragedy
Attached is a picture that was taken of a tourist atop the World Trade Center Tower, the first to be struck by a terrorist attack. This camera was found but the subject in the picture had not yet been located.
Makes you see things from a very different position. Please share this and find any way you can to help Americans not to be victims in the future of such cowardly attacks.
Click to Enlarge
Analysis: One inevitable byproduct of an occurrence as devastating as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon is the dissemination of sick jokes about the event. This snapshot of the so-called "Tourist Guy" or "Accidental Tourist of 9/11," above, was among the earliest examples of a widely circulated viral joke about 9/11. Both the image and the caption are fictitious.
Midtown Manhattan is easily discernible in the background, behind the blissfully unaware subject with his wool cap and backpack, which means the photographer was facing north when the photo was snapped. Only one of the jetliners that collided with the World Trade Center on September 11 approached from that direction, American Airlines Flight #11, which struck the north tower (One World Trade) at 8:45 a.m. Here's the thing. The north tower of the WTC didn't have a rooftop observation deck such as the one pictured above. Even if it had, it wouldn't have been open to tourists at such an early hour of the morning.
Here are more discrepancies to ponder:
- Why isn't the fast-moving aircraft more blurry in the snapshot?
- Why doesn't the subject (or the photographer, for that matter) seem cognizant of the plane's approach?
- According to news reports, the temperature was between 65 and 70 degrees that morning. Why is this man dressed for winter?
- How would the camera have survived the 110-story fall when the WTC tower collapsed?
- How would the camera have been found so quickly in all that rubble?
As to the question of why anyone would invent a hoax as callous and tasteless as this in the first place, I would point out that the creation of sick jokes is probably more often the rule than the exception after tragic events like 9/11. Much as we may not wish to accept or condone it, the behavior is both predictable and comprehensible in terms of how people collectively cope with tragedy.
To borrow an observation from folklorist Alan Dundes, the example before us demonstrates that "one person's tragedy may become a point of projection or catharsis for the fears and anxieties of others. Remember, people joke about only what is most serious."
It doesn't get much more serious than this.
Update: 'Tourist Guy' Revealed! - We finally learn the identity of the prankster who was the brains (as well as the face) behind the infamous WTC photo.
See also: 'Tourist Guy' Parodies - The "Accidental Tourist" prank inspired numerous variants parodying the original and building upon its dark humor. Here is a gallery of some of the more bitterly amusing specimens in circulation.
Sources and further reading:
Vital Statistics of the World Trade Center
The WILDEST Rumors & Hoaxes of 9/11
About.com: Urban Legends
Last updated 08/26/13