9/11 at the Wayne County Fairgrounds

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This is the first piece I wrote on September 11, 2001. I wrote it for The Daily Record in Wooster, Ohio, where I was a reporter covering the Wayne County Fair that day.

Reaction at the fairgrounds

“I think we’re at war”

By Matt Tullis

Staff Writer

WOOSTER — People gathered around the WQKT 104.5 FM radio booth Tuesday morning, straining to listen to the live feed from CNN radio that was carrying the latest news on the apparent terrorist attack in the eastern United States earlier that morning.

Outside the fairgrounds entrance, flags flew at half-mast. Inside the grandstand, the only noise was the bits and pieces of news that spewed from the half-dozen radios that were sitting in booths advertising everything from pianos to real estate.

As people gathered around the WQKT booth, “The Star-Spangled Banner” began outside, the start of what was still to be a day of harness racing. 

Eyes welled up. Anger poured out.

“I think we’re at war,” said Art Clappe, an Akron resident who came to the fair. “If we ain’t at war, we’re damn close to it.”

Wayne County Fair Board member Herb Berry said there were no plans to cancel any fair activities as of Tuesday afternoon. 

Mike Brekenridge, program manager at WQKT, said people were stopping by the booth as soon as the news broke. They would stay for 10 or 15 minutes before moving on, but ultimately they came back, unable to stay away from the horrific news updates, he said. 

“It’s really disturbing,” Breckenridge said. “Nobody is smiling around here today, that’s for sure.”

Breckenridge said the radio station would carry continuous coverage well into the night.

“No other programming seems appropriate, at least not at this time,” he said. “This is far more important than anything else we could put on the air.”

While Breckenridge stood next to the booth, several people expressed absolute rage at what happened. One woman assumed Osama bin Laden, a Saudi terrorist and known enemy of the United States, was to blame for the attack.

“We should murder the son-of-a-bitch,” she said before walking away. 

Murel Cameron of Canal Fulton said it was hard to express exactly what he was feeling.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” Cameron said. “Everybody is pretty much in shock. We get bits and pieces. Shock is the main word.”

John Weeman and his family vacationed in New York City last year. During the visit, they went to the World Trade Center. 

It’s terrible,” he said. “The number of people that died.” Weeman paused. “We were in the Trade Center last year on vacation, and it could hold all of Wayne County.”

Linda Flory has 3-year-old and a 4-year-old daughters. While she takes solace in her faith, Flory said this is something that her children won’t be able to understand, at least not for now.

“I believe God is in control,” Flory said. “We don’t know the future, but we know who holds the future if you just put your trust in him.”

As she handed out tracts of Christian literature, labeled “The Beginning of the End,” Flory said she has noticed people are definitely not in a typical fair-going mood.

“People are all scared, dazed,” she said. “I just feel sick about it.”

The Author

Matt Tullis is the author of Running With Ghosts: A Memoir of Surviving Childhood Cancer. He is the director of Digital Journalism at Fairfield University, and is the host and producer of Gangrey: The Podcast.

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