Terry Farm crew recalls 9/11, won’t return to re-opened NYC farmers market

Nelly Davoren saw the first plane hit the north tower at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 — and Billy Halsey heard it.

“I heard the crash and the noise and debris falling down on the trucks,” Mr. Halsey said.

That morning, both were working the farmers market at the business hub for Terry Farm of Orient, which had participated in the market for about 10 years. Papers that appeared to be from an insurance company began falling to the ground, causing Mr. Halsey to wonder whether there was a ticker tape parade he hadn’t heard about. Then, falling sparks, burning debris and pieces of metal fell all around them.

While Mr. Halsey, of Westhampton, and Ms. Davoren, who was in Orient then, rushed to find safety, Fred and Ethel Terry, watched the horror unfold on television from their Orient home and spent hours fearful for the safety of their friends and employees.

For the next 16 years, as the site was reclaimed and rebuilt, the World Trade Center was without a farmers market. But the Greenmarket farmers market returned to the spot last week, with vendors new and old. The Terry farm, however, will not be represented. The Terrys’ memories of that day remain vivid and deeply personal and, for them, farmers markets in Manhattan are no longer an option.

“After that happened, I didn’t want anybody going over a bridge again,” Ms. Terry said.

Mr. Terry added that they continued to sell at a market in Brooklyn for two years after the attack. But by that time, Ms. Terry had begun the Long Island Growers Market and the couple moved their business to Long Island locations, now selling their produce retail, not wholesale.

The Terrys have been asked to return to other market locations around the city, but declined due to changes in their business, the logistics of moving produce into the city and, of course, their memories.

“That was enough to say, ‘Enough’s enough,’” Ms. Terry said, adding, “I don’t feel safe in there. There’s just so many people and so many buildings.”

Mr. Terry agreed. There are a lot of “crazy people” out there, he said, referring to recent terrorist attacks around the world. He saw the second plane hit the south tower when he turned on the television. He said he instantly collapsed on the floor, sobbing. He was meant to go to the market that day, but ended up staying at the farm. So Mr. Halsey and Ms. Davoren filled in.

“My two best friends in the world — I sent them to the city and they get killed,” he recalled thinking at the time. “Thank God they didn’t.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Halsey and Ms. Davoren were caught up in the chaos, smoke and burning debris. The market they drove out to in the early hours of the morning from Long Island was destroyed. Both said they loved helping the Terrys out there and chatting with regular customers.

Mr. Halsey rushed to load the Terry’s box truck. He finally reached Mr. Terry, who advised them by phone to leave right away. But in the chaos there was no way to drive out.

As Ms. Davoren and fellow vendor Linda Conklin, who was from a Hudson Valley orchard, huddled in the truck, a young woman handed them her newborn baby, rushing into the World Trade Center to find her husband. In 2001, she told The Suffolk Times, it seemed like the woman was gone “for what felt like an hour,” but she returned for her child minutes later.

Ms. Davoren said she never learned the fate of the woman’s husband. “I hope they’re all well,” she said Monday in a phone interview from Ireland.

A first responder told them to leave the truck, which was later flattened by falling debris. Ms. Davoren and Ms. Conklin took off toward a Brooks Brothers store on Liberty Street, but Mr. Halsey was quickly engulfed in a cloud of smoke and dust. He couldn’t see his hand in front of him, he said.

“Something fell alongside me,” he said, his eyes filling with tears, his voice breaking. “Don’t know if it was a body or what.”

As he recalled that moment last Thursday, Mr. Halsey paused, crying as he sat at the Terry’s Orient home. His wife, Sharon Johnson, put her hand on his shoulder, crying alongside him and the Terrys as they sat around the dining room table.

“We never forget, and we always relive it,” Ms. Terry said. “Sixteen years later it still makes you upset.”

Mr. Halsey was trapped in darkness for 15 or 20 minutes. He could hear sirens and people screaming for help before he slipped into the Brooks Brothers. An officer directed him to South Street, and he tried to step into another building to find fresher air. He saw a fire truck pass, its wipers flailing and the driver’s head out the window to try and see better.

Suddenly, as he walked on after failing to gain entry to a crowded bodega where people were “packed like sardines,” he felt a tug on his ponytail. It was Ms. Davoren and Ms. Conklin. The three walked up First Avenue to a midtown pub where Ms. Davoren’s husband was working. It wasn’t until 2 p.m. that day that Terrys learned their friends were safe.

Ms. Davoren found a phone in an office building, and tried to contact the Terrys and her two grown sons in Ireland. She later returned to Ireland and, while she still spends a few months each year in Orient, has not set foot in Manhattan since. She said she’s considered visiting the memorial at the site, though perhaps not soon.

“Good for them, but they won’t see me there,” Ms. Davoren said, of the market’s return.

As the morning unfolded, Mr. Halsey was desperate to get back to Long Island, and home. He continued uptown with Ms. Conklin, dropping her off at a friend’s home on 83rd Street, then returned to the pub, where he had one beer before heading to Penn Station. He hopped on a train to Babylon, where his daughter picked him up. His dusty imprint was left on his train seat.

About five years ago, Mr. Halsey retraced his steps that day, “just to go through what I went through,” he said.

Since the attack, he said, he goes by the saying, “Live every day like it’s your last, ’cause you never know.”

[email protected]