Born after the twin towers fell, Southold girl tells powerful story of hope and loss in documentary film

Eleanora Alloway, 16, wasn’t born when the twin towers were brought down in the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks. But that day has cast ripples throughout her life. 

Her mother lost a college friend on 9/11, and she knows many other people affected by the tragedy. Her uncle, who was in downtown Manhattan that day, was forced to trek home across the Brooklyn Bridge, and his girlfriend died in the attacks. 

The Alloway family always does something to commemorate the date and, as a longtime Girl Scout, Eleanora, known as Ellie, has consistently volunteered at memorial services at Jean Cochran Park in Peconic. 

When it came time for Ellie — who’s been making her own movies since she was very young — to select a Gold Award project, she was inspired to create a documentary featuring North Forkers affected by the attack. The Gold Award is the highest honor available to Girl Scouts and requires at least 80 volunteer hours.  

“A lot of people I talked to said that when they looked at the New York skyline, they would always miss seeing the two towers,” she said. “And for me, I didn’t really understand that, so I wanted to take an extra step to understand this thing that’s happened with my family and just go really in depth with it.” 

Ellie spent about two years working on the video, called “RIPPLES: 9/11 Reflections from the North Fork NY.” The title is a nod to the widespread impact of the attacks, which, although they occurred nearly 100 miles away, “still washed over the citizens of the North Fork, like ripples on water,” she said. Featuring more than a dozen interviews, the video will debut at the Southold Town Recreation Center at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10. The documentary will play again immediately after the memorial at Jean Cochran Park on Sept. 11. 

The film offers thoughts and memories from North Forkers about their 9/11 experiences, told for the generations that have followed. For them, the Sept. 11 attacks are not a traumatic memory or life-changing event — they’re history. 

“I always like to think that the next generation is going to be wiser than the last, and hopefully more empathetic,” Ellie said. But for that to happen, she realizes, it’s important for each generation to learn from its predecessors. 

“Part of the importance of this project is the fact that this generation of students were not around for any of this,” said Southold school Superintendent Anthony Mauro. He emphasized that individual students might have very different perceptions of the attacks, depending on the people in their lives. 

“I grew up in Westchester, and I had friends that were in that building, so my conversations with my kids are different than maybe somebody who didn’t have that,” he said. “My conversations with my kids and their understanding would be different than say, if I was a firefighter, or if I grew up in the Midwest and moved here.”

People suffer from trauma and guilt. And really, this is a way not to just remember those who have been lost, but those who survived.

Ellie Alloway

Depending on the teacher, classroom conversations about 9/11 might also vary, he added.

“I’ve sat in on classes where the person delivering the class had a childhood friend in the building,” Dr. Mauro said. “I’ve sat in on classes where it was, you know, a 25-year-old new teacher who was only 5 when it happened. Those conversations and presentations vary, but so do all classroom lessons.”

Shawn Petretti, superintendent in the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, acknowledged that it’s sometimes difficult to plan in-depth educational events surrounding 9/11, since it falls so close to the start of the school year. 

“For older folks like myself, sometimes we forget that the children sitting in front of us were all born after the events of Sept. 11. While many of us as educators remember being in classrooms and with our students when it happened, it’s a far different experience for these students,” Mr. Petretti said.  

Mattituck-Cutchogue, Greenport and Southold school districts all plan to show Ellie’s documentary in social studies classrooms to commemorate the attacks. Greenport Superintendent Marlon Small said it’s a “powerful tool,” adding that the district also hopes to invite first responders to speak. 

“To be able to use her video in our social studies classes for a student body is an excellent opportunity to not only showcase the work of one of the students on the North Fork, but to also educate our students on the events of that day and the impact it’s had on our local community,” Mr. Petretti said. 

Ellie hopes the video educates younger generations who “either don’t believe this happened or are just wanting to learn more about the nation’s history” — especially, she said, since the event has had such a far-reaching impact, adding as an example that 9/11 is the reason for heightened security to enter buildings and airports.

The film will debut following a ceremony Saturday morning in Peconic. (Credit: Bill Landon/file)

“I want to teach people about what happened in our past so we can respect that and move forward with the future,” she said, emphasizing the importance of preserving history. One impetus for her film was how deeply she was affected by a first-person account of Nazi death camps she heard at a Holocaust museum on Long Island.  

“As I got older, I heard some of my peers who had denied the Holocaust, and I was infuriated,” she said. “I could see that happening with 9/11 already, with inane conspiracy theories already on the internet. So I felt it would be important to capture even a little piece of firsthand experiences.” 

Ellie said she cried in her car after interviewing a Greenport woman who was running late to work that day and could still remember the names and faces of co-workers who were lost. She recalled another interview with a Southold man who worked on cleanup after the attacks and  had to take weeks off from work to recover after a human arm fell on his shoulder.  

“People suffer from trauma and guilt. And really, this is a way not to just remember those who have been lost, but those who survived,” she said. 

The documentary will also be live on Ellie made the film herself with some help from her mother, who is also her Girl Scout leader.  

“We’re very proud that one of our students is willing to keep that history alive, because it’s impossible for a 20-year-old to experience what happened 20 years ago, and anybody younger,” Dr. Mauro said. “So having people from these communities out here on the North Fork relay their experiences to them, it brings a greater sense of understanding and appreciation for some of the things our country has gone through.”