Michael Perry began collecting newspaper front pages from Sept. 11, 2001, the same day the planes hit.
Sensing it was a historic moment comparable to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Roseville man rushed to the nearest 7-Eleven and bought every paper “extra” he could find. By Sept. 12, he had more than a dozen, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee.
Since then, Perry, 44, has amassed 1,100 newspapers from Sept. 11 or Sept. 12, 2001, many of them purchased on eBay.
On Sunday, the 15th anniversary of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil, Perry spread out 1,063 papers – each encased in plastic – at the September 11 Memorial Plaza inside Cal Expo. They included papers from all 50 states and 40 nations.
While 250 Boy Scouts planted 3,000 American flags in front of Cal Expo honoring the victims of 9/11, Perry let his headlines and photos of billowing smoke and rubble tell the story.
Arthur Mark, a Cub Scout troop leader from Rancho Cordova, came to take a look with his son Henry, a 13-year-old Boy Scout who helped plant the flags. Tears began to flow as they moved somberly through the rows of headlines.
“What’s really amazing is how the whole country came together that day,” said Arthur Mark, his voice breaking. “It’s a little sad we don’t seem as together today as we were 15 years ago.”
Cal Expo volunteer George Clark echoed Mark’s sentiment. “For that one day, we were all Americans. It didn’t matter who you were, what you were, or your race.”
The headlines from that day formed a tapestry of anger, fear, confusion and resolve. “TERROR IN AMERICA” roared the Detroit Free Press in its extra edition. “ATTACKS PARALYZE U.S.” read the Augusta, Ga. Chronicle. “WAR ON AMERICA,” declared the Boston Herald. “IT’S WAR” said the Chicago Sun-Times. The Boston Globe called it a “New day of infamy.”
The Sacramento Bee went with the more restrained, “Bush vows to punish ‘evil acts’ of terror.”
The foreign press also weighed in. “Beyond words, beyond belief,” said the Arab Times of Kuwait. “COWARDS,” said the Ottawa Sun.
“They’re so many of them, and look how large the letters are,” said Henry Mark. “I wasn’t even born yet, and each of those flags we put down represents somebody who can’t be here.”
Perry’s favorite headline: “BASTARDS!” on the cover of the San Francisco Examiner.
“This hit me really hard and still does,” he said. “Three thousand lives ended unnecessarily – moms and dads, sons and daughters.”
Perry, who described himself as a retired carpenter, construction worker and cashier, said he had spent $153,000 on newspapers so far and is buying more.
Several families praised Perry for the exhibit, which he first shared at Cal Expo last year. “This kind of brings it all back,” said Brandon Lee, who came with his wife, Nela, and 12-year-old daughter, Maddy.
Tasha McLaughlin, a Sacramento resident originally from New Jersey, scanned her hometown newspapers with her Brownie troop and wondered how to explain it to them. “How do you tell a child what happened there, that there were attacks on multiple planes and nearly everyone in the towers was killed?” she asked. “So I talked to them about the dogs and how animals were extremely important sniffing out people caught at ground zero.”
McLaughlin added, “It was 15 years ago, but for many of us it’s yesterday. We had two friends that just decided not to go to work in second tower that day.”
Boy Scout Simeon Sinclair, a ninth-grader at Cordova High School, said planting the flags really hit home. “You never know the feeling of truly loving somebody until you lose them,” he said. “My dad, who had been in the military, died of a heart attack when I was seven.”