D.C. earthquake: Front-page woman in purple speaks!
- (Photo: Associated Press)
Every historic event requires an iconic photograph. In the case of Tuesday's earthquake, some might argue for the damaged steeples of the National Cathedral, but no single photo has risen above the others. Instead, I would argue that it's the photo — two, actually, but taken just seconds apart — of a bespectacled woman in a purple blouse, her hands to her face in shock.
That image, as we pointed out in an analysis of yesterday's front pages, was featured on the cover of four dailies in the D.C. area: the Examiner, Times, Herald-Mail, and Express. While this repetition exposed a lack of originality on the part of those newspapers — as the "All Shook Up" headlines also did — I almost can't blame them for choosing the image. It doesn't represent what most of us experienced, but the emotion shown by the woman in purple is very real.
And I know this because I found her: Susy Ward, 49, of Huntingtown, Md. A trademark paralegal at Banner & Witcoff, on 13th Street NW near L Street, she was standing outside her building when the photos were taken by Associated Press photographer J. Scott Applewhite, who works in the same building. But what could she possibly have seen that caused such a dramatic reaction?
The answer is more reasonable than I expected: Ward hadn't realized yet that it was an earthquake. At first, she thought it was just her building that had shook. Then she ran outside, where "there was nothing but wall-to-wall people," and realized everyone had experienced the same thing. Experienced what, though?
Terrorism crossed her mind, but, she says, "Even this just seemed worse than 9/11 to me — as far as what I saw out there — because on 9/11 I just shot out of here, there was no traffic."
Her second thought: "Maybe a plane had landed and maybe hit trees or a building." But she saw no plane.
It was her third thought that Applewhite caught on camera.
"There's a building being razed next door to us, and we all thought they'd dropped one of those giant steel beams that they drill into the ground," Ward says. "So when I got outside, that was my reaction when I saw the masses of people. I was like, 'Holy cow.'" She thought maybe people had been crushed underneath, which would have been horrifying indeed.
She was no less shocked, though, to discover that it was a quake, saying, "The magnitude of that hit me almost to the point of tears. We have no control."
Yesterday, she woke up to find her image splashed across the region's front pages. Coworkers kept bringing copies of them to her desk, and her husband, who was home during the quake, joked that he should become her agent and publicist. It's been a fun 15 minutes of fame.
About that purple blouse, though. If the image is iconic, in some small way, then it's as much because of that bright garment — which she bought at Sears, the brand unknown — as her reaction. If she knew her photo was going to spread all over town, would she have worn anything else? A dress, perhaps?
"No, because I never wear dresses anymore," Ward says. She's worn pants ever since 9/11. That way, she explains, she always has her phone, keys, and wallet in her pockets, and can flee a disaster at a moment's notice.
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