"I have no reasonable expectation that a reunion will happen, but why not try?" he asked.
Abe Wachsman was driving to his office in Lower Manhattan’s financial district on September 11, 2001, when he noticed a blizzard of white paper floating across the East River shortly before 9 a.m. Upon turning on his car radio, he heard that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. "I figured that some hotshot Cessna pilot must have miscalculated," Wachsman told The Washington Post. "But then when I got to my exit, I encountered a solid wall of traffic. At 9:10 in the morning, I heard the second jet pass right over my head. I couldn't see it, but the altitude was low enough to give me pause."
Even as the horror of the unprecedented terrorist attacks set in, Wachsman said he sat in traffic until New York Police Department officers turn everyone's cars around so they could leave the area. "I felt fortunate to be headed safely in the opposite direction," he said. "But then I saw something really disconcerting. People were walking down the busy highway, covered in ash and debris. It occurred to me that I should take some of them in my car and get them away from Ground Zero."
Since he was was alone in his SUV, Wachsman began offering rides to people fleeing on foot. Soon, three men piled into his black 2001 Lexus. "They were either Russian or Georgian and wanted to get back to where they lived in Queens," he recalled. Shortly after, Wachsman noticed a young couple in their 20s pushing a toddler in a stroller, north of Battery Park. He helped them to get the stroller in the back and everyone squeezed into his vehicle. "They wanted to be let out somewhere in the low 20s to mid-30s [streets]," he said. "I didn't get the impression they were from New York, and we rode pretty much in silence. Nobody was in the mood for small talk. We were all in somewhat of a state of shock."
After he dropped everyone off, Wachsman drove straight to a carwash near his home in Queens as his SUV was covered in ash. That’s when he discovered that a dark brown stuffed monkey with wide eyes and a stripe of bright yellow fur on its forehead had been left behind. "The child's parents were in such a hurry to get to safe territory, that the monkey had been overlooked," he said. "I'd let the couple and the child out of the car somewhere between Chelsea and Midtown, and I knew it would be impossible to find them. I can't remember whether the child was a boy or a girl, but I had the impression they were visiting New York on vacation."
"I made my peace that the monkey and the toddler weren't going to be reunited — at least, not right then," Wachsman added. Since he couldn't bear the thought of throwing out the monkey or giving it away, he decided to keep it in his car and hopefully reunite it with the family someday. He explained that he was afraid he and his wife might become too attached to the plush animal if he brought the monkey inside the house. "In the back of my head was the conviction that if the monkey was ever reunited with its owner, I didn't want to have separation anxiety," Wachsman said.
People kayak in the Hudson River in front of the Tribute in Light, Lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in New York City on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on September 11, 2021 as seen from Jersey City, New Jersey. 📷: @GaryHershorn pic.twitter.com/2dnXC9gAEe— Getty Images News (@GettyImagesNews) September 12, 2021
"I never considered it mine," he added. "I saw myself as the monkey's caretaker. My wife and I have had several cars over the years, and the monkey has ridden along in each one." For more than 20 years, the stuffed animal rode in the back seat of his car. After the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks last month, Wachsman's daughter, Jessica Wachsman-Selznick, decided to try and find the monkey's owner — who would now be in their early 20s. "I get emotional about 9/11 every year, but this year, the 20th anniversary really got me thinking about the monkey," she said. "I told my dad, 'Maybe there's a way to do this — it's worth a try."
On September 17, Wachsman-Selznick shared her father's story on Facebook and Twitter. "This year, I decided that after 20 years, it's time to put an end to an enduring mystery," she wrote. "Help us reunite '9/11 Monkey' with its rightful owner!" Wachsman said he was thrilled when his daughter suggested launching a social media effort to identify the monkey's rightful owner. "I have no reasonable expectation that a reunion will happen, but why not try?" he said. "It must have been traumatic for the child to lose the monkey. Twenty years later, I'd love to give it back."