An image submitted to Reddit’s r/pics and r/interestingasfuck on September 10 2019 titled “Last sunset 9/10/2001” appeared without additional text or information, rapidly climbing to the top of the site’s r/all page on the eighteenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks:
As of the following day, the image had been updated more than 95,000 times; a post with a similar caption appeared on Facebook in 2018. In the comments, users either reminisced about their memories of before the September 11th attacks, or commented to say that they had never lived in the world described by those users.
Its title suggested the image might be the last known image of a sunset over the intact Manhattan skyline, although no setting sun was actually visible in an image that could have been taken at any cloudy point late in the day.
The image itself was not an early piece of 9/11 memorabilia, and was first crawled by a reverse image search engine in 2011. Its first appearance we could find was in September 2011 in an ABC Australia retrospective about the attacks, “The day before the storm: Photos of Sept 10, 2001.” Included descriptions suggested that the item marked the first widespread distribution of that image.
According to that piece, the photograph did not literally show a “last sunset,” or even a sunset at all. ABC said of the submission:
Evan Kuz took this photo of downtown New York on the afternoon of September 10, 2001, and says he made a fateful decision to go for a run before visiting the World Trade Centre the next day.
Kuz was asked for his account of the day before the 9/11 attacks, as well as the circumstances under which he captured the image. He explained that the image was taken from Liberty Island, at a point in the afternoon where the weather transitioned from sunny and mild to stormy and gray:
This was my first visit ever to New York City, and I was anxious and excited to see it all. I was staying with friends who lived there, but I was exploring the city on my own that day. It started off as a beautiful sunny day, and finding myself in lower Manhattan in the early part of the afternoon, I thought it’d be a perfect opportunity to take the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and visit the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island.
When I took this photo, I was on the grounds by the Statue of Liberty. The weather had changed so quickly. At one moment the twin towers were bathed in sunlight – the next they were surrounded by deep blue/grey storm clouds. Even still, with the clouds all around, the towers stood out, almost out of place and even more out of proportion to the buildings around them.
Hours later I found myself on the observation level in the south tower.
Kuz’s image was one of several captured by various people on September 10 2001 and highlighted in the retrospective. One set of four images, shared by artist Monika Bravo, showed scenes of the World Trade Center later on what many described as a stormy evening in Manhattan. Another shows a peaceful Washington, DC on the same date (September 10 2001), but most images included the towers.
Unlike other “last” or “only” 9/11 viral photographs, there is no reason not to believe that there were additional images of the World Trade Center available from that day and evening, and Kuz’s image, while striking, stood out solely because it was curated into an anniversary gallery. We found no iterations describing it as the “last sunset” until 2018, its original title did not mention a “last sunset,” and Kuz made no reference to a sunset in his blog post about the image and account.
When the image was shared to Reddit’s r/ImagesOfNewYork in 2017, the title referenced only the date:
An image shared to Reddit and Facebook with the caption “Last sunset 9/10/2001” appeared to be viewed in a more contemplative than exact sense, standing in for people’s thoughts and feelings about an America that changed forever in a 17-minute-long span the following day. Nevertheless, the image clearly felt meaningful to the thousands of social media users who shared it along with its “last sunset” description.