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Captains Blog: Lehman's dying hours

As the clock ticks down, workers file out of a Times Square skyscraper carrying what they can.

By Andy Serwer, managing editor
Last Updated: September 15, 2008: 7:33 AM EDT

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- The last hours, minutes really, of one the world's largest investment banks make for a pretty unusual spectacle.

I'm standing outside Lehman Brothers (LEH, Fortune 500) headquarters on 7th Ave and 50th street in New York City, watching Lehman Brothers die.

Employees, some in suits, others in casual clothes, are filing out with all they can carry as time runs out.

They are walking down the sidewalk past police barricades as scores of New Yorkers and tourists gawk, some asking, "Which star is coming out?" - not knowing what's going on.

A big cop issues the standard "keep moving" line to those of us who stop to gaze. He tells the crowd, "Go home. There is no one famous coming out. You are looking at a whole bunch of people who just lost their jobs."

Some of the people behind the barricades are loved ones - their faces distraught, their cars waiting to pick up their significant others and their boxes. One banker carries out a pair of green Lehman umbrellas, a paltry trophy.

Few parting employees are in a mood to talk - either they're still adhering to CEO Dick Fuld's tight-lipped, 'We're all in this together' policy or they're just exhausted and in major pain.

"No comment," is the standard line. A TV producer tries in vain to get interviews. I managed to ask one guy how he felt: "Look at all of us with boxes," he said with a grimace. "What do you think?"

As the night wears on, dozens of younger workers start coming out of the building. One yells, 'Jackals," not knowing that the crowd is made up mostly of relatives or clueless onlookers. A pair of employees walk out carrying orchids.

Six months earlier and five blocks away, a similar scene played out as Bear Stearns collapsed. Tonight I'm wondering how many more crash and burn nights like this Wall Street, the markets and our economy can take. To top of page

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