When They Stood Tall: Remembering the World Trade Center — Before 9/11
Introduction: It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two decades. Today marks the 19th anniversary of 9/11, a fitting time to look back and remember the World Trade Center before they collapsed on that terrible day. Marieta and I visited the World Trade Center a few times. We even went to the top of one of the towers about a year before the tragedy. Today’s essay includes some photos which were taken during those visits. These photos are all that remains.
Note: For a broader perspective of what I witnessed at the Pentagon on the day of 9/11, read this personal recollection posted at my site a few years ago — REMEMBERING SEPTEMBER 11, 2011 AT THE PENTAGON
They were colossal….even by New York standards.
The twin towers. So utterly unremarkable in design, yet so grandiose by sheer size and scope, weren’t just windows to the world. They were extensions of our national character and pillars of America’s unequivocal stature as a global superpower.
Within sight of those two towers, the Statue of Liberty is often said to symbolize our national identity. But the unruffled lady bearing a flaming torch is more of an idea, really. Perhaps even a myth, given where we are and what we’ve become. Rooted squarely within the planet’s financial epicenter, the World Trade Center arose as the true manifestation of a nation, an economy, and a people — imposing, bold, excessive, and unapologetic for it all.
Which is precisely why they were such inviting targets on that fateful day no one saw coming.
I took this photo about a year before it happened.
The view from the top of the towers looking east towards Brooklyn was breathtaking.
Visitors rode express elevators from the ground floor to the observation decks. One was inside. Another was on the rooftop, outside.
That’s Marieta off to the right of the frame.
Here’s another angle, of the view looking east, but angled more towards the south. If you look carefully, you can see the tip of Manhattan Island starting to curve around, there off to the right side. The World Trade Center was only a block or so away from the shore. In fact, a landfill was added to part of the outer perimeter which allowed traffic to move more easily. A park was also added near the waterfront. Of course, that’s all gone now, or at least it’s been transformed.
When we stepped inside Windows on the World, the famous restaurant perched on the 106th and 107th floor of the North Tower, this was the view looking out towards Hudson Bay. There in the center of the photo where the golden sunset radiates off the water is Liberty Island, which provides the base of the Statue of Liberty. You can barely see her proudly standing there in the glow of the sunshine.
The twin towers standing so close side by side meant you could sometimes see people over in the other building. Those working in offices were on display, but if you fear heights, like me, the view was dizzying. Company executives with corner offices who by the very definition of where they worked had “made it.” All strangers. But in a very real sense, they were our friends and our family, too.
Watching someone over in the other tower, catching their eye, and waving was pretty amazing. Seeing them wave back was a real joy.
I wonder what happened to some of those nice people who waved. I wonder how many survived, and how many did not.
The first thing that hits you when you step outside onto the observation deck at the World Trade Center is — the wind.
Not like a breeze. Not even gusts. It just blows…..hard….all the time.
We went outside on a perfect day. I can’t even imagine the difficulty of what it must have been like to do construction or maintenance work on the roof of these buildings. The wind was brutal.
Here’s the view from the outer observation deck looking directly north, uptown on Manhattan Island. Oddly enough, when being up this high it’s so far up one might lose any fear of heights. It’s almost like flying.
Just about everyone connected in any way to the events of 9/11 had an opinion on what to do with the now-sacred site. In the end, rich and powerful financiers do what they always do, which is to tear it all down, haul it away, and rebuild again. The land beneath the bodies and rubble was far too valuable to be left simply, as is, which would have been the most appropriate tribute.
At the very least, part of the iconic outer skeleton of the World Trade Center should have been left intact, and then other buildings could have been built around it. Something, at least, should have remained of those fallen towers, to remind us. Something tangible. Something people can see, and touch, and remember.
Now that those two platforms of such wonderfully unique perception are gone, we can no longer gaze out, reflect, and enjoy. The purgatory between earth and sky stands no more.