That Tuesday in 2001 was a clear and beautiful day. I had voted in the mayoral primary and was at my desk as Managing Director of the New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch Theater) at Lincoln Center. My assistant let me know that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center, just a few miles from us. I assumed that it was a small plane, and as there are beacons atop the tower, that some signal had been crossed. When the second plane hit the other tower we knew something larger was going on.
The internet was new and quickly locked up. Phones were not yet smart. Our offices were underground so we did not have good radio reception. What we did know was that no one could find the mayor and he was scheduled to host the opening night of the New York City Opera scheduled for our stage that very evening. It seems a bit naive now but we had no idea what was going on and someone wondered if this somehow involved a plot to get at the mayor (after all his emergency response center was placed in one of the World Trade Center buildings and no one knew where he was). The opera opening night event was canceled. Again, silly knowing what we know now, but we split up our engineering and security staff to do a search of our building in case there was some larger plan involving the mayor. Had we found something we would have called the authorities which we rightly assumed were beyond busy downtown.
During the search I discovered an unknown small room that the stagehands used as an ersatz break room that had a television set with an antenna near the top of the building. They were assigned to shuttle the bad news to us periodically and it was the only source of information we had that day. The rest of the Lincoln Center campus closed down, building by building until we were all that was left open. Most transportation off the island was shut down and some people had no where to go. While many Lincoln Center employees gathered around the fountain we invited any who wanted in as we had vending machines and places to rest. The only person to get through on my flip phone was a dear friend who lived in Cincinnati as I stood on the roof of the theater watching fighter planes scream down the Hudson River.
While it is a day painfully etched in my memory I was perhaps lucky as I never saw the television coverage of people leaping to their deaths or other macabre imagery associated with the day. I have never had a desire to go back and see any of it. I knew two people who escaped and none personally who perished. While not a day I ever wish to relive, I later wrote a short play about the impact of that day called “Always With Me.” It won the audience choice award earlier this year at a Players Theater Festival. That day seems a century ago and last week all at the same time.
TOMORROW: Razzle Dazzle