Personal Memories on the 20th Anniversary of the Attacks of September 11, 2001

Whenever we reach a round number anniversary of a notable event the media pulls out all the stops in their coverage and special editions. I have written previously of my experiences on that date in New York City and will, briefly, here again today. But even before I moved to the Big Apple I often vacationed there. Here is a photo I took during a stop there in 1992.

On this day in 2001, I was Managing Director of the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (now the David H. Koch Theater and still home to the New York City Ballet). In those years we were also home to the New York City Opera which was scheduled to hold their season opening gala, complete with a welcoming speech by the noted opera lover Rudy Giuliani, then mayor of the city.

When the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center we wondered if there may have been a problem with on of the transponders on the roof of the building to guide airplanes around it. The nascent internet froze up with the barrage of people seeking information and we had only a radio to get instant information. When the second plane hit the south tower we still had no visuals but new it was something serious. At the time there were questions regarding the location of the mayor as he had placed the emergency operations office in one of the towers and could not be reached. Knowing he was scheduled in our building that evening we chose to do a walkthrough of our building in case he was a target.

That may seem silly in light of all we now know but on that morning, nothing was certain and there were many unanswerable questions. My search route took me to the roof of our building and though midtown buildings prevented me from a direct sight of the tragedy I saw several Air Force jets streak along the Hudson toward downtown. It was a frightening day and all of the Lincoln Center buildings except ours shut down and locked their doors, leaving many people with no place to go as at first many bridges and mass transit lines were shut down. We kept our doors open and let those who wished find shelter at the New York State Theater. As the weather was beautiful, many chose to wait out in the plaza until routes home could be found, as they wished to steer clear of buildings that morning.

Because our building did not have television or internet that day I have never seen many of the horrific scenes of that day and have no desire to see them even now. I stayed through the day before we finally shut down and watched thousands of people streaming peacefully but determined uptown away from the tragedy. I was fortunate in that my crosstown bus was operating that evening as I left for my apartment at the time. Like everyone who experienced it, I will never forget that day and feel blessed not to have had to experience them closely. Now there is a whole generation of people with no direct memory of that horrific event. To them it is history. I am a big fan of history and wonder how they will process an event that was not immediate to them. As I have processed so many lessons from history I did not experience. But I had a small part in this event and will never forget it.

As always you can find more at and on Twitter @walterthinnes

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