“You see those two towers? World Trade Center. I was an architect working on them. First they just wanted to build one but I said, ‘Hey, fellas, we’re here – What the hell, let’s throw another one up’. Turned out pretty well, didn’t it?”
Billy Caufield (Michael Keaton) , The Dream Team (1989)
This lying boast by a lovable escaped mental patient in a silly comedy movie actually manages to capture what I believe many New Yorkers thought and felt about the Twin Towers. They weren’t architectural gems, and their reign as the world’s tallest buildings was brief, but dammit, there were two of them. How about that?
The Towers were twins in two ways: obviously with each other. But also, with the Empire State Building, they comprised the twin anchors to the New York City skyline. A recurring, if only occasional, theme in my work photographing around the city today is the number of spots from which you can see the Empire State Building. It seems like so many roads and so many vistas lead directly to it, which is mostly because it is simply the highest building around by a substantial margin.
But there used to be two such landmarks in the sky, and it was always neat when you found a spot from which you could see both. It was hard to do in Manhattan, and most commonly found in Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey.
The first photos in my archives taken with my very first digital camera are dated July 14, 2001. They are all taken indoors and feature my daughter. I first took the camera outside on the next day, July 15, a Sunday. This is the first picture I took, from the highest point in a park very near to our home.
You used to be able to loosely triangulate your position relative to Manhattan by your view of this pair of landmarks. Driving home from any points south of the city you approach via the New Jersey Turnpike, and you would mark your progress as you got close to the city by noting your view of these three buildings. This was even featured, in reverse, in the opening credits to the Sopranos. They changed it after the September 11 attack, but the original opening sequence showed first a glimpse of the Empire State Building as Tony emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel, then a glimpse of the Towers in his car mirror as he moved further from the tunnel and towards the Newark suburbs.
I really came to think of the Towers as mine when I lived in the apartment shown in the top image, and mentioned in Monday’s post. That was a very cool apartment.
But the Towers continued to be special after I moved out. I’ve lived in or near the city my entire life, except for 15 months in DC in 1995-96. It so happened that I met my future wife — who lived in New York — two months after I moved to DC, so we dated long distance for about a year. When coming to New York for the weekend, sometimes I took the train, and sometimes I drove. On those drives I usually took the Holland Tunnel into Lower Manhattan. The spur from the Turnpike heading to that tunnel has one of the great “approaching the skyline” moments. After driving through a section where you cannot see the city at all, you come over a rise, and as you reach the top lower Manhattan just appears out of the sky ahead of you, and very close. The first items I would see, of course, were the Towers, and seeing them meant I was close to seeing my sweetie.
Nobody really talks about it, but I think I’m not alone in having taken the loss of the Twin Towers, a pair of buildings, very hard after the September 11 attack. You don’t talk about it because compared to the human loss it is clearly insignificant. But if somebody had just taken the buildings down as part of some redevelopment it would not have been the same. We, or at least I, quietly mourn the Towers because of the death associated with them.
For months after the attack, I tried not to look. If I walked or drove past a spot where I knew I could see where the Towers once stood I would look away. I didn’t want to see the hole in the sky. I specifically remember once, probably about a year after the attacks, driving down the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway which has a section right along the Brooklyn waterfront with gorgeous views of the lower Manhattan skyline. I just did not look.
But there was one exception to this practice of mine. On Monday September 17, 2001, I made myself walk to the same spot, in the same park, where I took the picture just two months earlier. And I took it again.
Yes. You can still see the dust, almost a week after the attack.
This is hardly the most dramatic documentation of the attack. But it is mine.
Nobody wants to look at the hole in the sky. Nobody wants to look at death. But things need to be documented, and a picture that is not published might as well not exist.