Showing posts with label World Trade Center. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World Trade Center. Show all posts

Thursday, September 11, 2014


We’re going off to Seattle and Alaska so for a while this space will be quiet.  I hope to have some interesting tales and photographs upon our return.

I write this with a great sense of sadness as thirteen years ago we watched the smoke drift from the north to the south when the World Trade Towers were attacked and fell, a day in our lives we will never forget. Although we were some fifty miles away, it was a clear, crisp autumn-like morning sky and we could see it clearly from our boat in Norwalk, CT.  Such senselessness, the loss of life of so many innocent men and women, and yet the monstrous hatred that spawned those attacks continues.  We can only hope that the administration’s plans as laid out by President Obama last night will contain and perhaps destroy ISIS.  It is obviously a war without end.

My older son, Chris, wrote a poem about 9/11 that very day.  It’s a first-hand emotional account of the horror and the hope.

I’ve posted these before, but they’re lost among the hundreds of entries of this blog, so I’ve collected a few of my sunrise photographs, and repost them here, in remembrance.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Operation Sail Bicentennial

It is a never ending cornucopia of photographic treasures I still continue to uncover decades after my father's death. I had thought I had seen them all, but found another box marked "pix from Dad's room" squirreled away in a remote part of a closet. Many are old family photographs but some are of the city he worked in all his life, New York, and, particularly, several 8 x 10's of the Operation Sail Bicentennial, all taken from the air. I have no idea whether he just knew a photographer who took these and my father only developed and printed them at his commercial studio or whether he himself did the photographing as well as the printing (they are definitely prints from his studio). A few are just too iconic not to publish in some way, so I've scanned them, including one of the twin towers majestically overlooking the Hudson River only a few years after they were completed.

World Trade Center, Bicentennial 1976

USCGC Eagle and the USS FORRESTAL, Operation Sail Bicentennial 1976

Statue of Liberty, Bicentennial 1976

The Christian Radich, Operation Sail Bicentennial 1976

Verrazano Bridge, Bicentennial 1976

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

God, the Ninth, and Nine-Eleven

How does one reconcile the destructive events of 9/11 with the creative force of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony both coming into being in the name of God? As Friedrich Shiller’s Ode to Joy concludes -- the basis for Beethoven’s massive choral addition to the symphonic form -- “Do you sense the Creator, world?/Seek Him beyond the starry canopy!/Beyond the stars must He dwell.” And no doubt the hijackers on that fated day believed they were performing a sacred duty for their “Creator.”

I’ve been reading John Updike’s last short story collection, My Father’s Tears, interspersing those stories with other things I read, treating them like the little gems they are. Since 9/11 though I’ve made it a point to avoid anything about that horrible day, just because it is so raw in memory. We could see the columns of smoke 50 miles away in Connecticut on that crystal clear day.

So it was some trepidation when I realized that Updike’s story “Varieties of Religious Experience” is about that very day; beginning with “THERE IS NO GOD: the revelation came to Dan Kellogg in the instant that he saw the World Trade Center South Tower fall.” (He was from out of town, visiting his daughter and grandchild at their apartment in Brooklyn Heights.) To get through this story, written from various perspectives (including a woman on the ill fated flight that crashed in PA), I had to continually take deep, slow breaths, just to control my anxiety. Not that Updike capitalized on gruesome details, but there is the constant unreal undercurrent of the lunacy of that day. One knows where it is all going, and if this is what God is all about, anyone’s God, organized religion seems so hypocritical, a crutch or a means of justifying anything. One brief paragraph from the story encapsulates its essence:

Dan could not quite believe the tower had vanished. How could something so vast and intricate, an elaborately engineered upright hive teeming with people, mostly young, be dissolved by its own weight so quickly, so casually? The laws of matter had functioned, was the answer. The event was small beneath the calm dome of sky. No hand of God had intervened because there was none. God had no hands, no eyes, no heart, no anything. Thus was Dan, a sixty-four-year-old Episcopalian and probate lawyer, brought late to the realization that comes to children with the death of a pet, to women with the loss of a child, to millions caught in the implacable course of war and plague. His revelation of cosmic indifference thrilled him, though his own extinction was held within this new truth like one of the white rectangles weightlessly rising and spinning within the boiling column of smoke. He joined at last the run of mankind in its stoic atheism. He had fought this wisdom all his life, with prayer and evasion, with recourse to the piety of his Ohio ancestors and to ingenious and jaunty old books – Kierkegarrd, Chesterton – read for comfort in adolescence and early manhood. But had he been one of the hundreds in that building – its smoothly telescoping collapse in itself a sight of some beauty, like the color-enhanced stellar blooms of photographed supernovae, only unfolding not in aeons but in seconds – would all that metal and concrete have weighed an ounce less or hesitated a microsecond in its crushing, mincing, vaporizing descent?

I could not get the thought of 9/11 out of my mind Sunday when, for the first time in my life, although I had listened to various recordings in the past, I saw, heard, became immersed in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, a magnificent, ambitious undertaking of the Palm Beach Opera, performed at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

Long ago in a college music history/theory course we reviewed Beethoven’s 9th and I had a copy of the score. It was the most complex piece I had ever seen, the orchestration for different sections being a mystery as to how everything can be brought together in one coherent entity. Four well-known opera soloists and four different choruses joined the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra. There were hundreds of people on stage. If there is a God, he/she/it is embodied in that Symphony, the purest ethereal expression of reverence and joy I have ever witnessed. Could it be that the same species that concocted a 9/11 could create such a masterpiece, and written by just one man who was deaf as well? So, for me, those are the bookends of this first decade of the 21st century, the infamous, wanton destruction of life and normalcy at the beginning, and beholding Beethoven’s intensely spiritual 9th Symphony at the end, contradictory undertakings in the name of “God” and mankind.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Bridge For the Ages

Perhaps there is a time and place for every book. Some are instant successes while others are discovered and appreciated or even become classics long after the author is deceased. Similarly, there is a time or place for a particular book in a reader’s life. For me, I should have read the one I recently finished, David McCullough’s “biography” of the Brooklyn Bridge (The Great Bridge, 1972) when I lived in Brooklyn during the 1960’s. I say “biography” rather than history as after reading his work, it feels like a living, breathing bulwark, a creation for the ages, one that was built while New York was just beginning to become a vertical city. When it was built, its 275-foot towers dwarfed everything in New York and Brooklyn, except Trinity Church, the tallest structure in Manhattan when it was built in 1846, at 281 feet. But the bridge’s two towers are massive as well.

Over the years, New York, and Brooklyn, grew around the bridge, and by the time I lived in Brooklyn, to most New Yorkers it was just part of the skyline. Although I appreciated its architecture, particularly the few times I had crossed the bridge on its walkways, I confess I was somewhat oblivious to its extraordinary engineering (particularly for the time) and its intricate history. After college in Brooklyn, I lived mostly in downtown Brooklyn, at 175 Willoughby Street and also at 234 Lincoln Place in the Park Slope section. After Chris was born in 1965, a favorite destination for a Sunday walk was the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the Brooklyn Bridge rising majestically at the north end.

Oh, had McCullough’s magnificent history been written before then. I might have had a greater appreciation for how the bridge transformed the city and the engineering genius and architectural greatness of the structure. McCullough writes a biography as a novel, putting the reader into the times and the minds of the main characters. It is his later work, such as his Pulitzer Prize winning biography of John Adams that is leading me to his earlier histories. Here is his finely crafted description of the completed bridge, prose worthy of any novel: “The very shabbiness and stunted scale of the old neighborhood beneath the tower worked to the advantage of the bridge, which by contrast seemed an embodiment of the noblest aspirations, majestic, heaven-directed, lifting into the light above the racket, the shabbiness, and the confusion of the waterfront, the way a great cathedral rises over the hovels of the faithful. And the twin archways in the tower, seen from the street level, looked like vast vacant windows to the sky. For a child seeing it at night, the tower could have been the dark and mighty work of medieval giants. Where on earth could one see so many stars framed in granite?”

The building of the bridge is a microcosm of everything that is great and deplorable about mankind. John Roebling, a German born engineer and builder of The Roebling Suspension Bridge, spanning the Ohio at Cincinnati, completed plans for the Brooklyn Bridge but an accident led to his death before work commenced in 1869. His son, Washington Roebling, also an engineer, took over the plans and the responsibilities of the bridge, but during the construction of the massive foundations – to the depth of almost 45 feet on the Brooklyn side and 78 feet on the New York side – he suffered the effects of the bends from being in one of the huge caissons that had to be constructed and sunk for that purpose. As a consequence, he had a nervous condition and supervised the remaining construction from home on Brooklyn Heights. He did not even have the strength to attend the opening (his wife, Emily, was his steadfast emissary for such occasions). Meanwhile he had to contend with charges of kickbacks (his family owned one of the suppliers of steel cables) and a changing political scene ranging from Boss Tweed to various showdowns with politicians trying to grab headlines for themselves. He was even asked to resign at one point; he refused and insisted they (the Directors of the New York Bridge Company) fire him, which he knew they dared not. Throughout it all, he survived to build a bridge for the ages. It enjoyed its one-hundredth birthday anniversary in 1983. Engineers have estimated it could last another one hundred before the cables have to be replaced and if they are, perhaps the bridge will go on forever.

Although I still visit New York occasionally, I have no reason to go downtown, other than, now, traveling on the East River by boat. We brought our own boat up from the Chesapeake some fifteen years ago, passing under the Brooklyn Bridge with the World Trade Towers rising in the background. It would have been inconceivable that either landmark could be gone during my lifetime. But they both go on in my mind’s eye, with wonder.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

That Infamous Day

9/11. It has been seven years but it seems like yesterday. We all remember where we were at that moment. The only comparable moment in my life is where I was when President Kennedy was assassinated.

On Sept. 11, 2001 we were on our boat in Norwalk, Ct., a clear somewhat breezy day with a deep blue sky. We had the TV on and, in complete disbelief, the tragedy unfolded before us all.

Although some fifty miles away, we could see the smoke drifting south from the Twin Towers. To this day I still feel that sense of incredulity. Did this really happen here? My son, Jonathan, had been interviewed only a couple of weeks before by Cantor Fitzgerald, on the 102nd floor of One WTC. They lost 685 employees on that fateful day. Jonathan had taken another job. Is it merely coincidence and accident that governs life’s outcomes? Or Shakespeare’s more cynical line from King Lear: “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.”

My older son is the poet of our family and this is what he wrote on that very day. One line in particular resonates: “If Hell opened up, and swallowed my life, it could not compete with what witnessed, I.” May we never forget:

By Chris Hagelstein

Terrorist troops and bodies strewn
in Twin Tower screams, destruction loomed.
News stations on a journalistic mission
under our Flag's lost transmission:
America's Death.

Judgement of Religious Decree
driving Boeing bombs with air fuel
circulating vultures from above the sea,
smashing their prey
on this plain sun-filled day.

Television digital debris rained on video,
Looping the same sequence of carnage.
The surgery of media controlled the flow
but the State of Blood remained unknown.

Prayers beneath each citizen’s eyes
were blessed wells now, for those who died.
No ceremony or speech could render a conclusion:
Those wired images played seemed like an illusion.

An Eye of some god was seeing us All
for each one's Blindness, was another’s Call,
and in the skies above Manhattan, masked in smoke
exhumed old gods of hatred and hope.

If Hell opened up, and swallowed my life,
It could not compete with what witnessed, I:
Buildings falling and heroes crushed:
As day burned to night
and life --- to dust.

Still, yet, in my hearts dismay,
Born here, I stand, no less bleeding
than those who survived this day:
For America is my body and my sea
executed on the stage of history.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We are the Enemy

On that unspeakable day of September 11, 2001 we were in Connecticut, packing for an overseas trip. While the horror unfolded we could see the smoke from the Twin Towers more than fifty miles away across the Long Island Sound against the clear blue sky. I had thought we were confronting the worst of all possible enemies, one that cared not at all about its own life – in fact reveled in martyrdom – one that shared none of our moral values and would be content to wage war guerrilla style with no time constraints.

But, since then, we seem to be waging the battle for them. They no longer have to hijack planes to fly into our buildings as we have hijacked our own economy and can now be held hostage by any dictatorship du jour.

Here’s what we’ve done since that horrific day:
■ Wage an unnecessary war in Iraq that has cost more than one half trillion dollars to date, or $341 million each day.
■ Consume more than 20 million barrels of oil each day of which we produce only about a quarter, meaning we have to send about $2 billion abroad each day a majority of which finds its way to the Middle East, Russia, and South America.
■ Increase our unfunded Social Security and Medicare programs by $33 trillion (yes, trillion) since 2000 to a total of $53 trillion at the end of last year – a liability of about $455,000 for every American household

There is a litany of others that could be added to this list, but suffice it to say, our national debt is increasing at $1.59 billion per day. No wonder the dollar continues to sink which just increases the cost of our imported oil and leaves us even a greater debtor to other countries.

In other postings I’ve cited the work of Bill Gross, the talented bond manager at PIMCO, and John Hussman an economist who runs his own mutual fund. Their two most recent articles touch upon our inability to fess up to the reality, how we continue to report chimerical inflation statistics and focus on monetary policy when our fiscal policy is rotten to the core

If we cannot even acknowledge these economic truths, there can be no national plan to deal with the dire consequences. Then we will not only lose the war, but also be the architect of our own defeat.