Sept 11., From The Rooftops


Sept. 11, 2011

A view of ground zero from above. There, friends and family members of 9/11 victims visit a September 11 Memorial waterfall during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in New York. (AP)

BOSTON — Millions of Americans vividly recall where they were ten years ago on September 11. Some that day were standing on rooftops, terraces, staring from the windows of tall buildings and looking out from balconies.

From the observation deck of the 110 story World Trade Center towers, one could see from Manhattan straight across to New Jersey, and even as far away as Connecticut on the clearest of days. September 11, 2001 was a day like that. From vantage points above the tree line, four individuals in four different places had a beautiful view that morning.

Mary Veronica Sweeney took this video from her rooftop on Sept. 11, 2001.

For Cathy Procopio, standing on a balcony in Manhattan.

“It was a beautiful summer that summer day,” Procopio said.

Bob Mitchell on the 26th floor of a high rise in Jersey City recalls, “The color of the sky.”

Mary Veronica Sweeney, standing on a rooftop in Brooklyn, remembers, “It was the most sparkling day I can remember and I just felt so much hope.”
And Brad Martin was looking out from a fourth-floor window at Mass General Hospital in Boston at 8:00 that morning. “It was as clear as can be outside,” Martin said.

 Snippets from their collective memories paint a picture of the unimaginable. Brad Martin, deputy director of aviation customer service for Logan Airport was at the hospital for a routine visit on that unusually effulgent day. From his fourth-floor window, passenger planes streaming across the crystal blue sky seemed just that much closer.

“I’ve always been sort of an airplane geek, looking at what’s flying above me and potentially what route its going,” Martin said.

Two flights from Logan were in the sky. Cathy Procopio, a physical therapist, was preparing for work that morning when the first plane flew directly over her 23rd floor apartment in Manhattan — just blocks from the World Trade Center.
“I heard an engine roar, really, really loudly right above my apartment building. I heard it roar really loud and then a huge crash, and living in New York I don’t usually go outside to check when I hear a loud noise cause we hear them all the time, but this one was really special so, I ran to the balcony and was looking down on the street because I was thinking something had crashed into the street and of course there was nothing on the ground and then I realized my neighbor was also looking out and he said ‘No, look up.’’”

From high-rise balconies, and the top floors of homes and businesses, people look smaller, trees are closer, and some imagine they can touch the sky. Cathy Procopio standing on her 23rd floor balcony in Tribeca stared at a big gaping hole with smoke pouring from the north tower.

“It’s really close. It’s kinda like a bird’s eye view. And I remember looking and seeing people jump out through the hole and sitting there thinking ‘Oh, they’re falling at a different rate.’ Somehow I knew they were human beings jumping out but it didn’t register with me until afterwards. I was just looking at how their bodies were falling at a different rate than the debris. It was just very odd,” Procopio said.

Procopio at that point became silent as she continued staring from her balcony at the place we now call Ground Zero.

Robert Mitchell, who is now an assistant dean at Harvard, was living in a high rise on the twenty-sixth Floor across the Hudson River.

“So it’s a totally different perspective because you see everything that’s around it, that surrounds the buildings, so when the first building collapsed, I could actually see the dust, the debris oozing through the smaller buildings all around the World Trade Center coming straight at me for example across the Hudson River, like lava flowing through canyons,” Mitchell said.

The R train snakes its way underground from the construction site at Ground Zero beneath the East River to Brooklyn, where Mary Veronica Sweeney is waiting on a rooftop. The neighborhood is lined with brownstones. And from the roof of her four-story building you see the gap in Manhattan’s skyline where the Twin Towers used to be. The roof is where Mary Sweeney came when she heard the news that morning in September.

“I knew that my dear friend, Frank, was working on the 88th floor,” Sweeney said.

Mary Sweeney, an artist and education strategist, collaborated creatively with Frank De Martini, an architect and on-site construction manager for the World Trade Center.

“And somehow instructively I knew to run to the top of the roof and I saw there was smoke coming out of the tower and I looked around and there were maybe one or two people also on the rooftops with me. And the sky was still sparkling. Birds were still tweeting. But there was this very, very macabre gruesome image in the distance,” Sweeney said.

The night air is filled with faint voices of people passing by below. In a dim light, Mary Sweeney shifts through photos of a fine friendship.

“I think he reminded me of my dad a little bit. He had this real twinkle in his eye,” Sweeney said.

DeMartini was hired at the Twin Towers to access the damage from the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. Months before Sept. 11, he was quoted as saying that the Towers could withstand the impact of a fully loaded Boeing 707. But he is better known for saving lives by coaxing terrified workers out of hiding places and leading them to an intact stairway.

“There were like 50 people who claimed that he saved them that day,” Sweeney said.

De Martini, by all accounts, knew every inch of the Twin Towers. He often made his way to the very top to marvel at the vast, complex city below, and Sweeney says he talked about how he could feel the towers swaying. From her rooftop in Brooklyn, with the lights of Manhattan in the distance, Sweeney reflects on her own parallel journey.

“My impulse to be up there I knew immediately was someway of having physical closeness to the people I knew were in that building. To be up that high was in a sense to be on their level. And I remember looking off the edge and seeing the drop down and thinking how scared I was with this short drop I had and imagining the people that were on the 85th floor, or the 83rd floor or the 70th floor or any of those floors and the terror they must have been feeling, looking down,“ Sweeney said. 

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