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September 16, 2001

STAN FISCHLER

I Felt Perfectly Secure in the Tower'

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A Day of Terror

I WAS 9 years old at the time of America's original Day of Infamy.

Sitting on a green sofa in our living room in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I was tuned to the radio broadcast of the New York Giants-Brooklyn Dodgers football game. It was Tuffy Leemans Day at the Polo Grounds in honor of the Giants star, and I would have been in the crowd myself were it not for the measles.

In midbroadcast, someone broke in to announce that Hawaii had been attacked. I was stunned but perplexed Pearl Harbor, where's that? but the impact was momentary. Details were sketchy and soon the game resumed. That night, 15,895 fans watched the Rangers beat the Boston Bruins, 5-4, at Madison Square Garden.

No subways shut down. No airports closed. How different it was the second time around for this kid no more.

I was walking south along Broadway, near the Flatiron Building, on our nation's second Day of Infamy, hastening to a physical therapy appointment.

Approaching Madison Square Park, I noticed dozens of people standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue, staring at the downtown sky. I could see flames and dense smoke but I had no idea that they engulfed the World Trade Center. I surmised that it was a new skyscraper, still skeletal at the top, that somehow had been ignited by accident. It wasn't until I had arrived at the gym five minutes later that I saw a crowd gathered around a television set and the calamity's true nature was revealed.

I began flashing back to the disasters in the history books. The steamship Slocum sinking in New York Harbor in 1904; the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911; and the Malbone Street subway wreck across from Prospect Park in 1918.

But none had involved anything as huge as a skyscraper. Then it came to mind. On July 28, 1945, just past my 13th birthday, a B-25 bomber that was lost in the fog crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building. The "Umpire State," as we kids from Brooklyn called it, was our symbol of unassailable strength and, to our young eyes, indestructible.

And it was.

A hole 18 by 20 feet was gouged through the north wall, and 13 were killed and 26 injured on that fateful Saturday morning. That was tragedy enough, but the skyscraper remained intact, standing proud if not cosmetically perfect.

When the World Trade Center opened, its double Goliaths appeared even more substantial than our "Umpire State."

As a frequent visitor to the center, I often recalled its predecessor, Hudson Terminal, which opened in 1908 as the hub of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, now PATH. Every Saturday morning in the late 1930's, my father would take me shopping downtown and we'd pass the massive H&M office complex above the depot. It, too, appeared as permanent as the Empire State.

Years after Hudson Terminal had disappeared, the twin towers suggested to me a futuristic Fort York, guarding our majestic harbor. On my last visit to the trade center, two years ago, I arrived early in a thunderstorm. I found a nook on the 103rd floor of one of the buildings I don't remember which and I could see Brooklyn, Bayonne and Lower New York Bay. Lightning flashed around me, but I felt perfectly secure in the tower. With each new bolt, in fact, I felt proud and elated to be a New Yorker.

And though distraught and dazed by this week's disaster, I nevertheless believe that another magnificent structure will replace it.

Stan Fischler is the author of several books on subways and is a hockey analyst for MSG and Fox Sports.


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