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TWICE Looks Back: 15 Years Ago Yesterday

Fifteen year ago it was a clear, warm and sunny September day. Sept. 12, 2001, in New York City was eerily quiet after the monumental tragedy that had occurred 24 hours earlier at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.

The back of my home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, faces the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, where traffic is always busy. There was little or no traffic that day. There was none of the typical commercial airline traffic going to or from LaGuardia or Newark airports, and no traffic helicopters were in the sky overhead. All flights were canceled. There was a disturbing silence of a city and a country stunned by the horrible events of the previous 24 hours — broken only by the sight or sound of an occasional emergency vehicle speeding downtown.

As the calendar has moved toward that fateful date and the weather becomes similar to 15 years ago, many of us begin to remember 9/11 vividly.  

According to the way many were trained in trade journalism years ago, rarely, if ever, did you write about current events. But that day broke the mold. The Sept. 17, 2001 issue of TWICE featured a memorable cover, and a striking picture of the attack taken by now-editor-in-chief John Laposky was featured in my editorial.

A column I wrote in TWICE’s 20th anniversary issue on Aug. 28, 2006, described how we put together the TWICE issue and met the deadline. The 2001 issue contained stories of events that occurred before the attacks, as well as a roundup — as best Alan Wolf, Doug Olenick and yours truly could do — of the effects the attacks had on manufacturers, industry events and retailers nationwide.

Among the latter, most notable was J&R Music World, which operated a street-long series of shops across from City Hall in New York and a few short blocks from the World Trade Center site.

Memory says it seems like yesterday, but the technology we were using to report on the tragedy, not to mention the products we were covering, tells us about the passage of 15 years.

The point-and-shoot Nikon camera John used to take the Trade Center picture was an early digital camera with little or no autofocus. 

Based on our office systems, we couldn’t access our servers from home to build print pages and edit copy. The smartphone capabilities we now enjoy are so advanced they would have seemed like science fiction back then.

The first report I got of the attack on the North Tower came from a landline phone from my mom, who was watching “The Today Show” on TV. She frantically told me a private plane crashed into the building. (Based on all we know now, and what happened since, if only she was correct.)

Finally, while the staff listened to a radio and looked out the window from our office at West 17th Street on the drama unfolding, I tried — and failed — to get any updates from a variety of news sites (CNN and The New York Times, most notably) during the period between the North and South Tower attacks, probably due to a lack of bandwidth, among other factors.

On Sept. 12, I was at my desk at home, around five miles north of where the Twin Towers had stood, writing that Sept. 17 column, and I took a look at the scene downtown from my deck. The site was still smoldering and on this bright, late summer day, very fine ash was in the air and falling on my home and all over my neighborhood.

I looked on my roof, and the decade-old Gemini Industries outdoor antenna was aimed at the World Trade Center. But the buildings weren’t there anymore.

“Everything has changed,” was the mantra in the days, weeks and months that followed. 9/11 is a reminder that life is fleeting. The world always changes, even on good days.

It’s also a reminder that after all the death and tragedy that has occurred since, it is still our job to overcome such events and try and make this world a better place than we found it.

Steve Smith is editor at large of TWICE and was its longtime editor in chief.