On the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, USA TODAY is republishing articles published in 2002 for the first anniversary.
NEW YORK – Everyone remembers Sept. 11: where they were that Tuesday, what
they saw, how they felt. But who remembers the day before?
Sept. 10, 2001, was a day of unappreciated ironies and unexpectedly fateful decisions, a day when the important was often overlooked and the trivial often exaggerated. It was 12 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and 133 days since the disappearance of Chandra Levy.
For some, Sept. 10 was the last day of an era. For 3,031 people who would be at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on four hijacked airliners the next day, it was the last day of life.
If Sept. 10 was less turbulent than the days ahead, it was hardly idyllic.
According to a Gallup Poll completed that day, 55% of the citizens of the richest, most powerful nation in history were “dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States.”
A nation that survived the Cold War seemed obsessed with lesser threats, such as shark attacks and “KILLER MOLD,” which the morning New York Daily News said was afflicting an East Side apartment house.
9/11 anniversary: Recounting the moments of terror and remembering the lives lost
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Terrorism, in contrast, was something that happened somewhere else. Somewhere like Istanbul, where two policemen were killed that day and at least 20 people injured by a suicide bomber.
Similarly, Americans regarded Afghanistan with more distaste than alarm, despite the Taliban’s latest outrage – the arrest of two young American women for allegedly preaching Christianity.
Instead, these stories riveted the country: Actor Robert Blake was suspected but not yet charged with killing his wife after dinner at his favorite restaurant. Celebrity publicist Lizzie Grubman was accused of plowing an SUV into a crowd outside a Long Island nightclub. U.S. Rep. Gary Condit of California was dying a slow political death after denying an affair with the 24-year-old Chandra Levy.
The Monday before Sept. 11 was like any other day, and unlike any other. Here is how it went for some.
The sun rises at 6:32 on the East Coast. President Bush is in Florida as part of a mission to promote reading education. Mohamed Atta is in Boston as part of a mission to destroy the Trade Center. Atta and a man calling himself Abdulaziz Alomari drive a rented blue Nissan to Portland, Maine.
Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence is taping conversations in Arabic among members of an Islamic terrorist group called al-Qaida. But the tapes are not translated immediately. So no one puzzles over the meaning of the statements: “The match begins tomorrow” and “Tomorrow is Zero Day.”
In New York, the day’s high of 86 degrees is recorded at 2 p.m. The reservoirs are 71% full, the air quality is good, and the Yankees are 13 games ahead of the Red Sox. They play tonight at Yankee Stadium with Roger Clemens going for his 20th win.
The day’s horoscope for Virgos (born Aug. 23-Sept. 22): “There are major upheavals afoot. … Even if your life is thrown into turmoil over the next 48 hours, something good will come of it eventually.”
A 7-pound abandoned newborn girl, found in Central Park by a homeless man, is in good condition at a hospital. The New York City Opera is preparing for Tuesday night’s opening of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. Michael Jackson is playing Madison Square Garden, his first live performance in the continental USA since 1989.
It’s the day before the city’s primary election. “Nine-one-one – September 11!” cries City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor. “It may not be an emergency for you, but it’s an emergency for me.”
The most talked-about man in the campaign isn’t running. But the verdict is out on Rudy Giuliani. Will he go down as the city’s greatest mayor or as the one who marched in a parade with his paramour, told the news media he wanted a separation before telling his wife and moved out of Gracie Mansion while still in office?
The mayor attends a firehouse rededication in the South Bronx, where the Rev. Mychal Judge, a fire department chaplain, talks about firefighting: “You have no idea when you get on that rig. No matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea what God is calling you to.”
On Staten Island, a fire captain named Joe Farrelly understands. He always leaves a love note for his wife when he goes to work. Today he writes: “I can’t begin to tell you how much I love you. … Already I can’t wait to come home.” Then he heads for a 24-hour shift at his firehouse in lower Manhattan.
“Sky’s limit for WTC retailing” predicts a headline on the Daily News’ business page. A mall developer with a new, long-term lease at the Trade Center plans to raise store rents and put a roof over the plaza between the twin towers to make space for more stores.
An executive with the development company claims that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which built the Trade Center and operated it until a few months earlier, “completely undervalued this property.”
The same can be said of New Yorkers, who used to joke about blowing up the banal 110-story towers. Then, on Feb. 26, 1993, Islamic terrorists tried to do so. Their truck bomb killed six people.
The bombing is marked by a circular, rose-colored granite fountain on the Trade Center plaza, right above the basement garage where the explosion occurred.
“This horrible act,” an inscription reads, “made victims of us all.”
Tomorrow, a far more horrible act will destroy the memorial and the entire Trade Center and kill 2,798 in the towers and the jets.
A small group of people atop the south tower will escape. But in the north tower, all 1,360 above the 91st floor will die. For them, Sept. 10 is the last time they will ever walk out at closing time, ride home on the train, eat dinner with the family, fight over the remote. It’s the last bedtime story, the last kiss good night.
For them, what the world will call “the day before” is the last day. This is how some of them lived it.
It’s the first day on the job for insurance disaster specialist Scott Vasel, who is thrilled with the view of the Hudson River from his desk on the 97th floor of the north tower.
It’s a seemingly lucky day for Greg Clark, who survives layoffs that claim two dozen of his colleagues on the 104th floor.
And it’s a seemingly unlucky one for Paul Beatini, who has to stay home with his two little girls because his wife has a meeting. This morning, he plays Barbie’s bakeshop.
Tomorrow morning, he has a meeting on the 105th floor.
Brooke Rosenbaum and Will Raub are both home sick but determined to go in the next day. Rosenbaum, a friend will say, felt that without him, “the whole place would fall apart.”
Telmo Alvear, a dinnertime waiter at Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the north tower, agrees to cover breakfast the next morning for another waiter. Dorothy Chiarchiaro, who normally works Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in an office down on the 93rd floor, stays home today with her two granddaughters.
She’ll go in Tuesday instead.
John Cruz, who works on the 101st floor, sets his wedding date: Sept. 21, 2002. Joseph Romagnolo, whose office is four floors above, calls his father to say he’s selling his motorcycle – which he loves and his wife hates – and is buying a camper the family can enjoy.
The day passes uneventfully, unless you’re a passenger going through Newark International Airport, which a construction fire closes for 35 minutes in midafternoon. Travelers are outraged by the inconvenience.
Stocks rally from early losses, and the Dow Jones closes virtually unchanged at 9,605. But the mood in the Financial District is upbeat. The Morton’s of Chicago steakhouse across from the Trade Center is busy, with 188 guests in the main dining room. 80% order steak and 40% splurge on dessert, most frequently the sinful Godiva chocolate cake.
At 5:43 p.m., Atta and Alomari check into a Comfort Inn across from the Portland airport and take a no-smoking room on the second floor. Atta’s suitcase contains a list of instructions for “the last night.” It includes, “Shave excess hair from the body and wear cologne” and “making an oath to die and renew your intentions.”
The sun sets at 7:06 p.m., but no one sees it in New York City. A thunderstorm dumps 0.41 of an inch of rain and floods the field at Yankee Stadium.
In Portland, Atta and Alomari eat their last meal at a Pizza Hut. In Dunellen, New Jersey, Lydia Bravo, who works on the 94th floor of the north tower, makes Tuscan stew for herself and her husband.
In Yonkers, Joanna Vidal is so busy arranging a conference for Tuesday morning at Windows on the World that she eats standing up in her parents’ kitchen. Shreyas Ranganath, who’s come from India to work on a three-month project on the 97th floor, shares a feast of Indian delicacies with two roommates in Hackensack, New Jersey, to celebrate the birthday of Krishna, the Hindu god.
Tim Grazioso, who works up on 105th, drives to Clifton, New Jersey, to take his mother out for a belated 66th birthday dinner. Karen Joyce Klitzman, who works on the same floor, is supposed to have dinner with her mother. But she gets a message saying her mother can’t make it, that they’ll have to reschedule.
In Portland, Atta and Alomari drive to an ATM at 8:31 p.m. At 9:15, they stop at a gas station, and a few minutes later enter a Walmart, where they stay about 20 minutes. On a security camera videotape, they appear relaxed. Alomari is smiling.
In the Bronx, Joe Kelly, who works on the 105th floor of the north tower, has taken his sons, ages 8 and 6, to the Yankees game. The rain has stopped, and they wait to find out if the field is dry enough for play.
Meanwhile, other denizens of the north tower spend an evening at home. Bojan Kostic, who grew up in Belgrade, recites the names of the original 13 states to prepare for his citizenship test.
Michael Asher shows his son a picture of an old Jaguar that he wants to rebuild. Martin Lizzul, who always calls his parents Wednesday night to say hello, for some reason calls them tonight.
At 8:50 p.m., the Yankees game is canceled, but Kelly’s sons are having a good time anyway, feasting on chicken fingers and Coke. In a moment of weakness, Dad buys the older boy a “Boston Sucks” T-shirt. Kelly’s happy for a different reason. A week ago, he and his wife learned she’s pregnant with their fifth child.
In the Kelly family, Joe takes the photos. As a result, he appeared in only two of the 195 pictures from their vacation at Disney World. But tonight, a family friend snaps a shot of father and sons together.
In Verona, New Jersey, Bill Erwin is just back from Cape Cod with his wife and 2-month-old son. He stays up late, folding two baskets of freshly laundered baby clothes. It’s a surprise his wife will discover the next morning as he’s en route to his office high in the north tower.
Kelly, meanwhile, calls his wife on Long Island to say he and the boys are driving home from the stadium. This is goodbye. She’ll be asleep before they get back. The next morning he’ll leave to catch the 6:14 from Hicksville to Manhattan before she’s awake.
At Windows on the World, Marisa DiNardo Schorpp dances until after midnight at the birthday party she arranged for her mother. Schorpp, a natural gas trader, will be tired the next morning. But she has a meeting at her office two floors below.
On Monday Night Football, the Giants-Broncos game ends well after midnight in the East. Some viewers grumble about going to bed late. Tomorrow, some who work at the Trade Center will give thanks for getting in late.
The skies clear as a front moves through. Tuesday will be a perfect late summer day.
It is not known when Atta and Alomari go to bed, but they have an early morning flight to Boston. They will connect with American Flight 11, scheduled for nonstop service to Los Angeles, but headed in fact for the north tower of the World Trade Center.
PHOTOS Associated Press
PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS Veronica Bravo and Janet Loehrke/USA TODAY