Editor’s Note: This was originally posted on Sep. 6, 2011 for the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
In July 1986 I was honored to be a part of a group of photographers from the Los Angeles Times to report on the Liberty Weekend festivities in New York City.
To refresh your memory, Liberty Weekend was a huge outdoor party for the people of New York to reopen and rededicate the Statue of Liberty and celebrate its centenary.
Photographers from our group were positioned all over New York. Iris Schneider was across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Gary Friedman was on Governors Island, Bob Greiser and Bob Chamberlin were roaming the streets throughout the city and I was assigned to be atop the World Trade Center.
Our photo editors had no idea how acrophobic – fearful of heights – I am. So trying to be a good team member, I faced my fears with a candy bar and made the daily trek to this very tall, 110-story building. For nearly a week I toted several cases containing 300 and 600 mm telephoto lenses, several camera bags, two tripods, clamps and a monopod through the subways and into the tower basement. In the basement there were great little deli stands selling sandwiches and bagels, amid an amazing little underground city with shops.
The views were spectacular and this building felt powerful.
Once I made it to the rooftop, I took a deep breath, commanded my knees to stop knocking and carved out a little spot against a very sizable railing with a view across the Hudson that seemed to go on forever. The Statue of Liberty looked very small from my vantage point.
For several days I made my trek to the rooftop of the tallest building in New York. A pile of candy bars couldn’t make my acrophobia go away. One day while I was arriving with my gear, I was gripped with fear and anger when I saw several New York cops standing on the ledge of the building while they laughed and took pictures of each other — yikes! One false move and they were dead. Unfortunately, as soon as I got my camera out, they jumped down so I couldn’t record the moment. I was horrified, but I guess my fears started to melt a little that day.
On the evening of July 3, 1986, President Reagan pushed the ceremonial button to reopen and reilluminate the Statue of Liberty, followed by a very long and illustrious fireworks show. We were still shooting film in those days and had to use some very long shutter speeds to capture the bursts, and to expose for the ships in the harbor. I didn’t notice it at the time, but the very tall tower was swaying in the breeze a little. All of my cameras and telephoto lenses were either locked down with tripods or clamped to the railings. I used a cable release, and there was movement in many of the frames. Very spooky.
The next day, July 4, tall ships, warships and private sailing vessels from all over the world cruised past the Statue Of Liberty during Operation Sail. By now, most of my fears had gone away and a series of memorable moments filled that void. The beautiful sights on the Hudson River and the harbor below me were captivating and historic.
On my final evening, I paused for a few minutes in a quiet place near the subway to study the map, just to make sure I was getting on the correct train, when a familiar voice broke the silence. Maybe I was in a state of delirium from lack of sleep and hard work, or maybe it was all the candy bars and coffee, but a voice that sounded like Kermit the Frog asked, “Pardon me sir, do you know which train will take me uptown … [to a certain street] ?” I turned around to see who this person was – who went with the very Muppet-sounding voice – and it was Jim Henson himself. I stumbled for a moment and told him I was sorry. “I come from Los Angeles, and I have no idea.… I’m trying to get back to my hotel,” I said. With that, Henson said goodbye and disappeared into a group of people.
Photojournalists live vicariously. We step in and out of people’s lives and capture moments in time, saving them on film and in digital formats. For a week in 1986, I walked past the desks and offices filled with countless men and women working in the World Trade Center towers. I bought food in the basement shops. I stood on the rooftop and witnessed the beauty of a celebration. I watched, witnessed and never thought for a moment how fate would play its hand 15 years later.
Recently I scanned and saved a series of pictures from the negatives and slides from Statue of Liberty Weekend that I had stored and saved in a three-ring binder. The fears that I overcame on that rooftop were renewed, but the beauty of the Statue of Liberty and the values it stands for are still strong.
My long days and nights working on the rooftop of the World Trade Center have become another very strange but amazing memory to file away with so many others.
Photo: July, 1986: Los Angeles Times staff photographer Mark Boster on top of the World Trade Center during Liberty Weekend. credit: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times
For additional 9/11 coverage check out these galleries from the 2011 9/11 Tenth Anniversary:
Rescue 5: Ten years later – For nine months, firefighters from Rescue 5 dug through the ruins of the World Trade Center searching for bodies. Among the dead were 11 men from the elite Staten Island rescue company who had raced toward the smoking towers on Sept. 11.
Rescue 5: A photographer remembers – New York Fire Dept. Rescue 5 lost eleven members on 911. For the next year, Los Angeles Times photographer Gary Friedman covered the survivors and families of Rescue 5. In 2011, Friedman revisited Rescue 5.
Covering 9/11: Strength amid sadness – Times staff photographer Mark Boster drives cross-country following the attacks.
Covering 9/11: reflecting on images – Los Angeles Times photographers Gary Friedman and Robert Gauthier arrived in New York on Sept. 13, 2001, and immediately began covering the disaster.
Covering 9/11: The 40-hour drive – With flights grounded, Los Angeles Times staff photographers Wally Skalij and Kirk McKoy were dispatched to New York – by car.