This is a guest post by James Fisher, a professor of theology and American Studies at Fordham University and the author of On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York. He is Care2 blogger Kristina Chew’s husband.
The Port Was Their Place
On August 16, 2011, I experienced my first and only glimpse of the Statue of Liberty from the magnificent vantage point of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s 88th floor executive offices in the World Trade Center’s North Tower. I had just ascended from a tour of the complex’s six subbasements and its famous foundation-level “inverted bathtub” design with Frank De Martini — the WTC’s construction manager and a devoted curator of the complex’s history and architecture — and my friend Angus Gillespie, author of the finest study available of the WTC’s origins and development.
Only weeks earlier I had returned to New Jersey with Kristina and Charlie after seven years in the Midwest. The first course I was to teach that autumn at St. Peter’s College — just across the Harbor from the WTC in Jersey City — focused on the history and culture of the Port of New York and New Jersey, news that both bemused and heartened Frank and executives of the bi-state agency who shared their time with Angus and me on that sultry August afternoon.
It was clear these folks loved the Port and its history and lore: it was their special place and they tended this privilege with an affection that belied the Port Authority’s reputation as an opaque, inaccessible agency beholden to political interests on both sides of the Harbor and unresponsive to public concerns. As far back as the 1940s, according to the agency’s historian, executive director Austin J. Tobin was deeply “touched by the romance of the harbor,” a sentiment he nurtured and conveyed to his staff. As I discovered in my own research, Tobin had exerted his quiet clout in autumn 1953 to enable Elia Kazan and crew to shoot the 1954 movie On the Waterfront on Port Authority-owned piers in Hoboken, after the filmmakers were informed their lives were at risk should they persist in their initial plans to shoot the picture on Manhattan’s West Side.
The classic film On the Waterfront (1954) depicted the Port at in all its violence and glorious beauty. The heroism it depicted was renewed—in all too real life–on September 11, 2001, when Frank De Martini and dozens of Port Authority executives, policemen, and other personnel were killed; many — like Frank — while ushering others to safety.
Read more: 9/11, 9/11 anniversary, 9/11 attacks, 9/11 memorials, 9/11 memories, firefighters, jersey city, new york, nyc, osama bin laden, port, port authority, september 11th, terrorism, twin towers, wtc
Photo by Gavin Costello from Wikimedia Commons
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