The following day, I was among hundreds who reached the site to bring relief supplies to rescue workers via police vessel. It was a terribly hopeless feeling. I’ll never forget the ride back across the Harbor, and the look on the faces of two Jersey City cops who sized me up before pointing at my lower legs: covered to the knees with ashes.
In the days and weeks that followed, the spirit of the Port was incarnated in stories of firemen and cops and brokers who shared a historic link to the Harbor and waterfront, often through the memory of longshoremen ancestors who had worked the piers of the West Side at a time when the Port was the great metropolis’s most special place.
The World Trade Center was designed by officials at the Port Authority as a hub for productive maritime-related commerce in the world’s greatest harbor and around the world. Austin J. Tobin, grandson of a Brooklyn longshoreman, had struggled for decades—almost entirely behind the scenes—to overcome the organized and less-organized criminality that had plagued life in and around the port since the late nineteenth century.
With the advent of the Port Authority-backed Waterfront Commission in 1953, control over hiring in the Port was shifted from mob-controlled piers to the new agency’s hiring information centers. But by the time the World Trade Center was opened in the early 1970s, container technology had rendered the piers of Manhattan’s West Side obsolete: the epicenter of the Port shifted to container facilities at Newark and Elizabeth in New Jersey.
The Twin Towers were like thousand-foot vertical piers, soaring up and away from the often violent, yet deeply compelling history of the sea-level docks of the West Side. The Port Authority’s insistence that the Twin Towers site be moved from its originally planned location on the East Side to the West linked the project to the agency’s recently acquired Port Authority Trans Hudson (formerly the Hudson and Manhattan railroad “tubes;” now PATH) light-rail connections to New Jersey. The move affirmed the agency’s self-identity as a kind of third state in the region, coordinating transportation and infrastructure improvements within a twenty-five mile radius from the Statue of Liberty.
The Trade Center struggled in its early days; the diversification of its tenant base in later years saved the complex while shifting its focus from maritime trade. Yet at is heart it remained a monument to this special place, the Port of New York and New Jersey, and the special people who made it great and whom we will never forget.
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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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