9/11 20 years later — Gazette staffers recall covering that awful day

The Gazette's front page and local section from Sept. 12, 2001
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The Gazette's front page and local section from Sept. 12, 2001

Newspapers — in their print form — are read and recycled. Sometimes, old papers are crumpled to insulate attic walls, provide cushioning for shipped goods or start flames in residence fireplaces. For many people, the Daily Gazette edition of Sept. 12, 2001, never left the house. It was preserved and saved for another generation of readers, a souvenir — a piece of history that extensively covered one of America’s darkest days.

Newspapers were represented on the internet 20 years ago, a presence that has greatly increased since 2001. But readers who wanted in-depth details about the Sept. 11 attacks needed the newsprint product. Some may have bought extra copies … as they did for other major news events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 and the U.S. moon landing in July 1969.

Part of the Daily Gazette’s observance of the 9/11 anniversary includes this look back at the Sept. 12, 2001, edition — along with remembrances from writers and editors who were in the field and in the newsroom on Sept. 11.

The front page contained the giant “Under Attack” headline, preceded by a smaller, double-deck headline that read “Hijacked jetliners destroy World Trade towers, set Pentagon aflame; thousands feared dead.”

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The 44-page newspaper was filled with 39 stories filed by local and wire service reporters. Dozens of photographs, timeline charts and an artist’s rendition of the attacks also were part of the package.

National stories covered the attacks themselves; a promise of retaliation from President George W. Bush; reactions from world leaders; evidence suggesting terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden was involved; and American Muslims denouncing the attacks, among others.

Gazette photographers Marc Schultz, Meredith L. Kaiser, David J. Rogowski and Heather L. Rohan all were shooting local photos.

As managing editor, Thomas Woodman made many newsroom decisions on Sept. 11.

THOMAS WOODMAN: UNTHINKABLE

My memories of 9/11 are a mix of clashing impressions — a dissonance that characterized the day and those that followed.

Here was an unthinkable event so close to our home. And at the same time, the whole staff went into the highest level of professionalism as if we had planned it. We could never have anticipated the event, but everything we did over the years had prepared us to act without hesitation.

Everybody brought their own skills and knowledge to a massive team response that drove us through the day of the attacks and many days after. Somehow the editors kept reporters from bumping into each other, filled gaps in our understanding and produced an historic edition.

It was a bluebird-beautiful fall day, but at the same time there was a shock and dread that none of us was immune from. I encountered a coworker in the building who was vibrating with anxiety because his son worked near the World Trade Center and he hadn’t heard from him. A reporter came back shaken from speaking with the family of a victim. An editor choked up at the emotional magnitude of what everybody was coping with.

As journalists, our training and our instincts kept us going and, in some ways, shielded us from the impossibility of what was happening. A reporter boarded a train in Rensselaer and rode to Schenectady so she could talk with someone coming out of New York City. Later, photographers outfitted themselves with special gear to document the work of our local emergency responders who had traveled to work in the ruins of the towers. Everybody did extraordinary things by focusing on our responsibilities one step at a time.

It was a day to feel sickened and a day to feel proud.

Woodman became publisher of the Adirondack Explorer in 2008, and retired from the bimonthly magazine in 2017.

Eighteen Gazette reporters worked on local angles and filed 16 bylined stories. Reporters didn’t come up with stories on their own. Day City Editor George Walsh helped direct coverage.

GEORGE WALSH: REPORTERS ALL

The first TV images of aircraft hitting the towers sent me rushing from home to the office. My main job as city editor was to help organize and mobilize our staff to cover this staggering story. But all of us were reporters that day. We hit the phones as we learned the names of victims and witnesses. I had a conversation with a relative speaking for the family of Michael Canty, a Linton High grad who worked as a commodities broker and died in the north tower.

Mass killings, terrible accidents, vicious crimes against children, natural disasters and other horrific stories all left marks during my 40-year career. Yet that was the only time I broke down and cried in a newsroom.

Walsh later joined The Associated Press as a reporter and editor, directing coverage of upstate New York and state government. He retired in 2016, and is now self-employed as a consultant.

Reporter Mike Goodwin talked to people with Capital Region connections who found themselves at ground zero. Tamara Appley, a Saratoga Springs native then working in the office of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was coming out of the New York City subway and found the air filled with smoke and dust.

“I grabbed my friend Cynthia,” Appley told Goodwin. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, the building’s coming down.’”

Reporter Marilyn Hipp covered prayer vigils at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany and at the University at Albany.

“I just came to pray. That’s the only thing you can do,” said Albany resident Cora Alphonso, who was in the crowd at the cathedral. “I was terrified today, but not surprised. In these days, we cannot be surprised. We are not as isolated and protected as we think as a country. … All we have is God.”

Reporter William F. Hammond Jr. wrote about officials postponing elections — Sept. 11 was Primary Day in New York state — shutting down airports, closing state and federal offices, and sending hundreds of emergency workers to lower Manhattan.

WILLIAM F. HAMMOND JR.: INSTINCTS OF A NEWSPAPERMAN

Sept. 11, 2001, was supposed to have been Primary Day. So I was having a leisurely morning, expecting to work a late shift covering election returns.

When the planes hit the towers, I was at the school bus stop with my son and daughter. Without a smart-phone, I had no inkling of anything until I came back inside and my wife called from work. All she told me was to turn on the TV.

Smoke was billowing from a hole in the World Trade Center. The morning show host had little to do but describe the scene. There was almost no information about casualties, and it was not yet clear that this was a terrorist attack. Then one tower collapsed, and my mind boggled at what that meant for the people inside and for the narrow, crowded streets below. Then the other tower fell.

My newspaperman instincts kicked in, and I decided I belonged at the office — which, at the time, was the state Capitol.

A lot of other reporters were scrambling to get to ground zero three hours away, and I was sorry not to be one of them. But news was happening at the Capitol, too.

What I particularly remember about that day is the steady stream of announcements pouring out of the bureau fax machine. I had gotten used to ignoring press releases, which were usually full of hype and puffery. These releases carried actual breaking news about the world’s most important story.

The governor, George Pataki, was declaring an emergency. The governor was suspending the primary election in mid-vote. The governor was activating the National Guard. The governor was expressing concern about the hundreds of state employees whose offices were located in the Twin Towers — including Port Authority director Neil Levin, who would not survive. The fax machine kept pumping them out.

As I drafted my article for the next day’s paper, I remember thinking that each of those announcements on its own would have been worth a major, front-page story on any other day. On a day as earth-shaking as 9/11, they warranted no more than a paragraph or a sentence.

Hammond is now senior fellow for health policy at the Empire Center in Albany.

The Gazette’s “A” section, the part that contains the front page, featured 25 stories on the attacks. The “B” section, the local section, offered nine — including three editorials.

The “C” section, home to sports on this day, had two sports pieces related to 9/11. The lead was Major League Baseball shutting down operations for the first time since 1944. Sportswriter Jim Schiltz wrote about cancellations on the high school level.

And the “D” section, the Lifestyles pages, included three 9/11 stories, plus a large timeline graphic.

Sunday section reporters Judy Patrick and Katy Moeller wrote about the crowd of blood donors that had assembled at the American Red Cross on Everett Road in Albany. By 3 p.m., more than 500 were in line.

“I have two children in New York City,” said Noreen Seaphoenix, one of the donors. “They’re both traumatized by this whole thing. My son was walking down Broadway and saw the tower collapse. He had to sit down on the curb.”

Patrick, who later became the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, did double duty. She interviewed experts in pediatrics about parents talking to children about the attacks, and wrote the story.

JUDY PATRICK: EERILY QUIET

We tend to think about Sept. 11 as this rapidly unfolding news event, and at ground zero, in Washington, D.C., and in that field in Pennsylvania that’s exactly what it was. But in our local newsroom, it was eerily quiet that catastrophic first day. Eventually there would be many painful local stories to cover, but for me, that first day was spent bracing to write a story about survivors being transported to upstate trauma centers. As the hours passed, we realized all too sadly that there were no survivors.

I am forever grateful to Michael Canty’s mom and dad, who talked to me in their Schenectady backyard about their son who died at the World Trade Center. At a time when we all needed comfort, their grace was a godsend.

Patrick retired as the Gazette’s chief editor in 2018. She is now vice president for editorial development at the New York Press Association.

Reporter Mike Lisi, an arts writer who covered media and routinely reviewed rock concerts, landed in the “A” section. Cultural events in the Capital Region had been affected. Capital Repertory Theater called off its Tuesday night performance. Organizers of upcoming shows and events were considering cancellation.

MIKE LISI: NEVER THE SAME

It was a strange day to be sure. I remember driving into work to the main Gazette office, from Clifton Park to Schenectady, listening to radio reports about a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers. I thought it was weird, but it didn’t cross my mind that it was — or could have been — a terrorist act or some terrorist attack against America. It was unthinkable.

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I remember walking into the office and asking, “What the hell is happening?” No one seemed to know, but there was a palpable buzz. Because I covered television and media, I had a TV at my desk, and I remember turning it on to watch the coverage.

When the second plane hit the towers, we all knew the first plane was no accident. When reports came in of a plane hitting the Pentagon and yet another going down in Pennsylvania, it was all hands on deck.

And you knew — you could feel it — that things were different, and that they would never be the same.

Lisi is now communications director at United University Professions in Albany.

Reporter Steven Cook wrote about the response of school districts across the Capital Region. Parents were allowed to pick up their children early, but classes continued until the end of the school day. Albany courts reporter Laura Suchowolec was the reporter assigned to board Amtrak Train 69.

Trains had been delayed for hours; by 2:44 p.m., trains between New York City and the Capital Region were back on track.

Multiple teams of police officers and rail officials were at the Rensselaer rail station. Passengers were asked for identification; all baggage was sniffed by police dogs trained to detect drugs.



STEVEN COOK: SCHOOL BEAT

After covering a contentious late-night school board meeting the night before and planning for another evening meeting the next night, I had my television rigged to turn on a little later the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

I had it set to turn on just before 9 a.m., to the news — CNN.

So, as the TV turned on that morning and I began to wake up, I, along with everyone else near a TV or radio, began to make sense of what had happened — something, a plane? — had hit one of the World Trade Center towers.

I was still relatively new at The Gazette then. I’d been fortunate enough to join the paper about 14 months earlier out of college in Iowa, and even taken my mother and sister earlier on a visit to New York City, though not to lower Manhattan.

I remember getting into the office and encountering our day editor George Walsh already at his desk. With the extent of what was happening still unfolding, I recall George suggesting we check with local high-profile installations, Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory for one.

Eventually, my assignment turned to schools: parents and children.

Days later on Sept. 16, I remember attending and covering a vigil and candlelight ceremony at Saratoga Springs’ East Side Recreation Field. A large crowd had gathered, an estimated 2,000 people, all of whom were giving their own rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” to open the ceremony.

As I was there, though, I remember the enormity of what had happened sinking in. Two thousand people there in a sea of grieving humanity, yet the total death toll from days earlier was still markedly more than that.

Cook remains a member of the Daily Gazette staff.

Readers were told, in a small box on the front page, that parts of the newspaper had been rearranged to accommodate the 9/11 coverage. An abbreviated sports department, in newspaper parlance, went to bed early that Tuesday night. Rick Stellrecht was an assistant sports editor on duty.

RICK STELLRECHT: SOMBER

We may have purposely been given a shorter section that night. Our goal was to stay out of the way, and get the sports pages out as early as we could so the A and [then] B sections could go late. I’m sure we ran stories on sports postponements, both off the AP [Associated Press] and locally.

It was definitely a somber night at work, minus the usual banter, food runs, etc. The small TV set on the file cabinet stayed tuned to national news that night.

Stellrecht retired from The Gazette in 2013.

David J. Rogowski was on the move as one of the newspaper’s photographers. He photographed people at a prayer vigil at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany and also took a photo of a couple watching television news coverage of the attacks at the Rex Appliance store in Clifton Park.

Reporter Jill Bryce was also on the 9/11 coverage team.

JILL BRYCE: DESERTED STREETS

It was so quiet in downtown on Sept. 11. It was eerie.

I covered downtown Albany for The Gazette. I didn’t see another person in the area that day.

The streets, usually filled with people, were deserted.

I could not find anyone to talk to.

It was silent.

Bryce, who worked at The Gazette until 2009, now works in public relations and communications.

DAVID ROGOWSKI: A VERY LONG WORKDAY

I remember I arrived at work in the morning and thought it was strange that no one was sitting at their desks in the newsroom, but were huddled around a TV in one of the small conference rooms. I walked over and asked what was happening, and someone told me a plane crashed into the Twin Towers. We all assumed at the time it was a tragic accident.

Our chief photographer Dave Kraus and I discussed ways to get photos of an event happening hundreds of miles away from Schenectady. He asked me to go to an electronics store with a lot of TVs, thinking people might be gathering to watch it. I arrived at a store at a mall, I don’t remember which one, and there were a few people shopping and watching the news reports.

As I was taking some pictures, the second plane crashed into the other tower. We all realized at that point it was not an accident. I remember it being a very long workday, and later that evening I photographed a memorial service in a church in Albany to remember those who had died. The entire day was strange, with so much speculation and so few facts.

Rogowski left The Gazette in 2002 and is now supervisor of photographic services at the U.S. Senate.

Longtime Gazette staffer Bill Finelli was on the team that edited the paper for Sept. 12.

BILL FINELLI: HOW COULD THIS BE POSSIBLE?

The night was so hectic it’s all a blur. It was a challenge to process what had happened. It seemed so unreal that such a thing was possible, especially in this country — the Pentagon, the World Trade Center towers. How could this be possible?

At the same time, there was an endless number of stories pouring in from wire services and our own reporters that were continually being updated. We had to decide what to use and fit it in the newspaper.

Many of them were gripping stories of heroics, many heartbreaking stories of loss, and many stories just tried to make sense of what had happened. It remained that way for months.

Finelli, now the Gazette’s news editor, remains on the night-side team.

JEFF WILKIN: THE NEW WAY … ‘LUNCHBOX SOLDIERS’

I pulled into the Daily Gazette’s parking lot off Maxon Road Extension around 9:30 a.m. I thought it was a little unusual when I saw a woman hunched over her steering wheel, as if she was listening to her radio. I figured she was just waiting for Howard Stern to finish up one of his juvenile bits before starting her work shift.

I walked into the newsroom. As I was on an earlier schedule, the newsroom was not full. I saw a group of people from advertising clustered around the small black-and-white TV in one of our conference rooms, just off the newsroom. That always meant something; the same thing happened on every major news day.

“What’s happening?” I asked my friend Judy Patrick, who was then working in the Sunday department.

“We’re under attack!” she said, with no small measure of alarm in her voice. She explained about the airliners that had struck the World Trade Center. Talk of terrorists was everywhere.

I asked editors if we were on the street yet. I ran to my car and began driving. I pulled into the Amtrak train station off Erie Boulevard and walked quickly inside. There was just one guy on duty, and he was frantic. The Amtrak phone was ringing nonstop; people whose loved ones had earlier boarded trains for New York City were desperate for information.

I returned to the newspaper and quickly was paired with photographer Marc Schultz. We had heard in the newsroom that buildings in downtown Albany were being evacuated — Marc had a fast car, a white Acura RSX, and we motored to the Thruway.

A firetruck passed us. I had never seen firetrucks on the Thruway, and this one — think it was from Stratton Air National Guard — was rolling fast. Not sure if the crew was heading to Albany or New York City, but they were moving.

Marc found parking near the Empire State Plaza and we saw people leaving their jobs. They all seemed nervous, and some had a reason: The 42-story Corning Tower was the tallest building between New York City and Montreal. Nobody knew if another wave of terror was coming, so leaving downtown for home and hearth was the smart move. Could the state Capitol building become a target?

I talked to as many people as I could, such as John Parsons, who ran a hot-dog stand near the Capitol. He was shutting down his operation for the day.

“I’d rather go home,” he said. “It’s not a good day to try to make money. This is the new way of war … lunchbox soldiers.”

Marc and I returned to a now busy newsroom. Just about all our reporters and photographers were working on stories related to the day’s events. Editors, shooters and reporters worked together; copy editors and layout guys put together a jam-packed newspaper for Sept. 12.

I worked at The Gazette for 39 years, from 1981 until 2020, and I consider our response to the terrible news day our finest hour.

Wilkin retired from the Daily Gazette in 2020. He is an adjunct professor of journalism at the University at Albany.

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