This story was originally published Sept. 11, 2011, in the Lewiston Tribune, marking the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
For Emily Stegner, the day was supposed to start with a wedding dress fitting.
The 29-year-old bride-to-be was getting married that Saturday. Her parents and one brother were already in town. Other guests, including two more siblings, were flying in that morning.
Stegner’s fiance, Ben Schwartz, worked as an attorney in lower Manhattan, in an office a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center.
She was scheduled to meet him after the dress fitting, so they could pick up the marriage license.
On Sept. 11, 2001, she was thinking how perfect their wedding was going to be.
It’s been 10 years since that day, 10 years since the infamous Tuesday attacks that killed 2,977 people in New York, Washington, D.C., and an empty field in Pennsylvania.
New York life centered around World Trade Center
Stegner, the daughter of state Sen. Joe Stegner of Lewiston and his wife, Debbie, began the day at her condominium apartment in Brooklyn.
She’d moved to New York five years before, after graduating from the University of Idaho with a degree in architecture. She’d lived in San Francisco for a summer, but didn’t find what she was looking for.
“It wasn’t big enough,” she said. “I wanted to feel overwhelmed by a city.”
New York did its best to accommodate her — and the World Trade Center was a major part of that. As an architect, she was fascinated by the Twin Towers, the way they rose straight up, more than a quarter-mile tall, without any step-backs to support the upper floors.
She made a point of taking visitors to see them, having them put their toes against the buildings and look up. “They were so tall, you’d actually fall backwards,” Stegner said. “From the top, you could see planes flying below you. It was difficult to grasp the scale. You felt lost.”
Joe Stegner remembers strolling back to his daughter’s place the night before the attacks, after having dinner with some of Schwartz’s Irish relatives who’d flown over for the wedding.
“We were walking down the Brooklyn Promenade,” he said. “It’s this long, wide sidewalk that runs along a bench above the East River, directly across the river from the Lower Manhattan financial district. There must have been seven or eight of us. It was a beautiful evening, the Promenade was almost deserted and the lights of Lower Manhattan were coming on. We stopped across from the World Trade Center and had a very impressive view of the Twin Towers. They loomed up twice as tall as anything around them.”
The next morning Emily Stegner and her mother left for the dress fitting. Her apartment was a few blocks from the river, within easy walking distance of the subway station. The first stop down the line was directly under the trade center.
“There was a big six-story complex under the towers that was a major intersection for all the subways heading into the city,” Joe Stegner said. “But they had a little time, so rather than head directly for the subway they stopped at a coffee shop.”
While there, Emily Stegner heard on the radio that a plane had collided with the north tower.
“I thought they might have been talking about a small plane, about something that happened in the past,” she said. “But we were only a couple of blocks from the Promenade, so we decided to walk down and take a look. As we were coming around the last corner, we heard the second plane hit. We turned the corner and saw the explosion and the debris falling. I remember a woman running away, screaming and crying.”
It was 9:03 a.m., the moment when everyone in the America realized the country was under attack.
Shock quickly turns to concern
Emily Stegner and her mother returned to the apartment to collect her dad and brother, Joseph. Then they all rushed back to the Promenade.
“There must have been 10,000 people there, all packed in together,” Joe recalled. “Smoke was pouring out of both towers. For the most part everyone was very quiet and somber, but there was an altercation between a couple of people who were walking their dogs. They were having a shouting match, which just seemed surreal. Here they were, right in front of this spectacle, this human disaster, and they were arguing about their dogs.”
People were listening to radios and talking on cellphones, passing information back and forth through the crowds. Joe said it wasn’t immediately apparent that the planes had been commercial jets, but once that was confirmed “it passed through the crowd almost instantaneously.”
“The second we found that out, we asked ourselves what time Annie and Matt were getting in,” Joe said. “They were our two youngest kids. Well, they were on a red-eye flight from the West Coast and were supposed to be landing right about then. So that caused an immediate panic.”
They quickly returned to Emily’s apartment and started making calls, trying to find out where the plane was. Matt eventually borrowed a cellphone and let them know he and Annie were all right.
“As their plane was landing, they passed over Manhattan and Matt could see the towers (unharmed),” Joe said. “By the time they landed and got to the baggage area, both towers were on fire. So they shared air space with the planes that hit the towers.”
Emily’s fiance had called as well, and they’d learned that Joe’s brother, District Court Judge John Stegner of Moscow, had gotten stuck in Chicago with his family. With everyone OK and accounted for, they decided to go back to the Promenade.
“As we were leaving, we ran into one of the service guys who worked at the condominium complex,” Joe said. “He was distraught because he had friends who worked in the maintenance department at the World Trade Center. He was going up to the roof, which was five or six stories high, so we followed him. That’s where we saw the towers fall.”
Weakened by fire, the structural supports on the South Tower failed at 9:59 a.m. and the building collapsed in a shower of rubble. The North Tower followed at 10:28 a.m.
“The whole time I’d been wondering how they were going to put the fire out,” Joe said. “The collapse was a huge shock, (but) I was more concerned about my daughter. She started crying. My reaction was to try and comfort her and tell her it would be all right. Then I thought, how foolish is that statement? Clearly, everything wasn’t going to be all right.”
Ash floated across the river and fell on them, he said. There was a rancid, burning odor and an enormous amount of paper suspended in the air. It looked like confetti.
From the roof of Emily’s condo, Joe could look down onto the Brooklyn Bridge, which was about a half-mile away. The road was covered with people walking away from Manhattan.
“There were a few cars and taxis, but mostly it was just thousands of people walking,” he said.
Emily’s fiance was part of that crowd.
“He experienced more of the mass chaos,” she said. “There were people jumping onto cars as they left the city, trying to get away. There were billows of smoke and dust while he was on the bridge. But he never felt any personal danger.”
‘There was tremendous fear’ in D.C.
That wasn’t the case in Washington, D.C., where Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, was on his way to work.
“I live a few blocks from the (U.S. Capitol Building), on the House side,” Crapo said. “I was walking through the Capitol to get to my office.
It was apparent something was wrong, but not what. People were still moving along, going to their offices and meetings.
“Then the Capitol Police must have gotten word there was a third plane coming. They started shouting for everyone to evacuate. ‘Get out! Get out now!’ People started running, they were very fearful. It instantly turned into an active evacuation.”
Outside, people were streaming into the streets from nearby office buildings. Crapo started walking home. He tried calling his staff, but cellphones weren’t working. His Blackberry did work, though, and he eventually learned everyone was safe.
“While I was walking down a side street, there was a huge explosion,” he said. “It was so startling, I remember people screaming and running. It wasn’t pandemonium, but there was tremendous fear.”
Crapo still isn’t sure whether the explosion came from the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, or possibly a sonic boom from fighter jets that had been scrambled over the city.
Susan Fagan of Pullman was also in D.C. that morning, watching television coverage of the Twin Towers from her hotel room in Pentagon City, a complex of hotels and high-rise apartment buildings located about a half-mile from the Pentagon.
Now a state representative for Washington’s 9th Legislative District, Fagan at the time was director of public affairs for Ed Schweitzer at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories. They were both in town for business meetings.
“I would have been on Capitol Hill, but my meeting was canceled, so I was working in my hotel room,” Fagan recalled. “I was glued to the television when the second tower was hit. Then a trailer came across the bottom saying there’d been an explosion and fire at the Pentagon. I looked out the window and could see black smoke rising. It was a very eerie feeling.”
She doesn’t remember hearing the plane fly over or the explosion from the crash.
“Being that close, you’d think I would have felt the impact or noticed something, but I didn’t,” she said.
A highway ran through the area, past her hotel window. Fagan watched cars creep out of D.C. all day. People were coming out of the buildings and tapping on windows, looking for ways to get away from the city.
She and Schweitzer had flown in on a company plane, but all flights were grounded after the attacks, so they decided to start driving home in a rental car. They hoped the plane would catch up with them somewhere along the way.
“We left at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning and drove to Chicago the first night,” she said. “The next day we stopped in Madison, Wis., to pick up one of our engineers. We spent that night in the Dakotas somewhere. We got home Friday evening and beat the plane back. It felt really good to be home.”
Joe Stegner: ‘It was all very moving’
In New York, Emily Stegner and her fiance spent the days following the attacks trying to decide whether to go ahead with their wedding that weekend.
Guests who hadn’t already arrived were calling to say they were rescheduling flights and still planned to make it, Stegner said, “so we felt like we had to go forward.”
On the other hand, some of the caterers had lost friends in the attacks and the church where they were getting married “had too many funerals lined up,” she said. The office that issued marriage licenses was also closed, and the flight Schwartz’s sister was on was grounded in Newfoundland. With all that, they decided by the end of the week to reschedule the wedding for November.
“Somehow my mother-in-law, who was in her 70s, managed to make it from Grangeville to Lewiston to Chicago and then to New York by Friday afternoon,” Joe Stegner said. “When we picked her up at the airport we told her the wedding was canceled.”
In the days following the attacks, he said, shrines and memorials sprang up all across the city.
“There were thousands of them,” Joe Stegner said. “Fences, telephone posts, anyplace with a flag, the walls outside every police and fire station all became places people would leave their thoughts and prayers or requests for information. There were candles, flags, poems,
photos. It was all very moving.”
He and his wife finally flew home to Lewiston the following week, after the restrictions on commercial flights were lifted.
“We’d been told to get to the airport at least two hours early because of the massive security precautions,” Joe Stegner said. “So we did, but there were no passengers there. We went through security in about eight minutes, and there were as many crew members as passengers on the plane. I’d never felt safer.”
Spence may be contacted at email@example.com.
Caption: The view of the New York City skyline on Sept. 15, 2001, shows the Statue of Liberty from a vantage point in Jersey City, N.J., with the lower Manhattan skyline still shrouded in smoke following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. This view toward Manhattan of the World Trade Center on fire was a shocking sight for Joe Stegner of Lewiston. He was in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, for the wedding of his daughter, Emily. Joe Stegner escorts his daughter, Emily Stegner Schwartz, at her wedding, which was postponed to November after the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The Sept 11 Memorial at the Pentagon is a tribute to the 184 people who perished when a hijacked airliner crashed here Sept. 11, 2001. Dedicated eight years later, it consists of 184 benches with victims’ names inscribed, spread over two acres. Nine months before the Sept. 11 attacks, the western skyline of Lower Manhattan was dominated by the Twin Towers. The North Tower is the left, with the tall antenna.