The WTC Observatory

by John Delach

The visual effects displayed on the internal walls of the elevator cabs for their ascent up to the observatory at No. 1 World Trade Center are impossible for me to explain sufficiently to give them justice. When you have a moment please go on the internet and type in: “WTC elevator movie” to see this dramatic presentation.


You will see a virtual image of Lower Manhattan and its environs beginning 500 years ago progressing to the present. The video starts as the elevator begins ascending with visions of the bedrock that support this 1,776 foot-tall tower, the successor to the late Twin Towers. Like all of the other passengers, I was mesmerized by this visual image of the changing architectural landscape of the city that unfolded as the elevator cab ascended to the 102nd floor.


The video lasted forty-eight seconds the time needed to travel 102 floors. Five hundred years condensed into 48 seconds reduces the images of the late twin towers to just 3.84 seconds to account for the 30 years of their existence. Trust me, this is disconcerting and un-nerving.


The observatory opened in May and on June 23, I took my oldest grandsons Drew and Matt downtown to see the Memorial and the Observatory. Neither can recall September 11, 2001, but Drew, who was born in November of 1999, can recollect through family lore that he pleaded with Mike, his dad that fateful morning not to leave Fairfield, Connecticut and go to work. Mike did, thereby witnessing the tragedy that unfolded from a south-facing window from 1166 Avenue of the Americas.


The names of all who died at the Trade Center are cut into the brass surfaces that line the edges of the two square water falls that sit on each of the tower’s footprints. Each morning, memorial staff members place a white rose into the cutouts of those victims who would have celebrated their birthdays that day. I steered my two charges to see one of these roses to explain their significance. As I drew their attention to this honor, I caught my breath as I saw the name of the person set out above one so celebrated. The name I saw was, Pat Cahill, a colleague of mine from Marsh & McLennan.


I said nothing as chills descended. It was another reminder that remembrance and grief from that day is without end. Even though time has softened the edges, each time I venture there I resurrect my sorrow for all those I knew who perished that day.


Our reservations for the observatory were for noon but we were able to start our journey slightly before 11:45. Crowd control and security were totally present but not stifling or rigid. The line to the five express elevators wound its way, Disney style, through faux walls of bedrock displaying historical messages. Drew noted one that stated how old bedrock is. “You know, Grandpa, how you tell us you are older than dirt? Well, I think you should say you are older than bedrock.”


The elevator was smooth and quiet and I didn’t sense movement which was probably aided due to being mesmerized by the video. Upon reaching the top, we were directed into an area called “Theater in the Sky.”


(Because of the unique and dramatic presentation, I will not describe this experience. Write to me if you want to know more about it.)


Surprised by the boys’ excited reaction to their birds’ eye view from 102 floors above the ground, I realized this was their first experience viewing New York City set out below them from an observatory in a skyscraper. Shortly after we arrived the three of us headed to the men’s room. Drew and I exited first. When Matt came out, he was holding a cell phone. “I looked down and saw this on the floor inside the stall next to me.”


Matt gave a good description of the owner and we turned in the phone to the staff, then looked for its owner. Matt spotted the fellow, told him that we found his phone and explained where we turned it in. A short time later, after being re-united with his device, the owner returned to thank us.


The floor below the entrance to observatory complex, the 101st floor, houses a fast food eatery, a bar and restaurant operated by Legends, a co-venture between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees. The café was suitably mobbed it being lunch time but we didn’t look for a seat as our plan was to head uptown to Foley’s NY for lunch after our visit. This scene was of little interest except I wanted to know the cost of a Jameson’s on the rocks at the bar. The answer: $15-heavy, but surprisingly, not insane by New York prices.


The actual observatory is on the 100th floor and features a wide open view of all of New York City and its suburbs in every direction. Unfortunately, the day of our visit was hot and hazy offering us a view impeded by heavy humidity that proceeded strong thunderstorms destined to strike much of the region later that day. Too bad, but so it goes. In all, we stayed about an hour before we’d seen enough and hunger called us to the elevators.


A different virtual reality unfolded for the descent. The elevator cab popped out of the building acting like a glider that sailed around the tower as we settled back to the ground floor to conclude a rather grand but incomplete experience.


I’ve marked it off on my to-do list, to return to the tower on a clear night next winter to witness once again Gotham’s radiance from that bar on the 101st floor. My plan is to order a double Jameson’s on the rocks raise it in memory of all of the good times I experienced at The Club at the World Trade Center and salute all of the souls lost on that awful day.