By Claire Walla
There are few who would say the United States hasn’t seen fundamental change since September 11, 2001. For some who were living in Manhattan and experienced great upheaval at the time of the terror attacks of that day, this far corner of Long Island offered the chance to make a new life. Now, 10 years later, three families reflect on how their lives changed after 9/11.
Beth Troy and Susan Galardi
Beth Troy was working in mid-town Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. She had left her office to go to the Duane Reade on 39th Street when she noticed something odd. She looked up, she said, and “there was the most ominous feeling in the sky.”
When she got back to work, she continued, “everyone was crying and screaming; everyone was freaking out and pouring into the streets.”
An airplane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers.
Troy’s partner, Susan Galardi, was across town in a meeting when news of the catastrophe hit. But the two were able to connect via cell phone and made plans to meet and walk to the apartment they owned in the West Village.
“We all started the scary departure from Grand Central Station… we just started walking,” Troy said. “People were in bars watching the news on TV, and suddenly you’d start seeing people who had been in the mess, walking like zombies.”
“It was like a scary movie you didn’t want to be a part of.”
When the couple reached their apartment, they got their dog and headed to East Hampton, where they owned a home. Though Troy said she and Galardi always planned to settle on the East End once they had a child — and they were beginning to have those discussions — the events of September 11, 2001 expedited that process.
“I’m a native New Yorker, we definitely love the city,” Troy explained. However, “The real issue for me was the fear.”
“New York is a wonderful place, but I wouldn’t want to be worried like that ever again,” she said.
Today, Troy and Galardi have a 9-year old son, Hudson, and live in Sag Harbor full time.
“We still go in and out of the city because it’s a big part of my life. But, what if it happened again? I think we’re more prepared now. And really, these things can happen anywhere. But, as a Mom, I feel safer raising my child here in Sag Harbor.”
Lisa and Laszlo Kiss
For Lisa Kiss, her husband Laszlo and their two daughters, in the years before September 11, 2001 life was concentrated around The World Trade Center. They lived in an apartment in Battery Park City, and she and Laszlo had office space downtown with a view of the towers. Laszlo was at work that day and Lisa had just dropped her eldest daughter off at school when everything changed.
“I watched the first plane go into the tower from my daughter’s playground,” Kiss explained. It was five-year-old Madeline’s fourth day of first grade at P.S. 89. With her infant daughter in her arms, Kiss went back into the school to avoid what she thought might turn into “a stampede” in the streets.
“We just heard a lot of screams outside,” she recalled. “We didn’t even know what was happening.”
Kiss was one of only a few parents who stayed behind at the school that day. She said she was lucky she did. Her husband reunited with them there, and with friend Lesa Tinker — a Bridgehampton homeowner who, ironically, also lived in Battery Park City and had a five-year-old daughter and an infant — the two families joined thousands in a massive migration north.
“We couldn’t go home,” Kiss continued explaining the area was closed to the public.
Luckily, Kiss said she and Tinker each had a friend on the Upper East Side they could stay with.
During their 70-block odyssey, they passed empty baby carriages at the end of the promenade in Battery Park City where parents had ditched them before packing into ferries to get off the island with their kids. They walked past people covered in ash, and passed a line of people waiting to donate blood at St. Vincent’s Hospital in the West Village. They heard snippets of news wafting out of car radios, though they tried not to linger too long lest their kids be subjected to the details of the day’s events.
“We heard all these military jets fly overhead,” she recalled. “We didn’t know if we were under attack or what — it was scary.”
Kiss said their apartment was relatively unharmed by the day’s events, but Lazlo’s studio was badly damaged and her office was destroyed. Kiss knew she wanted to leave Manhattan.
At around 5 a.m. on September 12, the Kisses drove east to Quogue, where Lisa’s mother owned a home. They stayed there four years and then they moved again — this time to Sag Harbor.
“I love living here,” Kiss confided. “There seems to be a lot of people who also used to live in Manhattan, but there are also people out here still living in the houses they grew up in. I like this town because it’s easy to feel a part of.”
Though her husband lived in their apartment while he continued to work in the city, Kiss only returned there once, when a Japanese film crew asked to film the family going back to their former home. Other than that, she said she’s had no desire to go back and they no longer rent the apartment.
“I had been living in the city for 20 years,” she said. “I always wanted to live in the country, somewhere quiet.”
And now that her husband has moved his business to Sag Harbor, she said they’re here for good.
Lesa and David Tinker
On the eve of September 11, 2001, back on the Upper East Side, Lesa Tinker didn’t meet up with her husband until that night, when — by sheer chance — he came knocking on the same friends’ door with their son in his arms. He had been in their Battery Park apartment at the time of the attack and was evacuated aboard a ferry to Liberty State Park in New Jersey where he spent much of the day.
Like the Kisses, the Tinkers quickly drove east. They went to the home they owned in Bridgehampton and enrolled their daughter in The Hayground School, where she completed first grade. Like the Kisses, Lesa’s husband David returned to their apartment in Battery Park to work during the week while the family stayed in Bridgehampton.
However, unlike the Kisses, Tinker said she and her husband were on the fence for a year about whether or not to stay out east permanently.
“We got to the point where we had to make a pros and cons list, and the pros list was quite long,” Tinker explained. “The con list only had one item on it: that David would have to be a weekend dad. That out-weighed all the pros.”
So the Tinkers are back in the city living in the same apartment they were in on 9/11, and their kids have returned to the same schools.
“There’s still a lot missing,” Tinker said of the neighborhood. “But our community bonded to help rebuild the neighborhood, that made a difference. There are some amazingly good things that have come out of such a horrible event.”