Saturday, September 10, 2011

Walt Disney World on 9/11

Ten years ago, on September 11, 2001, I was attending the second day of my senior year of high school in Staten Island, NY, approximately 11 miles away from the World Trade Center. My father dropped me off at school and went home to get ready for work and head into lower Manhattan, to his office directly across from 2 World Trade on 90 West Street. My friends and I were incredibly excited about the year ahead and all the exciting events that were coming up: acceptances to college, prom in New York City, Yankees playoff games, graduation, etc. My best friend Christina and I were also planning a celebratory trip to Walt Disney World in the week following our graduation. Like most at the age of 18, we felt invincible.

September 11, 2001 was the type of day where you didn't mind getting out of bed. The weather was about as beautiful as you could get. It was the kind of weather where you would put your MetroCard away and walk twenty blocks instead of taking the subway or eat your lunch in Central Park instead of a stuffy cafe.

After greeting my classmates and setting up my locker at St. Joseph Hill Academy, it was off to class. It was typical first-day fodder. In my second class of the morning (I would assume around 9:30am) there was an announcement over the loud speaker. Typically, these announcements weren't anything important. But on this day, the particularly shaky voice of our principal came over the system:

"There has been an accident in downtown Manhattan at the World Trade Center. Please pray for all those in the area."

Those words shook me to my core. An accident? What kind of accident? Did a car hit the building? Did someone fall? What does this mean? Is my Dad he safe? Is our school safe? We didn't have computers or cell phones (I was getting my first cell phone on the first day I was allowed to drive, my birthday on October 1) so I decided to leave class and head down to the office to see what was going on.

As I walked through the glass doors at Hill, I noticed many members of the staff sitting around the TV, with hands clasped over their mouths. "What's going on?" I asked. That's when I saw the most horrific image I ever saw in my entire life--a plane flying into the World Trade Center.

"I have to use the phone," I cried as I ran down to the pay phone. I didn't care about the rules at this point. If there were ever a worthy time to get a detention, this was it. I found a quarter and immediately called my mother. After three or four attempts, she finally picked up.

I will never forget this conversation. "Mom, what the hell is going on?" It sounded like mayhem on the other side. "I just talked to Dad, he's OK." "How the hell did a plane hit the building?" I asked. "Roe," my mom started calmly, "A second plane hit the other tower. A third hit the Pentagon. This isn't an accident."

In the two minutes I was on the pay phone, a line of equally worried teenage girls filed behind me. That's when the announcements began. "Jennifer Jones please report to the office. Will Mary and Liz Jane please report to the office?" What did it mean? Half the time it meant that a student was being picked up... the other half had a missing parent or family member.

A few hours later, my mother had arrived and I could go home. I wanted to go home desperately and this was the only way they were letting students leave. She filled me in--my father was on my way to work and never reached his office. It's possible that he lost his entire business, but none of that mattered at the moment.

As soon as we stepped out of the building I smelled the smoke and ash coming from Manhattan. By the time we reached my house, the towers had collapsed. We stared at the television in disbelief. This cannot be real, I thought. When will this nightmare be over?

I was in absolute shock. Those buildings can't be gone. I was just there last week, shopping in the mall underneath the Towers. Nothing can take those buildings down. There's a lot of smoke, maybe we saw wrong. I assume this was pure shock because I did not cry at all during this time. I truly thought I was going to wake up... that this could not be real. And then I saw this photo:

AP Photo

The tears started flowing. This wasn't a dream. This was very real. They evacuated Walt Disney World? You can count on one hand the amount of times they closed WDW.

Over the next few weeks we began to cope. My family was safe, but like everyone else in New York I knew people that died on that horrific day. I still am in disbelief that those buildings are gone.

Walt Disney World changed as well. Bag checks are now required when entering any park. When I worked there, I learned of the many security features that were implemented following the attacks. I am pleased to say that Disney truly thinks of everything and they work very hard to keep the guests in their theme parks carefree. I was shocked to learn that Disney Parks are actually huge terrorist targets. When you think about it isn't that strange though - if there was a place that represented what America is all about, it's Disney. It represents freedom, capitalism, happiness and the inclusion of all people from all walks of life.

Reports from guests in the park that day say that Cast Members remained calm. There was announcement that told guests to please evacuate the park. Cast Members sprung into action and they did what they were trained to do. Knowing what was going on (and that they were sitting on a huge target) they still managed to keep smiles on their faces and directed thousands of guests out of the parks within twenty minutes.

On a separate personal note, I never really spoke about September 11. Everyone in New York was there, they lived it. They did not need to speak about it or rehash their feelings. However, on 9/11/04, my College Program roommates sat around me and listened to my entire experience from start to finish. They hung on my every word and cried when I cried. It helped me come to terms with the event.

On the eve of 9/11, ten years later, I know that day will forever be etched in my mind. I will never forget, and this is just one memory that will be with me as long as I live. May those who were lost rest in peace, and may their loved ones find peace.

Thank you for reading. My story is one of many. Tell me yours in the comment section below.

Edit: Monday, September 12, 2011, 12:09PM
My favorite Disney podcast, WDW Today, did a special show this week on this topic. If you would like to listen, here is the link: September 11th


Leanne said...

Hi Roe! What a great idea for a blog! You would be my perfect choice. Wish I'd thought of it first! :) Thinking of you today and always!

Rosanne said...

Thank you so much Leanne for following my blog. It means so much for me to have my roomates read my blog, as you guys are my inspiration. Also, thank you for allowing me to tell my story in 2004... love you!

Leah Rollins said...

Referred from WDW Today... thanks for this post and sharing your personal story of 9/11. I too am a former Cast Member and I was employed at WDW at the time of the attacks, but 9/11 was my day off.

I look forward to reading more of your blog!

Ray Sharpton said...

Dear Rosanne. Thank you for sharing your story as it deeply touched my heart. And thanks to Mike Newell from WDWToday for the link to your story. Sincerely, Ray Sharpton.

Rosanne said...

Many, many thanks Leah and Ray for taking the time to read about my experience on 9/11. Leah- glad you were safe and thanks for all your hard work as a Cast Member. And thank you VERY much for the follow. Ray- WDW Today is part of my daily routine... my absolute favorite. I was glad to hear them address the 9/11 topic from the Disney perspective, much like I did. (Of course, they were much more eloquent, I am just a novice!) If you would like, you can "like" the Disney Point on Facebook and be notified of new posts. The Disney community is truly special.

AquaViola said...

Very moving story. For me, it was the middle of the working day in Britain. Actually, it was the end of the working day for me. Glad your family was safe.

Rosanne said...

Thank you for your kind words. My family was concern number one. My friend posted these words yesterday and it truly moved me. She said, "My strongest memory of 9/11 was my father and brother walking through the door, safe. Count your blessings." And it's true. I called my entire phone book (yes I still had one of those in 2001) to make sure the people I knew were safe. Nobody was in the clear in New York City.

Kimberly said...

Roe- I still remember hearing your story. 9/11/01 felt unreal no matter where you were, but hearing it form someone from NYC makes the day much more personal. Thank you for being so comfortable with us to share :)

Guest said...

"Due to unforseen circumstances the park will now be closing.  Please exit the park in a timely fashion...."  We were there. At the Magic Kingdom. My husband, 3 yr old son and I had just gotten off of Dumbo and were headed to our next ride ,when we heard this over the loudspeaker.  I looked up.  It was cloudy.  Were we under some inclement weather so severe that the park needed to be closed?

The park was silent except for the recurring announcement. The crowd was walking toward the exit. I immediately saw a young lady dressed in dark pants and shirt with a walkie talkie radio, stationed at the crossroad. She looked serious.  I approached to  see what she could share.. It was my 2nd time that the park was closed; the 1st in 1976 for a private function after making the trip from Tampa as a college student.

" A plane has been hijacked, possibly 2 and we need to close the park." was all I was told.  Perhaps sharing anything more would have been too alarming.  The crowd filed out in silence. Did they know I wondered? People all around looked as if they were in shock.  Perhaps they did.

The busses were lined up ready to take us back to our Disney hotels. Once there, we turned on the TV and saw the images and heard the reports. Overwhelmed with grief, I left the room sobbing on the outside stairwell when a man from Australia stopped. Seeing my emotional state, he asked if I was from NY. I wasn't, but ironically, NY is where I called home may yrs ago.  We both did not understand the impact of 911 at that moment.  It was too raw, too fresh and too difficult to comprehend.

The pools were closed (due to thunder and lightening), so our only option was to take a walk around the hotel.  The staff was not aware when the park would reopen.

When it did open the next day, I felt it inappropriate to be enjoying the park considering what had occurred the day before.  But we were stuck. Planes were grounded and our car rental was not available for the next 3 days.  Things would never be the same.

MouseFanDiane said...

I enjoyed reading it and it does bring back such vivid memories. My husband was in midtown and couldn't leave, no trains, I coudn't even get in touch with him to find out how he was, what was going on. I was at home sleeping - I was 7 months pregnant and was awakened by the phone ringing over and over and I thought that was so strange. It was my mom trying to tell me what was going on and when I turned on the TV I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It all seemed like a blur. I remember just 2 days ago having my daughters 2nd birthday and with family and friends there - everything was so fun and normal and now we were under attack. Your story is very moving glad your family was safe

Rosanne_Mottola said...

Thanks Diane. I work in lower Manhattan now about a block away from the new World Trade Center. I am watching it being built piece by piece and I think about that horrific day every single day. It's just one of those things I'll never forget and it changed the course of this country forever. Thanks for stopping by.

Julie Isbell said...

Thank you, so much, for sharing such a personal experience. I cried while reading your story. I remember this day as though it was yesterday. Though I did not lose anyone in these horrific attacks, I, along with every American, lost a piece of my freedom. MAY WE NEVER FORGET THOSE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES - THE BIGGEST SACRIFICE OF ALL. THESE ANGELS SIT AT THE RIGHT HAND OF OUR FATHER AND PROTECT US ALL. TO THEIR FAMILIES - YOU WILL FOREVER BE IN OUR HEARTS.

Amy Marie Hall said...

I was at my first College Program at WDW when it happened that day.

Mickey said...

Roe, your story sent chills down my spine and tears to my eyes. I was at home with my daughter Sophie -- on September 11 she was 12 weeks old. My wife called from work and told me to turn on the TV, so I did and watched in disbelief and horror. My wife Cindy's cousin Jeannie worked at one of the WTC buildings, and she would have been there that morning, but something went wrong and she decided to work from home that morning. God was watching out for her. I can only imagine the terror you were going through, and I'm glad that I'm able to know you and call you friend.

Rosanne_Mottola said...

Thank you for stopping by Julie and for your touching words. The families of those who were lost will always be in my prayers.

Rosanne_Mottola said...

Amy, I can't even imagine. Where were you working? Thanks for stopping by.

Rosanne_Mottola said...

I'm so glad to have Disney friends like you Mike, who are thinking and praying for us all over this great country. There are so many stories like Jeannie's, and unfortunately so many stories of people who should've have been there. Thank you for your comment and for all your support!

Becky @Disney in your Day said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I was in 8th grade at school on Long Island. Not as close as you to the events, but close enough that we experienced much of the same thing - students being pulled out of school all day, some to go home and some who had lost family. One of my friends had a father who was a firefighter in the city who passed away that day. We will never forget.

Beth Green said...

What a great, powerful story. I'm still wiping the tears away from my eyes. I saw the "towers" in March of 2012, 6 months later. I was in shock. I still can't visit that site without all the emotions flooding back. On that day, 9/11/01, I was in a hospital room in Birmingham, AL with my ex husband after he had knee surgery. I should have been in my 1st grade classroom teaching- where they would not let any teachers turn on TVs or computers to shield the kids from the news. In hindsight, I'm glad I was where I was so I could watch the events unfold on TV. I've been to the WTC site, the Pentagon and the PA site. All are unbelievable, still. I continue to pray for those affected by those horrific events.

Rosanne_Mottola said...

Becky, thank you for stopping by. Long Island is definitely close enough to feel the shock waves through your community. To be honest, I think the citizens throughout whole country were New Yorkers on that day.

Rosanne_Mottola said...

I can't imagine what it was like to have to keep a strong, happy face on a day like that. I have to give a lot of props to teachers across this country that had to be strong when nobody else was. Thanks for sharing Beth.

Tina said...

My husband is airport police in our town. He had just gotten home and was called back. They combined 3 24-hour shift teams into 2-odd and even. They worked 24 on/24 off for over 6 months. All time off or leave was cancelled. We had been married exactly one month. My sister was in Boston on business due to fly out the next day on one of the flight numbers that was hijacked. She was stranded and had to wait to rent a car with someone she didn't know because they would not let anyone rent one alone, there was too much demand. Thankful that they both remained safe and sound.

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