Filmmaker and Winthrop native Darcy Dennett had an unobstructed view of Lower Manhattan, and her footage of the towers burning and collapsing has been featured on HBO and formed the basis of her short film, “Morning: September 11th.”
Theater director Christine Henry, on the other hand, had to rely on her parents in Winthrop for details of the unfolding terrorist attacks as she struggled to get home to Manhattan from JFK International Airport.
Henry, 39, a 1990 graduate of Winthrop High School, was flying back after a monthlong road trip to California. She was on one of the last planes to land in New York before airports were shut down.
A news bulletin about the first plane striking the north tower played on televisions on Henry’s JetBlue flight as it descended. They touched down right around the time that the second plane hit the south tower, and the third crashed into the Pentagon as Henry retrieved her bags.
But there were no TVs in the airport, so Henry had no idea what was happening until she learned the airport bus to Manhattan was shut down.
Henry didn’t have a cellphone, so she went to a pay phone and immediately tried calling her parents, friends who worked at the World Trade Center and anyone she knew in Queens, where the airport is located.
Henry recalls that in the confusion of the morning, people thought airports might be targets, and she was terrified. But now she can laugh at a “very New York” interaction she had with a police officer.
“This police officer’s like, ‘Ma’am, you need to get out of the airport.’ It must have been 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock,” Henry said. “I said, ‘Sir, I’m happy to leave the airport if you can tell me where the (expletive) I’m supposed to go.’ He said, ‘Listen, you’re alive. Tomorrow you’re going to realize that a bunch of your friends are dead. Go get on the bus.’ It kind of shook me out of it.”
Along with a few other airline passengers, Henry made her way to the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, where they encountered a man who said he had not gone to his job that day at the World Trade Center. He invited them to stay overnight at his apartment.
Between countless phone calls that afternoon and evening, Henry finally saw the footage of the attacks that everyone else had been watching for hours.
She finally made it home the next day, walking from the train station to her apartment because she was scared to ride the subway.
“I get in and it’s deserted,” she said. “It’s deserted and it smells like burning.”
Through it all her parents, Arthur Henry Jr. and Laura Henry of Winthrop, were calm and incredibly supportive, but she couldn’t sleep for five days.
She finally relaxed when a counselor at a free clinic gave her a sleeping pill and pointed out that most of the people at the World Trade Center survived. Other things also helped Henry gain perspective.
“I went up to the South Bronx. What those kids were living with, it was daily whether or not they were going to live or die when they walked home,” she said. “That clicked for me, too.”
For Dennett, it was her craft that helped her process what she had seen.
“I am a filmmaker, and filming can help you make sense of what’s going on and can be an emotional shield from what’s going on,” she said.
On that morning she was on Staten Island. She had a camera with her because she was on her way to a shoot in Manhattan. But instead she found herself near a rocky section of Staten Island’s shore, where dozens of people had parked and were standing with their car doors open, watching the skyline and listening to the news on the radio.
“You could see the smoke really clearly, this long trail of smoke trailing out toward the ocean over the Verrazano bridge,” she said. When the towers collapsed, “it looked like all of Manhattan was engulfed in this deadly ash.”
Dennett, 40, graduated from Winthrop High School in 1988 and has lived in New York City since 1992. She said the city is resilient and always changing, and it certainly is a different place than it was before the attacks — people still get scared when they see low-flying planes or lots of helicopters.
Dennett admits to complicated emotions surrounding reflections on the attacks. The beams of light that sometimes shine in place of the towers are beautiful but sad, she said.
“It’s beautiful, the lights are beautiful, but it’s not easy to remember, and I would rather forget,” she said. “But I guess it’s important to remember.”
The continued uncertainty about what will be built at ground zero is symbolic to Henry.
“That’s the part where I don’t think New York has been able to heal,” she said. “If they were able to build a memorial and come to terms with what that memorial was, that would show that we’ve been able to heal, in my opinion.”
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at: