Vineyard Struggles with Fallout from Tragedy
Terrorist Attacks on America Shift Rhythms of Island Life
By MANDY LOCKE
The streets of Edgartown early Tuesday morning are nearly empty. The day breaks sunny, a lovely September morning.
9:49 a.m. Small groups of people gather in store entrances to listen in disbelief to the normally soothing broadcast voices of Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. People exchange any tidbits they know as they try to piece together the sketchy details of terrorist plane attacks on the World Trade Center.
A young woman crouches on the top step of the Black Dog Store on South Summer street, listening to the radio blaring from inside. She holds a cigarette in one hand and her cell phone in the other. Her shaky finger presses send, then end, over and over. All she needs is word that her brother in New York city's financial district is safe. Her mobile phone gives no such news.
Those who brave the streets move at two paces. Some rush along the sidewalk at a near run, a look of worry across their brows. Others creep along in a daze, as if sleepwalkers going through the motion.
10:22 a.m. At the Edgartown Inn, guests crowd around a small television in the sitting room, watching footage of the second plane crashing into Tower Two of the World Trade Center. The reaction in this room is shock and amazement. But not even the closing of eyes can erase the image now engraved in every American's mind. One man mumbles something about his old office on Wall street.
10:34 a.m. Work all but ceases at the Daggett House. Half the empty plates sit undisturbed on dirty tables. A waiter turns to a fellow server, "I wasn't happy when Bush got in the White House, but now I'm glad because I know he'll retaliate big time."
10:39 a.m. Radios crackle from trucks in the Chappy ferry line, introducing the name Osama bin Laden, a name that will be repeated across lunch counters and dinner tables for days to come.
10:53 a.m. The upper two floors of the town hall are deserted. All the Edgartown officials and staff who reported to work congregate around a radio in a small office on the bottom floor.
Outside, a town official sits alone on a bench for a smoke break. "This reminds me of the day Bobby Kennedy was shot. I had just met him three days before. It's the same kind of numb," he says.
11:08 a.m. A man camps out in a rocking chair in front of the In the Woods store, a cap pulled tight over his graying hair. It takes him a moment to understand he's being addressed, but when he opens his mouth, words of anger come out. "I pulled myself away from the television this morning. I couldn't watch anymore. I think I will cry if I continue to talk. My neighbors from Connecticut work in that building."
A younger man rushes from the Edgartown Hardware Store and stops short. He hears the older man in the rocker, then says with a choke to keep the tears at bay, "My grandfather fought in World War II, my father in Vietnam. Will I have to fight, too?"
The streets tell the story of a nation broken and united at once. It was the story of strangers sharing their worst fears without an exchange of names or a handshake.
At the High School
It's just before lunch time, and school superintendent Kriner Cash's eyes sag from the long morning. He and high school principal Margaret (Peg) Regan announce that all after school activities, including several sporting events, are canceled for the afternoon.
"We're trying to keep the school day going as normal as possible. We're also using words like accident and big fire instead of bomb and terrorist with the younger kids," he explains. "It's an opportunity for educators to continue to teach. It's not a time to offer directives and be reactionary."
The tragedy becomes even more real for the students, when assistant principal Michael Holt receives word Tuesday afternoon to pack his bags and head to the 25th Marine Regimental Headquarters in Worcester. A Gulf War veteran and a reserve assistant operations manager for the 25th Marine Regiment, Mr. Holt switches roles from educator to defender.
At just after nine o'clock in the morning, American history teacher Quinton Bannister pokes into fellow history teacher Marg Harris's classroom to tell her to turn on the television. The two teachers watch the news accounts of the tragedy along with their shocked students.
"It was a time for us to reflect with students on how we are living through a historic moment," Mr. Bannister says.
Mrs. Harris shakes her head in lingering disbelief.
"Just yesterday, we were talking about conscription and being drafted to war. Today it could be a reality," she says.
Mrs. Harris tells her students Wednesday that they are oral historians and that she wants to use their accounts from Sept. 11, 2001 as primary documents when she teaches students about these terrorist attacks in years to come.
Late Wednesday afternoon, she shuffles through their essays and reads aloud some of their thoughts.
"This is not an act of man; this is an act of hatred," a student writes.
"I'm concerned that this will not end. If we go to war, we just cause another country to retaliate," another writes.
"Regular people went to work today and didn't know this would be the last day of their lives," a student says.
"Was this caused because Colin Powell did not attend the UN conference in South Africa?" another student asks.
"Yesterday morning, I thought America was the safest place in the world. Today, I'm afraid," someone else writes.
"Will this start a World War III?" a student asks.
"I came back from New York city last week; it's hard to believe the twin towers are not there anymore. The skyline will be changed forever, and so will our history," another writes.
Sky and Sea
An eerie silence spreads from the streets to the sky Tuesday morning, as a Federal Aviation Administration mandate ceases all air traffic. Word that an unidentified plane appeared on the airport tower's radar screen sends an alarm through the airport. Everyone evacuates, and military planes investigate the reading. Just after one o'clock, military and airport officials declare the mystery plane an anomaly. The airport remains empty, however, and a West Tisbury police officer stands guard at the entrance, turning away all unnecessary traffic.
When asked Thursday morning when air traffic will resume, communications director for Cape Air, Michelle Haynes, says she and other Cape Air employees watch the television for FAA news. "People really think we have inside information. We're just watching the television like everyone else," she says.
While the FAA announces the resumption of air travel at 11 o'clock Thursday morning, Ms. Haynes remains skeptical. "The rule book in terms of security is being completely rewritten. Airport security as we've known it is gone," she says.
Cape Air's 49 planes nationwide were grounded Tuesday morning. "We'll call upon passengers to be patient as we learn the new rules," she says.
But Ms. Haynes does not think recent events will deter Americans from flying. "Americans are so resilient. We will continue with our way of life," she concludes.
At one o'clock Thursday afternoon, the first plane takes off from Martha's Vineyard airport. The schedule moves slowly. By three o'clock Thursday afternoon, only two planes have departed the Island airport.
Steamship Authority officials watch the Island's other ports of entrance for signs of insecurity. The SSA suspends use of luggage carts for carry-on luggage and hand freight until further notice. They also heighten inspection of cars left for personnel to drive aboard ferries on the Nantucket runs.
Lunchtime and Television
A hunger for information sends Vineyarders flocking to Island bars and restaurants with televisions. The normal lunchtime chatter fades as people turn their attention to CNN coverage. Only an occasional gasp or "Jesus" muttering breaks the silence.
"It was very quiet in here this morning. If someone banged a chair or something, they would give them a look like you are supposed to be quiet," Gail DiCarli, bartender at the Ocean View in Oak Bluffs, says Tuesday.
Matthew McLean, Aaron Fontaine and Chris MacLeod head to the Ocean View when their carpentry work seems unimportant in light of the tragedy. They stare at one of the television screens at the Ocean View in disbelief.
Jory Tremblay, a visitor from Los Angeles, sits at the bar in the Island House in Oak Bluffs and tells how he first heard of the terrorist attacks. "I was getting out from my car to buy coffee and the lady said, ‘Oh, you don't know.' "
Stephanie Devine, a bartender at the Ritz in Oak Bluffs, can't help but turn her thoughts to war. "What's bad about this is that my brother is in the army and right now he is at a school in North Carolina. My uncle said to me, ‘You know where he's going, don't you?' It's just scary," she says.
Joy and Tragedy
Vineyarders wait Tuesday for news from loved ones. With airlines slow to release information and phone lines still out of service, each passing hour brings more agony.
"Everyone here is one degree, at the most two degrees, from somebody affected by the tragedy. It's really horrible," Michael Oliveira at Our Market says Tuesday.
As the day progresses, bits of good news come.
Ken Armstead of Edgartown and New York city escapes from the 79th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center.
Others aren't so lucky.
Dr. Alan and Lynn Retik of Boston and Indian Hill Road in West Tisbury lost their son David Retik, of Needham, on American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the 87th floor of Tower One.
Grace Waldie McGroarty and Brion McGroarty, well-known Oak Bluffs residents and Edgartown business owners, received word that Grace's brother, Ken Waldie, of Methuen, was also one of the 81 passengers and 11 crew members killed on Flight 11.
Mrs. McGroarty offered these thoughts about her brother:
"My brother Ken was a private man with the right priorities. He lived and died a devout believer in God. He was a loving husband and father. Being a former naval officer, he was a strong believer in traditional American values. He loved his visits to the Vineyard and brought joy to all of us here.
"His family and extended family loved him deeply and we are devastated by this tragedy."