The Towers As Symbols

World Trade Center twin towers on June 23, 1999
From the very beginning, the twins were stars. CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports for CBS News Sunday Morning.

In 1972, a student filmmaker named Gary Kaskel was so fascinated with the construction of the 110-story buildings that he made a movie about it. The film, like the towers and the city they once dominated, is loud and brassy and hard to ignore.

Grandstanders and headline grabbers have always known one shortcut to the front page ran up the sides of the towers. Mountain climbers inched their way to the top. Before he climbed the tower, George Willig was known to only a few people. After his stunt, he was known by millions as "The Human Fly."

Willig has never climbed another building, and today he says he doesn't know if he ever will.

Then there was Phillipe Petit, who thought it would be fun to dance on a wire between the two towers.

He was arrested. The Human Fly human fly was fined. All the stunts that took place at the towers were illegal, but they were never evil -- until last week, when the towers' very size made them a target.

There are a lot of numbers to describe how big they were:

50,000, the number of people who worked there. There are towns in America that aren't that big.

10048, the Zip Code just for the twin towers.

Thousands and thousands, the number of photographs Jay Maisel has taken of them.

"It was New York," Maisel says. "It was: 'Here I am, the twin towers.' Whether you like me or hate me, you're gonna see me from everywhere in the city.'"

Maisel has photographed them in every season, at every time of day, and in every kind of light.

He explains, "They acted as beautiful objects in the center of their environment. They turned red, and gold, and silver. Sometimes, they were just white. There was an amazing quality when the lights were on. Somebody asked me once, 'How'd you get them to turn all the lights on at once?' when they were glowing gold. Sometimes (in the fog), they would just disappear, and only the tops would show."

The twin towers were Maisel's neighbors for their entire lives. His home is not far from where they lived and died.

Last Tuesday, he watched from his roof.

"I saw this obscene, orange and black blooming thing, like a flower. I couldn't quite realize what was going on. Afterwards, I just kept shooting it was all I could do," recalls Maisel, adding, "They could have taken out the Statue of Liberty, but they wouldn't have caused as much heartbreak."

Only rarely has there been as much heartbreak as now. The very numbers that once made the towers so great -- the number of floors they tolerated, the number of people they accommodated -- now make the tragedy so much greater.

Says Maisel, "You look out the window, and I looked out the window for 35 years, and I love them, and they're beautiful to me, and I look out, and they're not there."

Jay Maisel is a photographer who lives in New York, although he as photographed all around America and the world. His most recent book is called "Jay Maisel's New York", published by Firefly Books, and available on Amazon. All photographs are copyrighted by Jay Maisel, and available only from him. His phone number (212) 431-5013.

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