On any weekday, more than 50 buses leave the Lehigh Valley for New York City.
When baseball season begins, whole blocks of row houses in Easton sprout Yankees flags.
Almost 200,000 people from the Lehigh Valley and environs visited New York to see a Broadway play or another live theater performance last year.
Lehigh Valley residents settle into season seats when the curtain goes up at Lincoln Center for a Metropolitan Opera performance and when Lorin Maazels baton comes down at Carnegie Hall for a New York Philharmonic concert.
To the south, Bucks County has long been a woodsy haven for New York artists, musicians and literati. To the north, Monroe County is filling with New York transplants, and more than 24 percent of commuters who leave the county head to the city.
The fact is, residents of the Lehigh Valley and the region have a special relationship with New York. Its proximity and its powerful attraction as one of the worlds great cities make it so. Were close enough to do business in New York. Close enough routinely to drink from its cups of culture, enjoy its entertainment playgrounds, shop its world-class stores, savor its sports.
That intimacy has shaped our response to the devastation that happened Sept. 11.
We are not as apprehensive as New Yorkers about being targeted in future terrorist attacks, but our fear is greater than that felt by the country as a whole.
In the Valley, 19 percent of residents are very concerned about becoming the potential target of a terrorist attack, according to a Morning Call/Muhlenberg College Poll released Monday. Nationwide, only 12 percent of respondents to other polls shared the same level of concern. In New York City, 25 percent of people are as concerned about becoming victims.
Overall, two of three Valley residents are very or somewhat concerned about becoming a victim of a terrorist attack.
One of the ways that societies develop a shared history is by storytelling. While modern America tells stories in the media, the more personal form of storytelling from one to another by word of mouth is still a powerful force. Hearing a tale of Sept. 11 from someone you know makes it all the more real, all the more part of your own life. And here in the Lehigh Valley, you dont have to go far from home to find someone who was there, or someone who knew someone who was there.
Those who are connected, like Susan Long Martucci of Northampton, are telling their stories. Martucci remembers her cousin, Capt. Daniel Brethel, a New York firefighter. When the building started coming down, my cousin dove under his fire truck and was crushed to death, she says. The only consolation my family has is knowing Daniel died doing what he loved to do all his life: helping to save the lives of other people.
City built with Valley sweat
The connection between New York and the Lehigh Valley region runs deep. The growth of the great city helped fuel the regions economic engine.
When Philadelphia proved a poor market, Maurice and William Wurtz turned to New York to finance their effort to capture the New York market with coal from their mines near Carbondale. Their initial public offering was sold in 1825 at New Yorks Tontine Coffee House, about six blocks from what became the World Trade Center site. Anthracite flowed to the citys furnaces.
Accessible by canal, rail and later by highways, the regions industry and resources went far beyond coal, supplying New York City with commodities from silk to milk.
Sweat and muscle from the Lehigh Valley also helped build the bones of New York City. Its sidewalks and skyscrapers are made with our steel and cement. Bethlehem Steels wide H-beams hold up the Chrysler Building and the George Washington Bridge. Cement from the Atlas Portland Cement Co. in Northampton was poured into Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and many other projects. In fact, New York bought so much Atlas cement that it maintained its own silos and cement inspector at the plant.
The traffic flowed both ways for culture and commerce. Until 1959, people could ride the Black Diamond Express, a grand Victorian train between Allentown and New York City. The Phoebe Snow train brought tourists from New York to the Delaware Water Gap and the Poconos.
New York came to the area in other ways. In the early part of the last century, theater producers liked Allentown for its convenience as a tryout town. New York-bound shows were mounted in the Lyric Theater, now Symphony Hall.Lehigh Valley residents could watch New York television stations long before people in other parts of the country. Retail entrepreneur Max Hess imported New York fashion and sophistication in the 1960s, even staging lavish New York-worthy fashion shows in Allentown in front of his now-demolished, but still iconic, downtown department store.
The cultural reciprocity continues today over modern highways. Lois Miller, a talent manager in Allentown, figures she has sent hundreds of Lehigh Valley residents to auditions in New York. Five of her clients were there on Sept. 11. Carol Dimopoulos of The Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley notes that the guild has hired artistic directors who live part of the week in New York. The Baum School of Art in Allentown also dips into the New York well for teachers.
When, as a publicity stunt, the World Trade Center put out a call for couples to be married at the top of the towers, five couples from the Lehigh Valley were among those chosen. They were married there on Valentines Day, 2001. Their wedding pictures are collectors items.
In the Poconos, where an increasing number of former New Yorkers are finding greener and less expensive pastures for their families, you can pick up the New York Post with your morning coffee and bagel at Vinny Ds deli in East Stroudsburg, where a wall filled with photos of the twin towers is dedicated to the heroes in New York.
Survivors tasted the ashes
For the mourned and memorialized people from the Lehigh Valley and region who died in New York, their proximity to the city proved fatal. For their families and friends, the effect was devastating.
For others, the impact is felt by degrees of separation.
Some locals, in the city as part of their regular routine, survived but touched and tasted the ashes. Their stories are, perhaps, the most dramatic.
A man from Tobyhanna went to New York City on Sept. 11 to make a truck delivery. He was only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. A trained search and rescue worker, his instincts kicked in when he saw a woman engulfed in flames he smothered with a blanket grabbed from a nearby ambulance. He escorted hundreds of the wounded to safety. During the chaos, he made a desperate call to his wife from a pay phone but was catapulted 30 feet when the first tower came down, buried under piles of concrete, still clutching the receiver ripped from the phone. Hes lucky to be alive. He continues to suffer the trauma.
A young woman from Allentown was living in Brooklyn and working on Wall Street on Sept. 11. She thought a new business had gone public when she saw what looked like confetti falling from the sky. She escaped a scene that seemed as horrible to her as a nuclear winter. A year later she has been laid off and has moved back in with her parents in Allentown. The fear lingers. She suffers from insomnia and is upset by loud noises and the sound of a low-flying airplane.
Rescue workers and counselors from the Lehigh Valleyrushed to the scene, observed the tragedy up close and heard the stories of its victims firsthand.
Many not near the center of the devastation were still close enough to feel the rippling shock wave..
A businessman from Bethlehem saw the south tower fall as he sat on a Trans-Bridge bus on the New Jersey Turnpike.
An Allentown man, in Brooklyn for a public service project arranged by his business, couldnt get home when the city closed down. He spent a wakeful night at the home of a friend, writing down his story and his reactions to save for his 5-month-old son.
An Emmaus woman took the bus to New York City with a friend and not much money for a days outing. They planned simply to visit museums and sightsee. With the Port Authority Bus Terminal closed, she slept on the floor of Madison Square Garden for two days with other stressed and stranded visitors.
In another circle, some from the Lehigh Valley look back on that day and consider what might have been.
A Whitehall Township woman who held part-time jobs in the Lehigh Valley and in New York would have been walking near the World Trade Center if she had not taken the day off for a dentist appointment. Her best friends husband and another friends boyfriend died in the attacks. She has since quit her job in New York and says she only recently began to heal from the effects of the day.
A Bethlehem woman had taken three children to the World Trade Center on Sept. 7. A former New York resident and frequent visitor to the city, where her 11-year-old daughter works as a model, she treated the children to ice cream and went to Starbucks there before boarding a subway. She tells the tale with a degree of awe, thinking they could have been there.
The shock wave reached the father of an 8-year-old girl who was helped by a therapist in her struggle to learn to speak. The therapist from South Whitehall Township had stopped working after her husband died in the World Trade Center. The fathers sentiments: She will never know how much she meant to my wife and me, and all the other children she helped along the way.
Even if we had been able to avert our eyes from New York, the devastation of Sept. 11 was all around us. The terrorists were brought down hard on Pennsylvania soil in Shanksville to the west. They attacked the Pentagon to the south.
Distance from a tragedy can confer a certain abstraction, says Illene Noppe, a native New Yorker and professor at the University of Wisconsin who teaches courses on death, dying and loss. Proximity to tragedy makes its influence harder to shake.
I think, in general, when people dont have physical contact or havent had an experience with the area in which a tragedy happens, it doesnt have the same kind of physical reality as if youve had breakfast at Windows on the World or knew somebody who worked there, she says. Noppes father used to work at the World Trade Center years ago.
She explains it with a simple example: If you witness a drowning in a particular swimming pool, every time you pass that swimming pool youre going to think about that. Its going to be hard not to. Whereas if you read about a drowning in a swimming pool in a newspaper, you might think about it after reading the article, but its not going to bring forth the imagery and all the sensations on the day you witnessed this traumatic event.
John Pettegrew, director of the American Studies program at Lehigh University, notes that while the attacks on America are an international story, the attack on New York is a Lehigh Valley story.
I think the proximity to New York shook people all the more in realizing how Americans are not protected from the horror and violence that we hear and read about every day, Pettegrew says.
In one day, the Lehigh Valleys connection to New York became clearer to Pettegrews students. I was teaching a post-1939 U.S. history course, and on the 10th of September we had talked about the attack at Pearl Harbor. Even though it was not a real long time ago, it seemed rather removed from eastern Pennsylvania and what these 18- and 19-year-old students experienced, he says.
When we returned on the 12th, it had completely changed.