The Lens: Capturing Life and Events at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Sully, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush's service dog, pays a visit to the Dogs of 9/11 exhibition with his handler.
As family and friends come together this December, we remember the winter and holiday traditions of several victims and their families. The warmth of the season was reflected in annual celebrations at the World Trade Center, as well as in the personal lives of those who worked and visited here. These traditions continue at the newly built World Trade Center site, where the spirit of the season is marked with both solemn reflection and optimism for the decade ahead.
Holidays at the World Trade Center
The celebration of the holiday season at the World Trade Center has its origins in the construction of the site, when workers hoisted a Christmas tree up the North Tower during the building’s “topping out” ceremony on Dec. 23, 1970. Video from that day shows workers raising the tree up the tower as the final beam was put into place.
That festive spirit continued upon completion of the Twin Towers. Each holiday season, events were held reflecting the international spirit of the World Trade Center. Live performances honored Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza traditions. The grand lobbies of the towers were adorned with holiday decorations like Christmas trees and menorahs. A large-scale “Peace on Earth” sign also became a mainstay of the holidays when it was installed on the steps of the plaza between the towers in 1998.
There was also an annual Toys for Tots program and a yearly party at Windows on the World in which children were entertained by a Santa Claus who was lowered past the restaurant’s windows. The spirit of these traditions continues at the newly constructed World Trade Center, where a full week of holiday activities are held each year.
Remembering Kevin Michael Williams’ Unique Holiday Proposal
Kevin Michael Williams was a 24-year-old recent graduate who had moved to New York City to pursue a career as a bond salesman at Sandler O’Neill on the 104th floor of the South Tower. His fiancée and high school sweetheart, Jillian Volk, was set to join him at their new apartment on the Upper East Side around the time of the attacks.
A year before, Williams had proposed to O’Neill around Christmastime at the Macy’s department store in Manhattan. He popped the question as the two of them sat on Santa’s lap.
“He handed the ring off to one of the elves, who then gave it to Santa secretly,” Volk remembered. “While sitting on Santa’s lap, he got down on his knee and asked me to marry him. And it was amazing. It was so creative and so Kevin.”
Williams’ remains were identified on December 1, 2002, which would have been his and Volk’s first wedding anniversary.
Maile Hale’s First Snow
Maile Hale was born and raised in the balmy climate of Hawaii, so her first New England snowstorm was a pleasant surprise. Her close friend, Kimberly, remembered her excitement when she got to see Hale’s first snowfall at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
“She was from this exotic place where she hadn’t really—she’d experienced snow, but only skiing—like, not really falling from the sky, just kind of on the mountain,” Kimberly said in an interview. “I don’t remember actually meeting her and her telling me, ‘I’ve never seen snow fall.’ But I do remember running to her room and saying, ‘You gotta look out the window, it’s snowing.’”
Hale ultimately settled down in the snowy Northeast after graduation, moving to Boston and climbing the corporate ladder at Boston Investor Services, where she was promoted to vice president and chief operating officer. She was attending the Risk Waters Technology Conference on the 106th floor of the North Tower on September 11. She was 26.
Remembering Michael D. Diehl, a Dad Who Wasn’t Afraid of Wintertime Backyard Grilling
Michael D. Diehl is remembered as a devoted husband and father who always found time for his wife and two children despite a high-stress job in financing. He also had a passion for grilling, a leisure that afforded him a moment of peace in the backyard of his New Jersey home. His wife, Loisanne, said you could find “the Grill Master” grilling all year round.
“Every Sunday he would prepare a barbecue for, like, four or five o’clock in the afternoon,” Loisanne said. “He would sit out there with a glass of wine, and his feet up on the deck. And even in bad weather, he would shovel a path through the snow. So he barbecued all winter long. That’s how much he liked barbecuing.”
Diehl worked at Fiduciary Trust at the World Trade Center for 19 years. According to Loisanne, he and his coworkers carried a pregnant woman down 95 stories to safety after the February 26, 1993 bombing.
Diehl, 48, was set to be promoted to the role of senior vice president on September 11—news he had been saving to surprise his wife. He was working on the 90th floor of the South Tower that day.
Kathleen Moran Collected Memories, Including Christmas Ornaments, in a Jewelry Box
Brooklyn native Kathleen Moran was known for hosting large gatherings at her Bay Ridge apartment for her Irish family. She also had an eclectic range of passions, including golfing, gardening, and traveling. Her interests were encapsulated in a jewelry box, where she would keep small items from her life.
In the days after 9/11, Moran’s family visited her apartment and retrieved the jewelry box, which contained items like a 1977 class ring and a gold broach with emerald stones that spoke to her Irish heritage. The box also contained three Christmas ornaments that commemorated her travels around the world.
The ornaments were just a few of Moran’s much larger collection of distinctive ornaments. Her sister, Bernadette, says she had enough ornaments to fill multiple trees during the holiday season.
Moran, who worked as a property insurance underwriter for Zurich Financial Services, was at a business meeting on the 105th floor of the South Tower on September 11. She was 42.
By 9/11 Memorial Staff