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Chicago Shudders

September 26, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The first skyscrapers in the world went up in Chicago, and now the tallest skyscraper in North America, the Sears Tower, soars above other Chicago buildings. But after September 11, many Chicagoans see the Sears Tower differently.

PETER GREETIS: I can’t stop picturing a plane going into it, for some reason. It’s kind of eerie, but I know it was a target at one point.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Many of the 10,000 people who work in Sears Tower felt suddenly vulnerable.

JEFF McBRAYER: You feel like you’ve got a big bulls-eye on your back when you come in to work.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The building was evacuated within an hour of the attacks on the World Trade Center, after a series of bomb threats were received. Last Thursday, it was evacuated again in response to a rumor that a plane had been hijacked in Milwaukee and was heading for the tower. Some companies have started offering help to their tense and nervous employees.

DOROTHY WOOD: They’ve been very supportive, thus far, as the fears that people have, as far as coming in in the morning, and counseling is available to the employees.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Employees have also been reassured by dramatically tighter security measures. Once an open building, all those who work in Sears Tower must now check through security with a building I.D. Despite the delay in getting up to their offices, there were few grumbles.

KATHERINE: That makes me feel much better. I’m glad they’re doing it.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The Sears sky deck is closed until further notice, and cabs can no longer stop in front of the building. Building management says no one has asked to break their lease– yet.

SPOKESMAN: I think people are talking about moving.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What is the talk in your firm?

EMPLOYEE: I think that… I’m not sure what the talk has been but I’m sure that the people who run my firm have been considering all their options.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What would you think of that?

EMPLOYEE: I think that would be great.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The city took on a different look with very visible security posted at critical locations. Cement barriers surround the building that contains federal offices and courts. Once a bustling place, the Calder Sculpture now stands in a nearly empty plaza. And as Chicagoans look around their city, their view of it has changed.

BARBARA GORDON: I always admired the tall buildings. Now it’s kind of like a harm to us, I think.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Chicago’s treasured natural resource, Lake Michigan, is the sole source of Chicago’s drinking water. This water treatment facility treats billions of gallons of water per day before it arrives in the cities faucets. Now heavy trucks block the entrance and no one gets in without a photo ID. Outside the city, security at nuclear power plants has doubled, and the Department of Energy ordered the Fermi Lab closed to the public. 75,000 visitors a year visit this facility, which does no defense work but is the premier physics research laboratory in the world because of its huge high energy particle accelerator. The lab was planning to open a new exhibit explaining the impact of particle accelerator research on medicine. Spokesperson Judy Jackson helped coordinate the exhibit.

JUDY JACKSON: We’re very disappointed. We put this exhibit together, in a way, to try to explain some ways in which the science of high-energy physics and biomedical research and medical treatment come together. We were eager to share this with our visitors.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: A major exhibit did open downtown over the weekend. But lines were short for the Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin “Studio of the South” show at Chicago’s Art Institute. Museum officials had originally predicted that half of the expected 750,000 visitors would come from out of town. But O’Hare’s sparsely populated terminals showed that fear of flying was still keeping those visitors away. By the weekend, O’Hare was back to more than half the number of operations than before the attacks, airlines were flying at about 80% of their schedules, but many of those flights were going out with far fewer passengers. Even at events that depend upon local fans, attendance was down and security was up. As NFL football resumed last Sunday, coats were opened, bags were checked, and despite the rainy skies, even umbrellas were confiscated.

SPOKESMAN: Can you lift up your shirts, guys?

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The tight security was welcomed by those who were fearful as they arrived for the game.

MAN: What they’re saying: Terrorists are everywhere you know, there could be a cell here. So you want to just look out, and hope everybody else is looking out, and we can drop that cell, dry it up, and make America what it’s supposed to be.

PEOPLE SHOUTING: U.S.A!

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Once inside, it was an emotional opening ceremony. Young sailors covered the entire field with one of the largest flags ever made. Though the game was sold out, about 16,000 fans failed to show up. Many in the stands said they had come to show that terrorism could not disrupt their lives.

MAN: I think we gotta move on with life. What happened was a freak… A terrorist if they want to do something, they’ll do something. We need to move on with life, and show the support, and get back to what we do here and support our troops when the time comes.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: So even though people are moving on, Chicago is a different place than it was before the terrorists struck.