The Mystery Bugler At Ground Zero
October 21st, 2001.
My family and I were having our weekly Sunday dinner with friends in our NJ town. The conversation, as it had happened for the past few weeks, was deeply focused on the events of 9/11. I told my friends that I had just heard that some areas of Broadway in downtown Manhattan were re-opening. I mentioned that I was planning to go there and support local businesses that had been out for 6 weeks since the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center. My friends asked if I was going to take a look at the devastation and I replied that there didn’t appear to be anything to look at since the area of Ground Zero was sealed off from Broadway and surrounded by a big fence blocking any view. At some point in the conversation, I had mentioned how victims of “uniformed” services that were found I the rubble were getting Taps played at their funerals and that it was unfortunate that those who may never be found would not get Taps played since they may not get an “official” funeral ceremony. My friends asked if I was going to bring my trumpet downtown to play Taps there for those people. I said it would be kind of strange to just pull out my trumpet among the crowd on Broadway and start playing Taps.
Wednesday, October 24, 2001.
Between my matinee and the evening show at Kiss Me Kate, I rode my motorcycle downtown. I took my trumpet with me with the thought that if I found a discreet place in the vicinity of Ground Zero, I would play Taps for the uniformed victims that perished in the attacks of 9/11. I found a building with columns and a recessed area just one block South of Saint Paul’s Chapel. It was just slightly West of Broadway inside a perimeter guarded by two NYPD female officers. I told them what I would like to do and asked if I could play Taps just a few yards away, by the columns of that building in direction of Ground Zero. They answered that although they liked the idea and appreciated my proposal, they did not have the authority to allow me inside the perimeter. They suggested I go speak with someone higher up at the command post located next to Saint Paul’s Chapel and that’s what I did.
I told an officer standing by the barricades that I was a musician and was thinking of playing Taps. He asked me to wait while he went into the command post to talk to someone. He came back out and led me to the corner of Fulton Street and Trinity Place where a red pickup truck was parked and he told me I could play from there in the direction of Ground Zero which was still mostly out of view for me behind the big green fence. Just to the North of that location was a large tent used by workers as a “rehab” area. The police officer asked me to wait a minute while he was going to ask them to turn their radio down. This seemed to me like such a bother to them, as they were having dinner, that I told the officer to forget the whole thing. I was getting very self-conscious about it and was going to leave. He asked me to wait and went to talk to the people in the tent. After a minute or so, they all got up and headed toward the “mules”, six wheeled vehicles used to get around the rubble. The officer called me over and asked me to get into one of the mules. To my surprise, he then said: “we’re taking you in”. They drove me inside the perimeter of Ground Zero and stopped shortly on the edge of the pile. Instants before stepping out of the mule, I mentioned to my driver that I played a concert at the base of Tower 1 just three months before. He said: “let’s make this even more meaningful” and decided to take us across the pile to where Tower 1 used to stand. We drove on top of the rubble through smoke still rising from the pile, six weeks after the attacks. The smell was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
We came upon a Fire Chief who asked where we were going and what we were doing. The police officer, in the back of the mule, explained the situation. The Fire Chief asked how long it would take and was told that once we got to the base of tower 1 it would be 30 seconds. On our way to Tower 1, we heard the Chief call for a STOP on all machinery and work in one minute for a duration of one minute. I later learned that this was the first time since rescue and recovery efforts had begun that all work was halted. I got out of the mule and the officer told me: “ It’s all yours”. I began playing Taps and noticed workers around me removing their helmets and holding them to their hearts. As we were driving back towards Liberty Place and Fulton Street, we came upon some National Guardsmen running toward the pile. They were looking for the Bugler to thank “him” for playing. They said they heard it over the radios??? I found out then that the workers near me had turn on their radios to “transmit” my sound throughout the entire area. As I was riding my motorcycle back uptown, I had to stop three times to wipe tears that I could no longer contain. The site of Ground Zero and the thought of all the victims still unaccounted for, was much more overwhelming than I thought it would, especially since I never expected to be brought in to the site itself. I did have a thought on how strange this was. No “proof” that it ever happened. I had never mentioned my name to anyone and I had no idea who any of the officers and workers I encountered were. I thought I would never be able to tell this story because nobody would believe me since no one was allowed inside the perimeter. That evening’s performance at Kiss Me Kate was very difficult for me. One of my colleagues noticed my unusual emotional state. I tried to not tell him what had happened between shows but ended up telling him after his persistence. He was the one who called me on Sunday November 25th 2001, to tell me that he had just seen me on CBS’ Sunday Morning and that the official photographer, Joel Meyerowitz, had taken a picture of me and was “looking” to find out who the “mystery bugler from Ground Zero” was. I contacted Mr. Meyerowitz the next morning and this is how there no longer was a mystery. The story is well depicted in the ABC News 9/11 special (see video below).http://systemd.biz/dominicwebsite/wp-content/uploads/videos/dominic%20911%20movie.f4v
Other news programs also portrayed the story but none as well as ABC. The picture Joel Meyerowitz took went on to have a life of its own. It was part of 28 pictures that toured the World as a U.S. Department of State exhibit. It is also featured in Joel Meyerowitz’s book entitled “Aftermath”.