NEW YORK —
On the morning of September 11, 2001, 658 people were working between the 101st and the 105th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower. They were employees of Cantor Fitzgerald, a bond trading firm. When a hijacked plane slammed into the tower, all 658 lost their lives, representing one-fourth of the 3,000 people who died nationwide from the September 11 terror attacks.
Television cameras captured the imploding towers. But the images do not show the almost 1,000 children of Cantor Fitzgerald employees who lost parents. Nor the 38 pregnant wives who became widows.
Doug Gardner was one of those who perished. His sister, film director Danielle Gardner, honors him in her new documentary about the firm’s tragedy. It's called "Out of the Clear Blue Sky."
“I kind of wanted people to hear a brother-sister relationship, which is just defined by generosity and kindness, and hopefully hear love, and realize that’s what’s been lost,” Gardner said.
Cantor Fitzgerald's CEO Howard Lutnick survived the attacks because he was out of the office that day. But his brother died. Lutnick speaks of the bond that developed among relatives of the deceased.
“They were amazed to find other people with children just like theirs. So they were able to help heal their broken hearts by being with others who could listen to them, who could hear them,” Lutnick said.
As the ruins smoldered, families held out hope that their loved ones had survived. Lutnick vowed to help the victims' families, but then, in what was seen as cold-hearted, he stopped paychecks to the families of those who died. That move, he says, helped the firm survive so he could fulfill his promise to the families.
“We have two choices. We can shut the firm, go to our friends’ funerals - 658 funerals. That’s 20 a day for 35 days in a row. Or we’re going to work harder than we’ve ever worked before in order to help our friends' families,” Lutnick said.
Today, Cantor Fitzgerald, located uptown from Ground Zero, is thriving, with 1,700 employees, 700 more than it had a decade ago.
The firm has donated more than $180 million to families of victims.
New buildings are rising in the World Trade Center complex but Cantor Fitzgerald has no plans to return there.
Danielle Gardner says what was lost cannot be replaced.
“The buildings had people inside of them and I had been there, I spent time there, and I knew there was a world in there and a life and thousands and thousands of lives there on a daily basis. People worked there. It was a living entity inside,” Gardner said.
The names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the September 11 attacks are etched into parapets that surround cascading pools where the Twin Towers once stood.
Howard Lutnick fought to have the 658 names of his Cantor Fitzgerald colleagues grouped together. They will remain together forever.