For four years now, the Stissing Mountain Fire Tower in Pine Plains, NY, has unfurled a brilliantly striking American flag on September 11 in honor of the tragedy that occurred 22 years ago. In anticipation of its fifth commemoration, I spoke with Matt Zick and Joe Schmidt, who explain how this observance began and what it means to the community today.
How it all began
Inspiration first struck for this event when Matt Zick noticed a huge American flag at a friend’s party and considered how else it could be used. As a member of the Pine Plains Town Board, vice president of the Pine Plains Lions Club, and a part of the Friends of Stissing Landmarks board, Matt undoubtedly has deep involvements and connections in the community; it was natural, then, for him to consider hanging the flag where FOSL began – the Fire Tower.
Consulting fellow FOSL board member Joe Schmidt, Matt soon saw his flag display plan come to fruition. The two were able to get the help of a small group, including FOSL president Viviann Berlinghoff and fellow board member Brian Sikora, to arrange the endeavor and also advise the process from a mechanical standpoint. In addition to those listed in the adjacent photo caption, Matt mentions Matthew Cade and Tyson Clay have also been involved. As Matt states, though, “We open it up to anyone who really likes the tribute. If anyone wants to help, they’re more than welcome. It’s a group effort.”
About Friends of Stissing Landmarks and the Fire Tower
As the Stissing Fire Tower website’s history page details, the steel tower was built in 1934 as a project for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Sitting at 1,402 feet in elevation, the structure covers a vast range of views, encompassing Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and of course, New York, as far as Albany. The website describes how the 90-foot landmark was originally set to be demolished by the state in 1986, as its last use spotting fires was in 1973; however, despite its perceived lack of necessity, the tower was saved by a group of citizens who wished to preserve the tower and its history. This group formed FOSL, which is now a New York State-registered not-for-profit. FOSL acquired the Stissing Fire Tower in 1994 and has maintained the structure ever since.
In addition to the flag hanging, the Friends of Stissing Landmarks have recently been involved in numerous other projects, too. Brian is the head trail maker for FOSL and has been working with the Dutchess Land Conservancy out of Millbrook to implement a new trail that spans from Thompson Pond to the Fire Tower. The trail is being created on The Nature Conservancy’s land with their permission. According to Matt and Brian, this endeavor has thus far seen 800 volunteer hours. Additionally, FOSL vice president Bill Hedges is now the chair of the organization’s recently established tower committee.
The flag unfurling and its impact
Joe explains that each year on September 11, the flag-hanging crew gathers around 6am to bring the flag and its staff up the hill to the top of the tower and place them carefully. The flag is symbolically unfurled at 8:46am, the time the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in 2001. The operation has become increasingly safe and solid over the years, with the first year being admittedly a little shaky. Joe explains that with the Hudson River to the west, it’s important to be mindful of the winds coming from that direction and how they influence the stability of the massive flag, which weighs over a hundred pounds. Once in place, the flag remains on the tower overnight, allowing people in town to take their time during the day to observe the commemoration and remember all of those affected by the 9/11 tragedy.
This opportunity for remembrance has been greatly appreciated by the town over the years. “It’s great for a small community to remember a tragic event 100 miles from where it happened,” Matt notes. Indeed, this display has an impact that reaches beyond just Pine Plains. Joe adds, “You can see it from quite a distance; I actually went to Rhinecliff and could see it from there.”
It remains imperative that this sort of attention is drawn to 9/11, over two decades later. Joe remarks, “I just think it brings awareness to what happened that day. People have short memories and [this tribute] reminds us. It needs to be recognized. It’s that simple.” •
To learn more about the Stissing Mountain Fire Tower, visit stissingfiretower.org. If you’d like to help FOSL in their fundraising efforts, which will assist them in acquiring their own flag, you can mail donation checks to Friends of Stissing Landmarks, P.O. Box 37, Pine Plains, NY, 12567 or Venmo your donation to @stissingfiretower.