A day to remember

After 9/11, Cliff Tisdale and his colleagues are an additional layer of security

by madeleine thompson

Cliff Tisdale

Elevator Operator

There used to be a lot more people doing Cliff Tisdale’s job. But though there are fewer of them now, elevator operators aren’t remotely extinct. And at places like the World Financial Center at 225 Liberty Street, which houses large companies like Oppenheimer and Bank of America, they remain a crucial part of the infrastructure.

Tisdale describes himself as “like a yoyo,” going up and down all day between the building’s 44 floors. “It seems easy, per se, but a lot of times you have people who don’t know where they’re going so you have to give direction,” he says. Sometimes that includes emergency service workers who need Tisdale’s help when responding to a situation in the building.

Tisdale’s worst day on the job was, without a doubt, September 11, 2001. Working just a block away from the World Trade Center, Tisdale watched people jump from the highest floors and plummet to the ground, then he watched the towers collapse. “I’ve got a vivid memory of the guy jumping out of the window and all you can see is his tie flapping,” he says. It’s something he’ll never forget. Since that day, Tisdale and his colleagues have been trained to watch for suspicious activity and serve as an additional layer of security.

But most days are good ones. “Every day you wake up is a good day,” he says. He’s even had a celebrity or two in his elevator: Venus and Serena Williams, for example, Bernie Williams of the New York Yankees and Steve Harvey of “Family Feud.” Tisdale has been working in the area long enough to see Lower Manhattan change drastically and, he says, for the better.

Tisdale was born in New York City but grew up partially in Florida, hanging out where his grandfather worked at the Kennedy Space Center. He came back to New York City in 1995 and started out cleaning dorms at New York University. He has worked as a porter, floor cleaner and security guard. He now lives in Brooklyn and spends his free time with his girlfriend and daughter and grandsons, coaching youth basketball and listening to Aretha Franklin.

“Right now I can’t see myself living any place else,” he says.