9/11 eyewitness turns a source of pain into a source of beauty


Michael Myers spent his days photographing some of the most recognizable faces in the world.

He shot the likes of Angelina Jolie and Mary-Kate Olsen for magazines like GQ, Esquire and Vanity Fair.

“I love capturing a moment, an image, light,” Myers said.

But that was another life, the 90s in New York City.

“I was going to die photographer, or at least, I thought I was,” Myers said.

Then, 17 years ago, everything changed.

Myers was walking his older son, then 5 years old, to school when a low-flying plane flew overhead, almost scraping the building above.

He knew something was wrong.

Then, a crashing sound Myers will never forget.

He turned the corner and saw flames coming out of 1 World Trade Center.

At that point, Myers and everyone who wasn’t aboard American Airlines Flight 11 thought it was a terrible accident.

“It just didn’t make sense,” he said. “I didn’t understand why on a clear day they hit the building and didn’t dump it in the river or something.”

Myers handed his son to his wife and ran to check on his other son at preschool.

That’s when a second plane crashed.

Some images will forever haunt him..

“At that time people had already started jumping,” he said. “We saw a lot of it. That was rough.”

The Myers family couldn’t get back into their home, just three blocks from Ground Zero.

Two weeks later, they were on their way to Colorado Springs, where his in-laws lived.

“My family wasn’t going back to New York,” he said.

After commuting cross country for years, even moving back his old apartment for awhile, Myers knew it was time for a big change.

“And that’s where making whiskey came in,” he said.

He knew nothing about whiskey, only that he liked it.

“I love to cook,” he said. “I love the darkroom and I’m from Georgia and they make it in the woods in Georgia, so it can’t be that hard.”

He learned everything he could, and on September 11, 2011, Myers distilled his first bottle of whiskey.

“And I did that to remake that anniversary,” he said.

Earlier this year, less than seven years after distilling his first bottle, Distillery 291 was named the best American rye at the 2018 World Whiskies Awards.

“Things happen like that and they change your life,” Myers said, reflecting on the events of 9/11.
“You have to look into ‘How do I make this a positive or how can I make this a positive?’ That’s what I did.”

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