The needlelike top of the spire that will make One World Trade Center the tallest in the Western Hemisphere was moved into place Thursday to cheers from dozens of construction workers on the ground.
Construction workers draped a huge American flag from the side of the spire before it began a 35-minute ascent in an event filled with emotion as one of the final steps of a construction project that began after the Twin Towers were knocked from the New York skyline by terrorists in 2001, killing 2,753 people.
"It signals the start of the finish of this job," construction worker Michael O'Reilly said, sounding a Churchillian note as the project nears completion. "It's been a great job. It meant a lot for every guy who worked here. Everybody put a lot of proud work into this building."
O'Reilly, 38, a Hoboken resident, has worked on the site for four years and was one of several workers on the ground who took turns keeping taut the guy rope tethered to the spire to keep it from swaying as it was hoisted. "Everything absolutely went according to plan -- no hang-ups, no problems. It was perfect," he said.
When all 18 sections of the 408-foot spire are finally assembled and mounted in the coming weeks, One World Trade Center will be 1,776 feet tall, reaching higher than the 1,451-foot high Willis Tower, once known as Sears Tower, in Chicago.
"This is not just a construction project. This is an emotional event, an emotional success story," said Steven Plate, the director of World Trade Center Construction for the Port Authority.
"Every event such as this is a celebration," he said as he stood on the site that once held the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. "And keep in mind that we have 3,500 workers at this site. We have 26,000 people employed by this project in a very challenging economic time."
Plate said workers now would begin the task of lining up nuts and bolts on the spire.
"They have bolts that have all been aligned, pre-assembled," he said. "They know exactly where the bolts fit . . . and then there's a very sophisticated torquing mechanism that goes on to make sure there's exactly the right amount of tightness on the bolts to give it its proper structural strength."
Plate said Thursday was "a very special day," but that the Port Authority planned several more public celebrations before the first tenant, Conde Nast, begins moving in next year.