Smoke-Stained Shirt Tells Story of 1993 WTC Evacuation

Smoke-Stained Shirt Tells Story of 1993 WTC Evacuation

Smoke-stained shirt worn by Walter Travers on February 26, 1993. Gift of the Travers Family. Photo by Matt Flynn.

It took more than five hours for Walter Philip Travers to descend 101 floors of the World Trade Center in a dark, smoke-filled stairwell while evacuating from his office on Feb. 26, 1993.

The Cantor Fitzgerald broker was among the more than 40,000 people who evacuated after a group of terrorists detonated a van packed with explosives in the B-2 level of the parking garage below the WTC, killing six people.

The bombing caused rolling power failures in the towers. Travers was among those who formed a chain to help navigate the crowded, dark stairwell.

"You had to keep your hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you and just rely on them to tell you that they hit a platform because there would be two flights to every floor. It was a zigzag stairwell," recalls Robert Small, a Dean Whitter employee who also evacuated that day.

NYPD ESU teams airlifted those who were unable to make the descent to safety. The evacuation would later result in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey installing fluorescent paint on the handrails and emergency lighting in the stairwells. 

More than 1,000 people were injured, most suffering from smoke inhalation. When Travers finally returned home that cold February evening, exhausted, he shed his raincoat and clothing and shoved them in the back of the closet. The raincoat was dry-cleaned, but the white button-down shirt that had turned gray after hours of smoke exposure was forgotten.

It was not until eight years later when his wife, Rosemary Travers, was clearing out her husband’s belongings from their closet after his death that the shirt was found. On Sept. 11, hijacked Flight 11 severed all options for egress when it crashed into the North Tower. Walter Travers was among those trapped on the upper levels of that tower.  

His shirt was one of the earliest donations to the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s collection and is now on view. 

By Jenny Pachucki, 9/11 Memorial Content Strategist