Smoke-Stained Dress Shirt Shows the Perilous Conditions of 1993 WTC Evacuation

A smoke-stained white dress shirt worn by Walter Travers on February 26, 1993 is displayed on a white surface at the Museum.
Smoke-stained shirt worn by Walter Travers on February 26, 1993. Gift of the Travers Family. Photo by Matt Flynn.

The February 26, 1993 attack on the World Trade Center forced the evacuation of more than 40,000 people on a cold, snowy New York City afternoon.

Walter Philip Travers, a bond broker at Cantor Fitzgerald, spent more than five hours in a dark, smoke-filled stairwell while he made his slow descent from his office on the 104th floor of the North Tower.

The bomb, which had been detonated in the B-2 level of the parking garage below the World Trade Center and had killed six people, caused rolling power failures in the towers. Travers was among those who formed a human 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.

Those who were unable to make the descent to safety were airlifted out. 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 on February 26, 1993, 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 September 11, 2001, the 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. He was 44 years old.

Travers’ shirt was one of the earliest donations to the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s collection. This item and other artifacts found Inside the Collection tell the story of the first attack on the World Trade Center.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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