Before 9/11, New Yorkers Were Jolted by the First WTC Attack 30 Years Ago

Columnist looks back on the first World Trade Center attack on Feb. 26, 1993, which just celebrated that sad anniversary this week.

| 27 Feb 2023 | 12:10

We will never forget the pain and trauma of Sept. 11, 2001. If we lived in the city on that infamous date, we will have a fixed memory of where we were, what we did and what we were thinking.

But before there was “9/11,” we intrepid New Yorkers had to endure Feb. 26, 1993 – the bombing of the World Trade Center.

Every year on Feb. 26, victims’ families, survivors, downtown residents, and city and state officials commemorate the anniversary of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. They call for a moment of silence. There is also a dramatic tolling of a bell, and the reading of the names of the six victims of the first terror attack our city had to come to grips with. And this year was no different. There was the tolling of the bell, the swirl of bagpipers and a commemorative Mass at St. Peters near the present day WTC.

It all had me recalling that Friday from 30 years ago.

Do you know how historical events can take on additional meaning when they happen to occur at meaningful times in your life? The coincidence or connection can feel like a powerful pull.

That’s what Feb. 26 did–and does–for me. Allow me to tell you my recollection of what Feb. 26, 1993, meant for me. Feel free to let us know what you remember about that day.

I was actually in Washington, D.C. for most of that day. I happened to be working on my first freelance piece for The New York Times Magazine. It was an exciting time for me. At the time, having a story in the Times Magazine represented the top of the mountain for a journalist.

I was profiling Ellen Malcolm, the founder and leader of Emily’s List, a Washington group that contributed sums of money to Democratic, pro-choice women candidates for political offices large and small.

Emily’s List had made its mark the year before in what was then called The Year of the Woman in politics. I was pleased to be writing such a topical piece. I was in DC on Feb. 26, 1993 to continue doing my research–always the most fun of any magazine assignment, before hunkering down in a room by myself for untold hours to write the piece (often the least fun aspect of the work).

I took the shuttle home and landed in the early evening. The World Trade Center was strictly off limits, with rubble and smoke for all to see. But I had to check it out, in the interests of both a lifelong journalist and a native of New York.

My friend Kevin Haynes, another intrepid journalist, and I drove around Manhattan, in his car, that night. I really felt like as if I was in a war zone, after a bombing. There wasn’t much to see, truth be told. It was the symbolism. My city had been attacked and I wanted to know what was going on. I felt like I had to, somehow.

Kevin and I drove around for a few hours. Neither of us spoke much, except to murmur the occasional, “Jeez” or “Holy ****.”

The perfect soundtrack for the occasion was listening to The Pretenders sing “My City Was Gone,” Chrissie Hynde’s tribute to her Ohio roots. My city was alive and kicking and far from gone. But I understood what she was getting at.

I’ll never forget that day. I remember thinking that we have learned a lesson and New York would never have to experience this fear again. Oh well.

New Job

If that wasn’t significant enough on its own, I was also about to start my next full-time job, three days later, on March 1, as a journalist in the New York bureau of this curious, fledgling organization called Bloomberg News.

With New York experiencing a seismic occasion, it somehow seemed like an appropriate time for me to turn the page and embark on a new job and a fresh start in my career.

Bloomberg News, the creation of Michael Bloomberg, who went on to serve three terms as the mayor of New York, was funding its way in competition with Reuters, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and everyone else in the dog-eat-dog financial news industry.

I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into, moving from the leisure of freelance writer for the past two years to a staff member of a company whose claim to fame was the backbreaking regimen of its employees. There was also, it must be noted, the talk of all kinds of free food–cookies, candy, soda–in the canteen. Mike was shrewd. He packed in the sugar so we would always be on a natural energy high, which would keep us sitting at our desks, beavering away on our work. And with plenty of snacks and coffee right on the newsroom floor, there was no reason to waste time going outside to grab a cup of Jo.

By the following Monday, I was in the thick of it at Bloomberg. I had to try to move on from the anxiety of driving around my broken city.

That’s what we do in New York City. Everyday, we turn the page and try to move on and have a fresh start.