Sometime in late January, or early February, 1993, I sloshed my way through the streets of New York City’s Financial District, toward the World Trade Center. At the time, I was working as a consultant in the IT department of a Wall Street bank. The technical recruiter for my consulting company had invited me to have lunch with her at the Atrium Café, located in the Winter Garden, just outside of the Trade Center. My contract at the bank was winding down and she had a new opportunity that she wanted to discuss with me.
It was a bleak day, with a cold wind blowing in off of the freezing waters of the Hudson. I remember thinking I wished I had rescheduled this lunch as I trudged up Wall Street to Trinity Church, past the graveyard where Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton (and many other notables) are buried. I turned right and walked up Church Street for a bit before turning left to cut across to Liberty Plaza Park where I often lingered on pleasant summer days.
My favorite bench in Liberty Plaza Park featured a life sized, bronze sculpture of a man in a suit and tie, sitting on the bench, preparing for a meeting by checking his essential items in an open briefcase. The name of this popular piece of sculpture is “Double Check” by the famed artist, John Seward Johnson. On nice days, I enjoyed spending a bit of my lunch hour sitting beside my friend “D.C.” with a coffee and a book. But not on this day. I was frozen to the bone and my feet were soaked after stepping off a curb into a puddle of slush. Nevertheless, I nodded to D.C. as I hurried by ‘my bench’ resolving to return on a warmer day.
The Winter Garden was one of my favorite places in lower Manhattan. Situated at the end of a 400 foot pedestrian bridge that spanned West Street, connecting it to the World Trade Center, this atrium was a world apart from the often bleak, windswept, slushy streets of downtown New York. With its fully grown palm trees and tropical foliage, the spacious Winter Garden was a refuge for downtown office workers seeking an bright, cheerful place to lunch on days such as the one described here.
I don’t recall much about that lunch date, except I was in no hurry to rush back to work. I remember that we lingered for some time over coffee, watching the hundreds, if not thousands, of mid-day visitors to lower Manhattan pass by, hurrying away to a million destinations. I did not know it then, but this would be my final lunch in the Winter Garden.
In late February I travelled to Atlanta for a conference. The weather in Atlanta was not much of an improvement over the weather in New York. It was cold and wet. On day two of the conference, a freezing rain fell on the city covering everything in a layer of treacherous ice. By Friday, February 26, I was ready to go home, and I was grateful that the conference ended at noon. Another storm was approaching the Atlanta area and I wanted to get out of town before it arrived. I breathed a sigh of relief when my early afternoon flight home lifted off right on time. Two hours later when I got off of the plane at Newark’s Liberty airport, it was apparent that something had happened while I was airborne. Something big. Heavily armed police were everywhere, many with dogs. There was tension in the air. None of my fellow passengers had any idea of what was going on.
I know it’s hard to believe in this day of smart phones, in-flight wi-fi, tweets and newsfeeds, but I made it all the way to baggage claim before I actually found someone who knew what was happening.
“Didn’t you hear,” said a lady beside me at the baggage carrousel, “they’ve blown up the World Trade Center.”
Shocked, I rushed to the nearest pay phone to call my wife to find out what was going on. (Remember – this is 1993 and cell phones were more or less a luxury item. I would not own one for another three years.) My wife explained to me that while the World Trade Center was not ‘blown up’, a powerful bomb had gone off doing extensive damage. Lower Manhattan was totally sealed off with all bridges and tunnels closed as authorities feared other acts of terrorism.
All in all, six people lost their lives that day, including 36 year old Monica Rodriguez Smith who was seven months pregnant. Ms. Smith was doing mundane office chores in her basement office when the bomb exploded. In addition to the six deaths, over 1000 were injured.
Because of the magnitude of the tragedy eight years later on September 11, 2001, the events of the 2/26 World Trade Center bombing are sometimes overlooked. Today, however, I am remembering the day and the victims of that first attack, a day that shook the world for so many of us.
On December 31, 1994, my wife and I celebrated the approaching New Year in an Italian restaurant in New York’s Little Italy neighborhood. For that night we’d booked a room in the recently reopened Marriott Hotel in the north tower of the World Trade Center. Once known as the Vista hotel, the new Marriott occupied the first 22 stories of the north tower and had been closed for a year and a half for reconstruction after the terrorist attack of 1993.
The next day we strolled the deserted streets of lower Manhattan, walking between the World Trade Center and South Street Seaport. I took my wife to all of my old haunts. In Liberty Plaza Park I found my friend “Double Check” and we paused for a picture. That was my last visit to the Park and the last time I sat beside D.C. on the granite bench. The next time I would see a picture of D.C. would be in photos taken of the aftermath of 9/11.
Liberty Plaza Park sustained heavy damage in the 9/11 attacks, as did my friend D.C. The park would later be rebuilt and in 2006, it was renamed, Zuccotti Park. My friend D.C. sustained damage in the attacks but he was refurbished by Johnson, and now, renamed “Makeshift Memorial”, he has been returned to the park.
I am glad he is home.