Recalling 1993: The New Museum Dials A History Lesson Into Manhattan’s Payphones

Friday, March 29, 2013
Map showing participating payphones around the New Museum. (Courtesy Recalling 1993)

Map showing participating payphones around the New Museum. (Courtesy Recalling 1993)

Craving an adventure? The New Museum dares you to travel back in time to 1993 by picking up many of thousands of Manhattan payphones and dialing the toll-free number 1-855-FOR-1993. You’ll find yourself checking your surroundings as you’re immersed into an oral history of what it was like to live on that block in 1993. The project, “Recalling 1993” is part of a larger exhibition at museum entitled NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, named after the rock band, Sonic Youth’s eighth album recorded in 1993.

The organizers of the project connected 5,000 Manhattan payphones to voice recordings left from some of the most popular personalities of the 90’s including comedian Doug E. Doug, former porn actress Robin Byrd, party promoter and club kid James St. James, radio talk show host Brian Lehrer, and CUNY’s Suzanne Wasserman. Hearing their voices recount stories of major events such as the World Trade Center bombing in the Financial District, or a wild night out at the infamous club, Limelight, in Chelsea will either leave you longing for what was or leave you feeling grateful that we’ve come such a long way.

Several of the recordings recall some not-so-fond memories of a much more dangerous New York City. For example, Fernando Mateo, President of the New York State Federation of Taxi Driver remembers, “Nineteen ninety-three was a war zone in New York. Cabbies were being killed, 30 to 60 a year.” But not all the recollections are negative. Sister Kevin, who was once the director of the school of nursing at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village, identifies 1993 as the year in which healthcare facilities started to have greater control of the AIDS crisis. Together, the four and a half hours of voice recordings paint an accurate picture of New York during an undoubtedly pivotal year in the 1990s.

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