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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Bombing of Wall Street

Today marks another tragic anniversary in New York City: on September 16, 1920, a bomb exploded on Wall Street, killing 30 people and injuring over 200 more. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil before the Oklahoma City bombing and still one of the greatest unsolved crimes of the 20th century.

As we write in Inside the Apple:

At 12:01 pm on Thursday, September 16, 1920, the church bells of Trinity Church, Wall Street, finished pealing and were suddenly replaced with another noise—the horrible sound of 500 pounds of lead sash weights exploding from a horse-drawn wagon on Wall Street....

As the smoke cleared and people began to pick themselves up from the street (including Joseph P. Kennedy, JFK’s father who was then a stockbroker), they were faced with a scene of carnage and devastation. Approximately 100 pounds of dynamite had expelled the sash weights into the air, shattering windows and tearing through nearby pedestrians. The most gruesome sight was the north wall of Morgan’s Bank. Amid the gouges in the marble from the shrapnel there was also a woman’s head—severed from its body but still wearing a proper hat.

The attack took place soon after the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti and strong evidence pointed to anarchists. While books and articles have been written over the years laying out a case that anarchist Mario Buda was the bomber, he was never charged at the time and the case against him is mostly circumstantial.

Today, if you go down to the corner of Wall Street and Broad Street, you can see the old Morgan Bank building on the southeast corner (now part of "Downtown by Starck," a luxury residential building). Walk along the Wall Street side of the bank and you’ll soon come to a heavily pock-marked section of wall. These are still the original shrapnel marks from the 1920 bombing, preserved as a memorial to those who died.

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You can read much more about the 1920 bombing, J.P. Morgan, and New York in the 1920s in Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City. It’s available online and at all major bookstores.

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