The Mysterious Wall Street Bombing

The bombing of Wall Street was never solved, and the mystery remains.
The bombing of Wall Street was never solved, and the mystery remains.

A RED HORSE-DRAWN WAGON—the horse recently re-shod—pulled up and stopped across the street from the headquarters of the J. P. Morgan bank at 23 Wall Street. It was lunchtime and the pedestrian traffic was thick on the busiest corner of the Financial District. The driver of the wagon climbed down and sauntered away into the crowd during that lunch hour of 1920.

In a few moments the wagon loaded with 100 pounds of dynamite exploded. Five hundred pounds of cast iron sash weights and bolts, also in the wagon, flew into the air, doing their damage. Smithereens—that is what became of the horse and the wagon. They were blown to smithereens.

There were thirty-eight fatalities. Most were young stockbrokers, stenographers, messengers and clerks, harmless young innocents. The injured numbered 143.

The hero of the day was a young messenger, James Saul, seventeen years of age, who took control of someone’s parked car and quickly ferried thirty of the injured to area hospitals. Police officers arriving on the scene did the same thing. They performed first aid when they could and then borrowed nearby vehicles to transport the many injured.

This was the event.

*     *     *

     “Wow. What a creepy calamity,” Bob Hawkins said of the event. “I don’t even remember this in any of the history books do you?” Bob’s father-in-law, Harold, then answered his son-in-law’s question.

“No, Bob. I have no recollection of it at all, from history books, word of mouth, or any other source. This mention on PBS is the first thing I have ever seen about it.”

Bob and Harold had been watching PBS News Hour. They were alerted to the old news story on the internet with a PBS blurb: “Wall Street Exploded in 1920 and You Didn’t Even Know It.”

While their wives were still busy in the kitchen doing the after dinner chores, the two men continued their discussion of the dastardly crime.

Bob said, “Even with all of the advances in police science and new investigational techniques, they still, to this very day, have no idea who did it. That is what I find to be an amazing mystery, itself. No group claimed responsibility and there were no deathbed confessions, either.”

“They did find the actual blacksmith who shoed the poor horse, but he had shoed so many and he didn’t have any records that could be helpful,” Harold responded. “They came up dry there. Another problem was that when the explosion first happened, they closed the stock exchange for the rest of the day. The president of the NYSE closed down trading within one minute to prevent a panic. The board of governors wanted to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, for morale’s sake, and there was a campaign in the middle of the night to clean up the area so they could open everything up the next day. They cleaned the street speedily and thoroughly…”

“…and thereby they destroyed whatever evidence they could have found there.” Bob finished Harold’s sentence for him.

“Exactly. That is what has stalled the investigation from day two, and we are coming up on the ninety-fifth anniversary of the horrible event on September 16,” Harold added.

Bob got up to retrieve his laptop. “We can look at some more of the photographs on here, and there are some documentary videos we can view.” He turned it on while Harold’s eyes widened a bit at some of the first images.

“Even though this event seems to be faded in the minds of the public, you can still see deep scars and pockmarks on many of the buildings from the explosion. Some are so deep you can put your hand in them,” Harold said.

“Good grief!”

“The Bureau of Investigation, forerunner, of our FBI did extensive investigations. The best conclusion they could come up with was that the bombing was probably done by followers of Italian anarchist, Luigi Galleani. In the USA at the time after the WWI, there was social unrest in certain pockets of the country, and there was a huge dissatisfaction over labor issues. There was also a hate of the wealthy and many assassination attempts on known millionaires. Some even hired full-time body guards.”

“Didn’t they think the actual bomb had some of the signatures of Mario Buda, a known Galleani Anarchist?”

“Yes, they suspected the bomb may have been his handiwork, whether or not he delivered it in the cart himself. He was in the USA at the time of the bombing but sailed for Naples shortly afterward and never returned,” Harold confirmed.

“And it would be hard to know if he left the country because he did the deed, or if he left the country because he was afraid he would be suspect, even if he didn’t. Or maybe it was merely a coincidence that he left at that time.”

“Yes it is hard to tell,’ Harold agreed. “And looking here at the FBI’s own article about the subject the one of the last lines of the article says, ‘But the mystery remains.’”

“I am sure it is hard for the FBI to admit that, so it must be true,” Bob said with a chuckle as he looked more closely at the FBI article on his laptop screen. “Woooooo.” He viewed that cryptic line. “The mystery remains.”

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of The Scavenger’s Song.

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