Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Wall Street Bombing (1920)


It's a scene all-too-familiar to New Yorkers: a lovely late summer's day, a rush of people from all walks of life going about their business on one of the busiest corners in Manhattan... Then a deafening explosion and a street littered with the dead and dying amid a scene of unimaginable chaos and truly grotesque carnage.

Those who buy the Republican Party's line of bull that terrorism in America began on 9-11* will be shocked to learn that the attack I've just described occurred on this day in 1920, when a horse-drawn wagon left unattended outside the headquarters of J.P. Morgan Inc. at 23 Wall Street in Lower Manhattan exploded just before noon. Packed with 45 kg (100 pounds) of dynamite and 230 kg (500 pounds) of cast iron slugs, the explosion - detonated with the aid of a timer - vaporized the wagon as well as the horse; 30 people - many of them stenographers, messengers, and the like on their lunch breaks - died instantly. Owing to the unusual congestion of the city's Financial District the blast damaged an area of ten square blocks, shattered windows half a mile away, badly injured people even six stories up, set fires, and caused $2-3 million in property damage.

All told there were 38 casualties and as many as 400 others suffered crushed skulls, lost limbs, or were otherwise permanently maimed; seeing as those were the days before counseling, we may never know the psychic cost of the attack. Surrounding buildings were also heavily damaged - some of which still bear their scars to this day - the 'stigmata of capitalism', in the words of historian John Steele Gordon.

The Wall Street Bombing, as it came to be called, was investigated for three years, but remains unsolved; although no one took credit for the blast, it is now thought that the anarchist followers of Luigi Galleani committed the crime in retaliation for the indictment of Sacco and Vanzetti. Far from furthering the cause of the Galleanists, the US Justice Department stepped up its series of Palmer Raids in the aftermath of the explosion; wrongly convicted or not, Sacco and Vanzetti met their fate regardless in August 1927. The more than 10,000 immigrants (most of them from Sicily) deported as a result of the raids meant that by 1932 bombings of this nature - which had become fairly widespread in the years immediately following the First World War - had become a thing of the past. Yet how many lives were needlessly ruined by such ethnic profiling? If the Galleanists had truly wanted to end discrimination against immigrants, their bombs had in fact had the exact opposite effect.

*What are you doing here anyway? Shouldn't you be whacking off to FOXnews or drinking that Kool-Aid of Bill O'Reilly's?

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