Things were weird in 1920. Women were liberated by short skirts and hair but still couldn’t vote for most of the year. The war was over, but you couldn’t celebrate it with a drink unless you wanted to get deep into crime. It was an all-around confusing time that did not become less so when a horse trotted up to Wall Street and promptly exploded.

September 16, 1920

Fast forward to September 16, 1920. At around noon, hundreds of people working on Wall Street flooded the Manhattan streets as the siren song of meatloaf sandwiches or whatever people ate for lunch in the ‘20s called. It’s believed the bomber(s) chose this time both to maximize damage and because no one would pay any attention to a perfectly innocent-looking horse-drawn carriage in such a crowd.

100 Lbs. of Dynamite

Wall Street bombing

(Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Indeed, few noticed the carriage as it pulled up or its driver, who quietly disappeared into the throngs, until several minutes later, when 100 lbs. of dynamite it had been carrying went off. The explosion was powerful enough to knock over a streetcar a block away and send debris high enough in the air to be seen passing the 34th-floor windows of nearby buildings, presumably resulting in a lot of prematurely adjourned meetings.

The Cleanup Destroyed Evidence

Wall Street was back to business the next day as well, having worked all day and night to clean up any evidence that anything tragic had occurred. The only problem was they also cleaned up a whole lot of literal evidence that left police without much information to launch an investigation. But hey, the wheels of capitalism stop for no one, at least not for longer than it takes to wipe them down.

General Terrorism

New York Times

(New York Times/Wikimedia Commons)

What’s more, police were hard pressed to identify anything resembling a motive for the attack. The most obvious possibility was an assassination attempt on J.P. Morgan, as it took place in front of his building, but the captain of industry wasn’t even in the country at the time. The victims were mostly low-level clerks and secretaries, so as far as assassinations go, it was pretty inconsequential. The only answer anyone could come up with was “general terrorism,” which is probably the scariest option.

The Galleanists

The only thing police did have were flyers distributed in mailboxes all around the neighborhood right before the explosion that read, “Remember, we will not tolerate any longer. Free the political prisoners, or it will be sure death for all of you. American Anarchist Fighters.” Similar letters were found at sites of previous bombings that had been attributed to the Galleanists, so police zeroed in on the Italian anarchist community, which has somewhat dwindled over the intervening century.

Edwin Fischer

Edwin Fischer

(Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

In a weird twist, however, they thought for a minute that tennis champion Edwin Fischer had something to do with it after finding out that he’d warned a bunch of people there would be an explosion on Wall Street on September 16. It turned out he hadn’t even been in the country and just constantly warned people about upcoming explosions on Wall Street. He was committed to an asylum shortly thereafter.

Mario Buda

Ultimately, the most likely suspect is someone who went completely overlooked at the time: ol’ Mario Buda, a Boston Galleanist who definitely had a hand in orchestrating those earlier bombings. He was probably mad about his friends, the infamous Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, getting arrested for murder five days earlier, though it’s unclear how killing a bunch of Wall Street clerks addressed that supposed injustice. After the bombing, he hightailed it to Italy and was never seen in the U.S. again.

The Damage Done

23 Wall Street

(NortonJuster7722/Wikimedia Commons)

For all the fuss about maintaining the American capitalist spirit, nobody actually did much to repair the Morgan building. If you want to take a particularly macabre tour of Manhattan, you can point to the chunks blown out of the wall at 23 Wall Street and tell your friends, “This is where a horse blew up,” and they can say, “Sure it did, buddy,” while they guide you safely back to the hotel and make “glug, glug” gestures behind your back.

Top image: Sarah Olive/Unsplash

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