Walk down 23 Wall Street in the heart of the financial district in New York City and you are sure to pass an interesting building. Standing on the corner, right across Federal Hall, where the nation’s first president, George Washington was inaugurated sits a silent fortress that once represented the financial power of the world’s most influential bank, J. P. Morgan & Company. Today, this building sits empty and its overseas owners have yet to fill it with new tenants. While its upkeep remains decent, on one of its sides the limestone facade seems to have been punctured with various objects and never covered up. To some, these may seem as just regular signs of a decaying building, but in reality these scars were made by something much more sinister. It was an act of total anarchy that almost destroyed this building, and with it tried to bring down the foundations of capitalism. But as the building still stands today, it has become a sign of resilience and longevity, waiting to tell a story to those who want to listen.
During the 1920’s, Lower Manhattan was the center of economic and financial activity of America. With World War I ending just 2 years prior, the mood in the city was upbeat and full of confidence. The stock market was stable and seeing a steady rise. Many factories and local shops were open and full of business. This more than perfect time, however, was clouded with a new uprising of anti-capitalist uproar that started with a group of individuals claiming to be Italian anarchists. At a time when a small group of men became very wealthy at the expense of laborers and other unskilled workers, a new anger arose among many in the city that allowed for many anarchists to thrive within the general population. In the beginning, this disdain for the wealthy turned into strikes and protests around several factories and warehouses. Soon, however, the methods of the anarchists became more vicious as many multi-millionaires around the city were threatened with assassination attempts and other acts of terrorism involving explosives.
The worst of these violent acts occurred in the spring of 1919. First in April, about 40 mail bombs were sent to various prominent businessmen and politicians in cities all over America. These crude bombs inflicted minimal damage, but they were just the beginning of a more intense campaign of terror. On the evening of June 2nd, about eight large bombs were detonated in different cities all over the country. They were composed of 25 pounds of dynamite and wrapped with metal slugs that acted as shrapnel and pierced through anything in their way. Many people were injured during these explosions and the response from the government that soon followed was swift and harsh. In the following months, about 10,000 people were arrested under the suspicion of violating the Espionage and Sedition Acts. Thousands were thrown in jail and hundreds of suspected Italian anarchists were deported back to Italy. It was an uneasy time in America to be a wealthy individual not knowing if the next attack would target your place of business or home and threaten your life.
September 16, 1920 started out as any other regular day in the Wall Street district of Lower Manhattan; cars were honking, men in suits dashing through the streets to get to their offices, paperboys yelling out the day’s main headlines. The cobbled streets were filled with activity and no one seemed to notice the strange horse drawn cart that was parked right outside the JP Morgan & Company building with no one in charge of it to be found. At about one minute past noon, the 100 pounds of dynamite that were discretely hidden in the cart detonated, sending metal pieces of shrapnel in all directions, obliterating anything that stood in its path. The explosion that occurred from this cart could be felt for blocks in all directions, lifting vehicles off the ground and smashing them back unto the street. Panes of glass came crashing down from surrounding buildings. Body parts were flung and splashed all over the sidewalk. The scene looked like a battlefield with smoke and dust everywhere and people screaming and crying for help in all directions.
In total, about 40 people were killed from the explosion with about 100 wounded or badly hurt. One would think this type of event would be thoroughly investigated or searched for any types of clues for weeks. However, in the true spirit of Wall Street, most of the crime scene was cleaned up the next day and trading in the stock market went on as if nothing ever happened. The only clue left behind about the perpetrators who may have orchestrated this was a mailbox nearby stuffed with anarchist propaganda flyers. To some, it was obvious that the real target for the explosion was JP Morgan himself, but coincidentally, he was on a trip in Europe that day. In the end the real victims of this vicious plot were ordinary office workers and store clerks, not your typical evil proponents of capitalism.
For years to come the police and Bureau of Investigation looked into this explosion but never really found the real culprits. No one was ever charged in the bombing and as the months went on, the event soon became forgotten and swept under the rug of New York City history. To this day, there isn’t a single plaque or statue commemorating the victims of the September 16 bombing. Ask any local or tourist if they know what happened here about one hundred years ago and most will scratch their heads in confusion. The only remaining clues that shed light on this event are the fist-sized punctures of the building’s facade that have never been repaired since the explosion. They stand there in silence as an eerie token reminding us of the evil that some men will do just to let their voices be heard.