Mar 31, 2014
Ah, the Progressive Era. Monopolies and Trustbusting. Muckrakers and Philanthropy. Temperance movements and. . . Terrorism?
Between 1870 and 1916, the number of millionaires in the U.S. climbed from 100 to 16,000. Although most of the upper class, like Rockefeller & Carnegie, gave their money to philanthropic causes, there was still a big gap between the rich and the poor. The concentration of wealth among a relative few rich built on the backs of poor labourers (many of them immigrants newly arrived to the U.S.), caused emotions to seethe. While many protested, others took more extreme actions, such as bombings and assassinations against the rich. The people that committed these attacks were called Anarchists.
One of the big names in anarchy in the U.S. was Luigi Galleani, an Italian immigrant who believed that the only way that everyone would be equal was if everyone was in charge or who was rich was murdered.
After escaping from prison in Italy in 1894, Galleani spent the next seven years on the run before ending up in the U.S. in 1901. Once there, he spoke out against government, industry, and banks – encouraging workers to overthrow the government. With his followers, called Galleanists, he published a newspaper to help spread their subversive message which they published until the U.S. government passed the Sedition Act in 1918 which forbade anyone from talking trash about the government.
Galleani’s talk ended in April 1919 when he and the Galleanists began mailing bombs to politicians, police officers, judges, & businessmen around the country. By June, Galleani had been apprehended and deported back to Italy. Undaunted, the Galleanists continued their terrorist tactics.
Thursday, 16 September 1920 was a bright, beautiful Autumn day. As noon arrived, thousands of office workers descended from their skyscrapers to enjoy their lunch. The workers at J.P. Morgan & Co. and the U.S. Assay Office were no different. As Wall Street became clogged with a miasma of pedestrians and puttering cars, a rickety red wagon pulled by an elderly mare plodded up the street. No one paid much attention to it as it came to a stop outside of the foreboding edifice of the J.P. Morgan & Co. offices at 23 Wall St. A non-descript man got out of the wagon and began to walk away.
A minute later, 100 pounds of dynamite inside the wagon exploded sending over 500 pounds of cast iron weights in every direction. The carnage was intense. Men and women were knocked off of their feet. Buildings shook and windows burst inwards for blocks. The horse and wagon were torn apart and nearly 40 people died in the blast. The horse’s head landed nearby, but its hooves landed blocks away. One woman’s head was found stuck to a concrete wall with her hat still on.
Charles Dougherty, a messenger for the New York Stock Exchange, described the scene:
‘I saw the explosion, a column of smoke shot up into the air and then saw people dropping all around me, some of them with their clothing afire.’
George Weston, a reporter for the Associate Press wrote:
‘It was an unexpected, death-dealing bolt, which, in a twinkling turned into a shamble the busiest corner of America’s financial center. Almost in front of the steps leading up to the Morgan bank was the mutilated body of a man. Other bodies, most of the silent in death, lay nearby. As I gazed horrorstruck at the sight, one of these forms, half-naked and seared with burns, started to rise. It struggled, then toppled and fell lifeless to the gutter.’
A 17 year-old named James Saul stole a car and began bringing the injured to the hospital. Shortly thereafter, police arrived on the scene and began drafting other drivers to do the same.
The next day, 17 September, was Constitution Day. The Sons of the American Revolution had planned a patriotic rally at precisely that spot. They had only planned on a small group attending, but thousands showed up. They sang ‘America’ and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as General William Nicholson declared:
‘Any person who would commit such a crime or connive in its commission should be put to death. He has no right to live in a civilized community. Such persons should be killed whenever they rear their heads, just as you would kill a snake.’
No one claimed responsibility, so the Bureau of Investigation jumped on the case. Initially they blamed a large range of suspects: anarchists, communists, and the fledgling Soviet Union were suspected. The BOI even questioned tennis star Edward Fischer who had sent out warnings to his friends to avoid Wall Street on the day of the attack. When police investigated further, he told them that he received his messages ‘through the air,’ and had a habit of sending those types of messages out. He was later declared insane but harmless.
One clue, a horseshoe on the remains of the horse’s hind foot led investigators to Buffalo, NY. The horseshoe was imprinted with the blacksmith’s mark: ‘Niagara Hoof Pad Co., BISON, Buffalo, NY.’ The blacksmith remembered him as a Sicilian man between 25-30, but couldn’t remember more.
The leading suspect was a Galleanist named Mario Buda, who had fled to Italy shortly after the bombing. Buda was a partner of two other Italian Anarchists, Sacco & Vanzetti. The working theory was that he planted the bomb to avenge their arrest. 35 years later, he admitted as such to his nephew.
The Galleanist kept up their bombing campaign until 1932 when they finally gave up. Meanwhile at the Constitution Day celebration, representatives of J.P. Morgan announced that they would not replace the damaged blocks. Besides costing over $2 million to replace, everyone thought that it served as a fitting memorial. Down the street at the New York State Exchange, the market soared and the Twenties looked ready to roar and full of promise and prosperity.
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