On September 16, 1920, the United States experienced a terror attack something like the one that gripped Paris this week. As in the Paris situation, the attackers belonged to a group utterly opposed to the country where they lived. And the attack was plenty deadly.
On that Friday, a horse-drawn wagon carrying 100 pounds of dynamite and another 500 pounds of metal pellets pulled up in front of the J.P. Morgan bank at 23 Wall Street. The spot was just around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange, perhaps the busiest intersection in town. The driver got out of the wagon and walked away.
Just after noon, lunchtime, a delayed-reaction detonator set off the dynamite. The explosion sent the shrapnel rocketing through the air in all directions. Thirty-eight people were killed, most of them young workers in the area. At least one witness described a woman's head detached and lodged in a wall, her hat still on. Windows shattered for many blocks. Holes still visible today were etched into the bank's exterior walls.
Workers ran from their offices and commandeered cars to take victims to hospitals. One hundred and thirty-four survived with injuries.
Here is a newspaper drawing -- a cartoon if you will -- of what happened that day.
Police were unable to account for the incident until several paper fliers, apparently dropped a few days earlier, were found in a post office box nearby. Their message:
Remember, we will not tolerate any longer.
Free the political prisoners, or
it will be sure death for all of you.
American Anarchist Fighters
Wall Street symbolized the American financial system that was detested by anarchists. The political prisoners, police surmised, were Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrants and anarchists, who had been arrested several months earlier in Massachusetts. They were charged with the armed robbery of a company in which a guard and an employee had been shot dead.
Over time, investigators came to suspect the two men's friend, Mario Buda, another anarchist with experience in bomb-making. By the time his name surfaced, he had hopped a ship to Naples. He lived till 1963, never returning to the United States. No one was prosecuted for the act of terrorism.
Like Parisians today, New Yorkers were horrified. Thousands gathered at Wall Street later with World War I veterans and a brass band to sing the national anthem.
The French are planning a big solidarity gathering of their own in Paris on Sunday.