Monday, August 11, 2008
The Wall Street Bomb and Who Did It
At noon on a fine September day in 1920 the bells of Trinity Church rang out the hour as the sidewalks around Wall and Broad Streets filled with clerks and brokers, runners and secretaries scurrying to lunch. Cars and trucks moved along Wall Street, making way for a heavily laden horse-drawn wagon pulled up at the curb across from the elegant limestone wall of the new Morgan Bank building. The driver had just climbed down from his perch and walked quickly away, disappearing into the crowd headed down the street. He was later described as “an unshaven man in work clothes, wearing a dark cap”. Better dressed Joseph P Kennedy, a young stockbroker at Hayden, Stone & Co., hurried up Broad carrying a brief case stuffed with bond certificates. Before the church bells finished striking the hour the wagon exploded. The load was 100 pounds dynamite laced with of 500 pounds of shrapnel - nails, bolts and cast iron sash weights, hooked up to a time fuse set to go off at noon. A mushroom-shaped cloud of greenish yellow smoke rose 100 feet in the air above the site of a terrorist bombing that killed 31 and injured another 130.
1920 was a year filled with “Red Scare” headlines in all the papers. Public fears were stoked by random anarchist terror bombings in America and the brutal murder of the Tsar and his family by Bolsheviks in Russia. The president had been incapacitated by a crippling stroke (a fact kept secret from the public by his wife and his doctor) so his Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer was free to arrest thousands and deport hundreds of suspected anarchist and socialist immigrants in the notorious “Palmer Raids”. In May they arrested two anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in Massachusetts for armed robbery and murder as well as complicity in bombing attempts on Palmer and a US senator. Sacco and Vanzetti’s friend and comrade, Mario Buda, swore revenge. Many scholars agree that Buda is the most likely candidate for planning the Wall Street attack. He fit eyewitness descriptions of the mysterious disappearing driver of the lethal wagon.
At the time nobody was ever charged with the bombing, even after an exhaustive investigation by the Bureau of Investigation, led by Francis Garvan and his young protégé, J. Edgar Hoover. Garvan rests today in a splendid John Russell Pope designed Greek temple - one of Woodlawn Cemetery’s grandest mausoleums. Joseph Kennedy never forgot being knocked flat on the sidewalk by the bomb concussion, his bond certificates scattering over Broad Street. The scars are still on that elegant limestone wall but the Morgan Bank, Mario Buda’s hated target, is now being converted into Phillipe Stark designed luxury condominiums. As for Mario, today some consider him “the father of the car bomb”. Shortly after the bombing he evidently escaped to Italy, where he lived out his days in his native village of Savignano di Puglia. Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted by the state of Massachusetts in 1927. In 1977 Massachusetts Governor Dukakis proclaimed August 23 Sacco and Vanzetti Day.