The horrific attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001, is by far the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the United States. Everyone knows where they were on that fateful day which will never be forgotten. However, another September terrorist attack in New York is less known and with 38 fatalities, it ranks as one of the 20 deadliest acts of terrorism on American soil. Unlike the majority of the other attacks, the identity of the perpetrator has never been definitively established.
The Explosion That Shook Wall Street to Its Core
On September 16, 1920, Manhattan’s Financial District was busy as usual with thousands of people going about their daily business. Within the district was J.P. Morgan and Co., arguably the most important banking institution in the world at the time and an obvious target for anarchists in hindsight.
However, no one paid any attention to the horse-drawn wagon that stopped directly across the street from J.P. Morgan at 23 Wall Street at noon. The Trinity Church bells chimed as usual to greet the hour, and they had only ceased when the street was devastated by a deadly explosion at 12:01 pm. The wagon had been loaded with dynamite weighing 100 pounds and 500 pounds of iron weights. According to Andrew Dunn, a man who worked at J.P. Morgan that day, the noise was so loud it was capable of knocking you out by itself.
The blast threw a trolley carrying passengers from the track; the vehicle was two blocks away. Debris flew as high as the 34th story of the Equitable building on Wall Street, and parts of the unfortunate horse were found several hundred yards away. One of the most famous people on Wall Street that day was Joseph Kennedy, a stockbroker, and father of future American President John F. Kennedy.
The iron weights were a particularly vicious and evil touch. They flew from the wagon and sliced dozens of people in the vicinity. Other victims were lit on fire in the blast, and inside the Morgan building, a clerk named William Joyce died when a piece of metal crushed his skull. He was one of 38 people who died, and there was also $2 million worth of property damage.
There were a number of survivors of World War I on Wall Street that day and the carnage they witnessed brought back horrendous memories. In the aftermath of the bombing, Wall Street was littered with limbs and mutilated bodies in a scene that wouldn’t have looked out of place in No Man’s Land.
The members of the Stock Exchange had no choice but to suspend trading as 2,000 police officers and nurses arrived on the scene. 30 of the victims died instantly while the other eight perished from their wounds later on. At least 143 people sustained injuries, and there wouldn’t be a deadlier bombing on American soil until the Oklahoma bombing in 1995.
Despite the carnage and the ensuing manhunt, investigators had a hard time figuring out the perpetrators or even the reason for the bombing. The J.P. Morgan building received the brunt of the explosion, so it was initially assumed the bank was the primary target. Critics of the bank said it profited from the bloodshed of World War I so it was clearly an organization at risk of an attack. However, almost all of the victims were low-level staff. J.P. Morgan Jr. was thousands of miles away at the time. Ultimately, it was determined that the bomb was a terrorist attack designed to cause panic, fear, and death with no special target in mind. It proved to be even more difficult to find the bomber.