Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Wall Street Bombing 100 Years -- September 16, 2020


Washington Evening Star, 17-September-1920

100 years ago today, on 16-September-1920, a bomb exploded in the Financial District of Manhattan. 30 people died immediately and 8 others later. 143 were seriously injured. Many people blamed the Bolsheviks, but the crime has never been solved. Many people attribute it to Italian anarchists. 


Infernal Device
Caused Blast,
Flynn Finds.


Time Contrivance
Believed Set Off
Terrific Explosion.

By the Associated Press.
NEW YORK, September 17.--
William J. Flynn. chief of the bureau of investigation. Department of Justice, declared this afternoon he was positive that a bomb had caused the explosion in Wall street yesterday which took a toll of thirty-four lives, injured about 200 persons and caused property damage running into the millions.

Chief Flynn made his announcement shortly after Fire Commissioner Drennan had reported to Mayor Hylan his belief that a bomb was responsible for the disaster and the police had begun to swing to the bomb theory as opposed to that of a collision between a powder wagon and an automobile.

"There Is absolutely no doubt that it was a bomb." said Chief Flynn. "An important development in the last two hours has convinced us of this. The bomb was apparently placed by a person who was within four blocks of wall and Broad streets when the explosion occurred."

Police Hunting Driver.

Certain at last of the cause of the explosion, federal agents and city police increased their search for the driver of a wagon drawn by one horse which was blown to pieces. No trace of him has yet been found.

The theory of the investigators is that a time bomb was placed on the wagon, and that the driver hurried from scene Just after arranging for the explosion to occur at noon.

At police headquarters it was said the first task would be to assemble the fragments in an effort to reconstruct the bomb and determine whether It was made by skilled hands or by a novice.

Search of the wreckage near the scene revealed, according to a high official who request that his name be withheld, fragments of clockwork, such as is commonly found in bombs. Three pieces of curved metal also were found beneath the surface of the pavement, in the hole caused by the explosion. Another piece of similar metal was taken from the body of Robert Westday. a sixteen-year-old messenger, who was killed according to Dr. Charles H. Norris, chief medical examiner.

Thirty-six persons are dead and more than 200 injured from the explosion yesterday, declared by the police here as probably caused by an infernal machine. Discovery of parts of clockwork In the wreckage and announcement by experts that the trinitrotoluols, or picric acid was used in the bomb, if there was one, have sent detectives and Department of Justice men on thirty "leads" pointing to bomb plots and radical activities.

Man Held in Canada.

Edward P. Fischer, a former employe or the French high commission in New York, who was detained by the police in Hamilton, Ont., today after he is alleged to have sent two postcards to friends here from Toronto, warning them not to be in Wall street at 3 o'clock Wednesday, the 15th. will be brought to New York to testify before the September grand Jury. This body today was ordered to inquire into the disaster.

Shortly before word of Fischer's detention was received here a representative of the district attorney's office left for Toronto with a subpoena for him.

Six expert chemists attached to the bureau of mines of the Department of the Interior arrived at police headquarters this afternoon from Washington and assisted in reconstructing metal fragments believed to have been part of a bomb.

Chief Flynn said that the bureau of investigation hoped to know definitely by tomorrow just what kind of a bomb was used. Expert metallurgical examination of bits of iron found in the financial district was hastened with a view of obtaining this information.

Morgans Start Inquiry.

While a half dozen official investigations were under way, members of the firm of J. P. Morgan and Company conferred in regard to the disaster. Then they issued a statement to the effect that they had no knowledge as to the cause or motives of the explosion. Several members of the firm have received verbal and written communications in regard to the explosion. but they say that none has thrown any light upon it.

The Morgan firm began an investigation independent of those conducted by federal and city authorities.

"We have a thousand and one things to do." said Chief Flynn, who came from Washington yesterday on being informed of the explosion, "but we'll probably untangle the mystery."

The federal agents awaited further metallurgical examination of specimens of the hundreds of iron slugs like bits of mottled solid iron bars, about an inch and one-half in diameter. which were found at the scene of the explosion. A preliminary report by an expert failed to indicate any connection between yesterday's affair and the countrywide bomb explosions of a year ago last, when the homes of Attorney General Palmer in Washington and residences of other prominent men in different parts of the country were bombed.

In fact, the federal agents were inclined to the belief that if yesterday's affair was planned by anarchists they were of a new school, at least in their destructive methods. Scores of agents at the scene immediately after the explosion sought traces of the pink paper circulars which were found where bombs exploded in the outrages last year. None were found.

Scores Are Questioned.

Scores of persons seeking exemption from classification as enemy aliens or desiring the vise of the department on the passports of friends in Europe who desire to emigrate to the United States were questioned at the bureau today as to whether they had any information possibly bearing upon the explosion.

At noon police investigators declared they stood "about fifty-fifty on the dynamite wagon and time-bomb theories "

Police Inspector William Lahey directing detectives, said that in addition to seeking to reconstruct "the bomb" and establish ownership of the wrecked wagon, his force were examining sweepings collected by the street cleaning department in the financial district. They were being thoroughly sifted in the search for evidence, he said.

The inspector said marks had been found on the shoes of the dead horse attached to the wagon and that he hoped soon to find the blacksmith who had shod the beast. He expressed the opinion that the vehicle was probably a junk wagon,

The Regular September grand jury was today instructed by Judge William H. Wadhams of the court of general sessions immediately to begin an inquiry into the Wall street disaster.

Judge Wadhams told the jury the inquiry would be divided into two phases: First, to determine whether a crime had been committed, and second whether the disaster was due to criminal negligence. He said it seemed apparent from reports that the explosion had been caused by one or the other.

Man Quarter Mile Away Hit.

George Lamb, division superintendent of the Bureau of Investigation of the Department of Justice, who, today examined evidence brought him by a score of special agents, found one man had been while on John street, fully a quarter of a mile from the scene of the explosion by a window sash weight. The metal, nearly two inches in length, was hot when it fell.

Six expert wagon makers expressed the opinion at police headquarters that the "powder wagon" was a closed vehicle of old-time design. They said that fragments of the vehicle indicated it was so distinctly a relic of wagon making of former days that the task of establishing its identity should be easier than at first was expected.

Assistant District Attorney Talley said today:
"The big thing is to establish ownership of that truck. Every livery stable in the city is being canvassed to find if a horse or truck is missing. Places where explosives are stored have also been canvassed and we have not been able to find that the explosives came from any place authorized to handle them."

Rigid inspection of the magazines and records of each place where blasting is being done in the downtown district, the report stated, showed that "no explosives have either been delivered or removed."

"Pieces of sheet metal resembling tin," the report said, "were found in the debris, similar to metal lining such as is used in the construction of export cases for high explosives.

Window Weight Clue.

No sash weights, such as were used in the bomb and fragments of which pitted the windows and walls of the J.P. Morgan and Co. institution and the United States assay building, are missing, the report said, from any of the windows in the vicinity of the explosion. The type of sash weight is regarded as an important clew in the unravelling of the great mystery.

A piece of metal, presumably from a bomb, and an iron slug weighing about a pound were found by U.S. Grant, deputy assistant treasurer, on the roof of the subtreasury building this morning.

Fire Chief Kenlon and Chief Brophy of the bureau of combustibles conferred at city hall this morning with Mayor Hylan. They presented reports on what they believed to be the cause of the explosion. The mayor indicated he would make these public later.

Several New York detectives and secret service men left the city before dawn this morning for unannounced destinations on out-of-town ends of the investigation of the explosion. William J. Flynn, chief of the bureau of investigation of the Department of Justice, viewed the scene of the blast personally, accompanied by police headquarters detectives and his own men, steadfastly refusing to talk on the subject.

Troops were held in readiness on Governors Island today. and detachments of the 22d Infantry were in barracks subject to instant call.

All public buildings and the homes of wealthy and prominent men here are under special watch, and every available man is held in reserve or actively working.

Police Let in Workers.

Between 8 and 9 o'clock this morning police lines in the financial district were relaxed for admission of the thousands of workers. During the same period emergency patrols were doubled, and every doorway and alley was under close inspection. Downtown subway stations were kept cleared by a large force of police.

During the early hours public and private agencies cleaned up Wall street, sweeping up tons of debris and washing down blood-spattered sidewalks and buildings. Repairmen in force started work remedying damage to twisted iron office structures in the Morgan building, and glaziers by scores began the long task of restoring window panes in the entire financial hub.

Two reported warnings that the explosion was to occur figured in the investigation today.

One of these was a letter received by Lieut. Arnaud of the French high commission from a man known to have been a former employe of the commission, who predicted, it was said, such an occurrence and warned the commission to close the office and send the employes home yesterday afternoon.

The other was a letter received two days ago by George Ketchledge, an employe of a brokerage house, from Edward Fischer, in Toronto, Canada, who warned against remaining in Wall street "after 3 o clock on the 15th," and ended his missive with "good luck."

Bonds Lost in Confusion.

Efforts also were made today to ascertain the approximate amount of bonds and other negotiable securities said to have been lost during yester day's confusion.

Special detectives and officials of surety companies were exerting their efforts to this end. It was reported the amount of securities lost was expected to run into several hundred thousand dollars.

Estimates of the property damage run as high as $2,500,000.

The authorities said that the finding of these bits of evidence virtually dissipated the theory held earlier by some officials that the explosion might have been caused by an accidental collision with a wagon loaded with explosives. Examination of the wrecked wagon revealed, according to the police, that it was what is known as a "rack truck." and that it was unlikely that a vehicle of this type would be used to transport powerful explosives.

Careful investigation by city authorities showed that no permits had been granted for carting explosives yesterday.

These and other scattering reports chiefly occupied the attention of William J. Flynn. chief of the bureau of investigation of the Department of Justice, who arrived early today from Washington to take personal charge of the investigation.

Thomas W. Lamont of J. P. Morgan and Co., however, in front of whose offices the explosion occurred, expressed the opinion that it was purely accidental.

Offices Being Repaired.

Work of repairing the shattered windows and twisted fixtures in the stock exchange, the offices of J. P. Morgan & Co., the subtreasury and various nearby buildings began during the night, and a close guard of police and soldiers from Governors Island was kept throughout the district. Searchlights criss-crossed in the sky above the buildings, and no one was allowed on the streets. The special corps of guards will be kept in the roped-off district for several days, it was announced. Entrance into that district will be by well established credentials only.

Mayor Hylan called a meeting of the board of estimates today to consider a proposal by him to offer a reward of $10,000 for the apprehension and conviction of the person responsible for the tragedy.

The various exchanges, which were closed soon after the explosion, announced that they would reopen today.

The financial district was crowded with sightseers this morning surveying the scene of yesterday's mysterious explosion. Police lines were established for a distance of two blocks north, east, south and west, the market police aiding in maintaining order.

The stock market opened promptly at 10 o'clock with no outward signs of excitement and few traces of yesterday's disaster aside from the windows, which were covered with canvas in place of the huge glass planes (sic - JT) splintered by yesterday's explosion.

A large majority of the active members of the exchange were present when the opening gong sounded and business proceeded in normal fashion with a fair degree of activity. At the United States subtreasury and assay office, which were directly in the line of the explosion, the day's routine was taken up without a hitch, although extra guards were on duty as a precautionary measure.

Guard About Morgans.

The banking house of J.P. Morgan and Company, which suffered most in the catastrophe, also was heavily guarded by regular police and a score of private detectives. All the windows on the main floor of the building, which were blown in by the concussion, were covered with canvas. The interior of the building continued to show the extent of yesterday's disaster.

Several of the Morgan partners were early on hand, but had nothing to add to their brief statements of yesterday, nor would they vouchsafe any theory as to the cause or motive of the explosion. The majority of the clerical force also appeared for work.

There was an unusually large attendance of prospective customers at the offices of leading brokerage houses, and firms with out-of-town wire connections reported buying orders. All indications pointed to an active day on the stock market.

The banks opened as usual, but their messengers and runners, who usually carry large amounts of valuable securities, were escorted by guards as a precautionary measure against the crowds in the district.

The first of the Morgan partners to arrive at the office this morning was Thomas Cochran. With him were the Junior members, Junius Spencer Morgan, E.C Bacon and George Whitney. Most of the office staff were on hand, although a few of the woman employes remained at home.

Before 11 o'clock Mr. Cochran was joined by Thomas W. Lamont and Dwight W. Morrow, fellow partners. They immediately went into conference, and it was intimated that a statement giving the views of the firm would be issued later in the day.

On the desk of one of the members was a jagged piece of cylindrical iron about 4 1/2 inches long and 2 inches in diameter.

Task Centers on Identity.

Every foot of space at police headquarters was filled this morning, when the entire resources of the department were centered on the task of identifying the horse and wagon, the remains of which were found in front of the subtreasury.

Under the direction of Police Commissioner Enright. who was expected to make a statement later in the day, Capt. Arthur Carey, chief of the homicide bureau, summoned hundreds of harness makers, blacksmiths, wagon manufacturers and livery stable proprietors in an effort to determine first what type of wagon it was and, second, who owned it. This task appeared difficult, because the first few experts declared that fragments of the wagon and bits of harness collected and brought to headquarters indicated that the vehicle was of an ordinary type, such as might be used for a hundred and one purposes. The experts were endeavoring to reconstruct it as carefully as scientists assemble the bones of a pre-historic animal.

The board of estimate, meeting this morning, appropriated $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons implicated in the explosion. An additional $500 was appropriated for information leading to the establishment of the ownership of the horse and wagon. A proposal by one member that $25,000 be authorized was rejected.

The junction of Wall, Broad and Nashua streets, the scene of the explosion, today was crowded as ever  before the narrow streets of the financial district were thronged with thousands of curiosity seekers, who were kept on the move by 500 police men.

Window Weights Found.

It was apparent that the police were closely scrutinizing all passersby.

The explosion, according to the official investigators, "apparently occurred in a horse-drawn, covered wagon at a point almost opposite an entrance to the United States assay office."

The investigators found that the wagon had a red running gear and that there were no markings on the harness other than to show it was for one horse.

The small pieces of window weights with which the infernal machine had been loaded had been "fused by an Intense heat," indicating they had been cut into slugs by a high-powered gas burner.

Referring to the theory that the explosion had been caused by collision of an automobile with a powder wagon, Commissioner Drennan said that only two concerns are licensed to convey explosives through the streets of New York and that all of their wagons and motor trucks had been accounted for.

No blasting powder, dynamite or trinitrotoluol was delivered by either concern to any of the four places in the downtown district where blasting is being done, the report stated.

Shortly after the grand jury went into session Mr. Talley appeared before the inquisitors to aid them. All the evidence now being collected by the police, fire department and district attorney's office, as well as that obtained by federal investigators, will be put at the disposal of the jurors. They left for the scene of the disaster at 1:30 p.m.

Mr. Talley said chemists are at work to ascertain the type of explosive used. It was expected the experts could determine whether TNT or some other equally high explosive was used.

The prosecutor has requested the police to obtain from all the hospitals a list of the wounded in order that he may have a complete statement from every witness.

Assistant District Attorney John F. Joyce, chief of the homicide bureau of the district attorney's office, informed Mr. Talley that two wounded men treated at the Volunteer Hospital were reported to have said that the "bomb wagon," besides being painted red as is required of all explosive conveyers, bore a red flag in the rear and large letters on the side reading: "Explosives."

These men, whose names were withheld, are being sought by the police.

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