Guest Blog Post: The Wall Street Bombing Was Personal for Us

My mom, Claire Lenz, is my guest blogger this week.  She wrote the following article to honor my great great aunt Carrie who was killed on September 16, 1920 in the Wall Street Bombing:

The Forgotten Wall Street Bombing

By Claire Lenz

Caroline Dickinson, my great aunt stood on the corner of Wall Street and Broad at noon on September 16, 1920. Normally, she went out earlier, but she was meeting a friend for lunch and then taking the woman back to her place of employment, the George H. Burr Company to interview for a stenographer’s position.

A red horse-drawn wagon rolled to a stop in front of 23 Wall Street, the headquarters of J.P. Morgan. Neither Caroline nor anyone else knew that the wagon was loaded with 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron sash weights. As her friend approached, she heard an earsplitting explosion and saw Caroline fall to the ground. She was killed instantly by a metal slug that severed her carotid artery. A total of 38 people were killed, 143 were seriously injured, and hundreds more sustained a range of injuries. There was $2,000,000 in property damage, mostly to the interior of the J.P. Morgan building.

The timing of the bombing was designed to create the most damage, loss of life, and chaos since Wall Street brokers, messengers, clerks, and stenographers were going to lunch on that beautiful sunny day. The blast blew out windows, lifted people off their feet, and threw a trolley off its tracks. Human carnage was horrific. Dead bodies and body parts were strewn in front of 23 Wall Street and the Federal Building. Police officers came to the scene quickly commandeering all nearby vehicles to take the injured to local hospitals.

Carrie was a 42-year old stenographer living with and supporting her widowed mother in Elmhurst, Queens.   I never had the chance to know Great Aunt Carrie. As a child, I was often told that she was killed in the Wall Street bombing. Back then, I did not have an understanding of terrorism. Her death was the third for the Dickinson family in less than a year with the passing of Caroline’s father and brother. My grandfather, Carrie’s brother, Clarence E. Dickinson had the sorrowful task of identifying her body at the morgue.

Today, the only reminders of the bombing are some markings on the facade of 23 Wall Street.  There is no memorial for those who lost their lives that day. The only commemoration was a rally the next day, September 17th by the Sons of the American Revolution at the exact place of the explosion.

markings on buidling

     There is no closure for this event since the perpetrators were never brought to justice. The driver of the wagon evidently escaped before the explosion; little remained of the horse and wagon. Galleanists, Italian anarchists were suspected of initiating the attack as retribution for the arrests of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two anarchists convicted of murdering a guard and paymaster in a shoe factory in Massachusetts. Another possible motive was the deportation of Luigi Galleani, an advocate for the violent overthrow of government institutions. However, the placement of the bomb in front of the J.P. Morgan building suggested opponents of capitalism such as Communists, anarchists, Bolsheviks, or socialists.

Wall Street financiers sought to minimize the event by having the area cleaned overnight so that business the next day could proceed as usual. The quick clean-up destroyed valuable evidence. The New York District Attorney branded the bombing as an act of terrorism aimed at Wall Street and J.P. Morgan due to the timing, location, and method of delivery.

A three-year search by the Bureau of Investigation and local police did not result in any conclusive evidence to bring a specific group or individual to trial.   The tennis champion, Dennis Fischer was questioned since he sent postcards to friends warning them to leave the area before September 16th. He was eventually sent to an asylum diagnosed as insane, but harmless. Flyers were discovered in a post office box in the Wall Street area which stated, “Remember, we will not tolerate any longer. Free the political prisoners, or it will be sure death for all of you,” signed by the American Anarchist Fighters.   Unfortunately, this group was never found. The most likely theory advanced by several historians is that Mario Buda, an associate of Sacco and Vanzetti planted the bomb. Buda was a knowledgeable bomb maker who was implicated in several other bombings.   He was in New York City at the time of the bombing, but was neither questioned nor arrested. He fled to Naples using the alias of Mike Boda, and never returned to the United States.

Ninety-five years after the bombing, the people behind this tragedy remain a mystery. Sadly, we have endured the Oklahoma bombing and 9/11, as well as other acts of terrorism, but in each incident, the architects were discovered and punished as in the case of Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden. Furthermore, memorials were established for the victims with annual commemorations of their loss. There was no such memorial for Great Aunt Carrie and the 38 other victims who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. A simple plaque on 23 Wall Street with their names would be a way to honor and remember the lives of these innocent people.

5 thoughts on “Guest Blog Post: The Wall Street Bombing Was Personal for Us

  1. jennifer puente

    How terrible for your family! I wish they had been able to bring the guilty to justice. Please know that those murderers will face justice in the afterlife.
    9/11 brings so many feelings to the surface. For me it makes me think of how close I came to accepting a position at a law firm located in the World Trade Center back in 1999. Had I done so my family probably would have had to say good-bye to me on the fateful day. When I think about that day I remind myself to keep my loved ones close and appreciate every moment. Everything can change so quickly. Prayers for you and your family.

    Reply
  2. Andrea

    Thank you for sharing this story that so few people even know about! I’m so sorry that this happened and that it has been virtually ignored for so many years, but I agree that some kind of memorial would be a great way to honor your Great Aunt Carrie and all of those who lost their lives.

    Reply
    1. Cynthia Lenz Post author

      My great great aunt! 😉 Mom’s article just got published in the local paper last week as well. So, maybe Carrie and the other victims will get the acknowledgement they deserve.

      Reply
  3. Susan England

    Caroline Dickinson was also my great, great Aunt. Thank you for posting this article and thank you to your Mom for writing it.
    I have a lot of history on The Dickinson family , if you are interested in learning more.

    Reply

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