Wall Street Bombing of 1920: Terrorism and its Victims

In my search of a terrorist act, I hoped to find an example that was both pertinent in history and applicable today. With the growing “Occupy Wall Street” movement of anarchists, communists, socialists, and other anti-capitalists focusing their attention on the “evils” of Wall Street bankers, I am reminded of a similar set of circumstances that occurred in 1920 as the same groups of anti-capitalists focused themselves on Wall Street and for much the same reason. Unfortunately, the 1920’s protest resulted in the most fatal act of terrorism on U.S. soil at the time. According to Gage (2001), Kengor (2011), and the New York Times (“Explosives,” 1920; “Havoc,” 1920), on September 16, 1920, a horse-drawn carriage was driven down Wall Street and parked in front of the offices of J. P. Morgan bank. A few minutes later, a large explosion occurred killing 38 people and injuring 400 others. The scars of this attack, attributed to Italian Galleanist anarchists, can still be seen today as pockmarks in some of the local buildings.

“It would seem at times as if the whole world is one madhouse” (as cited in Gage, 2001, para. 12). This quote from the New York Call seems to summarize terrorism as it occurs on U.S. soil. However, those who are directly affected might have a more acute perception of the ordeal. By definition, terrorism instills terror, an acute fear reaction associated with daily living, and provides for more intense and prolonged psychological effects, such as insecurity, social disruption, anger, uncertainty, and loss of control, compared to disasters of other etiologies (Roberts & Yeager, 2009). However, according to DiMaggio and Galea (2007), most of the population appears to cope appropriately after such an event. When focusing on at-risk groups that might fail to cope, the literature describes females, those with previous psychiatry, and those directly involved, whether victim or rescuer, to be more apt to progress from a lesser acute stress phase to a more significant post-traumatic stress disorder. Though DiMaggio and Galea promote these as potentially useful triage markers, they admit that “many questions remain to be answered about how best to utilize health care resources in response to terrorism” (p. 157).

As much as I wish not to consider the possibility of another bombing on Wall Street this year or next, I know that it remains a real possibility. I am encouraged in the growth of victim awareness and crisis intervention that has occurred over the last few decades that might blunt the psychological effects of another terrorist event.


DiMaggio, C. & Galea, S. (2007). The mental health and behavioral consequences of terrorism. In R. C. Davis, A. J. Lurigio, & S. Herman (Eds.), Victims of crime (3rd ed.; pp. 147-160). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Explosive stores all accounted for. (1920, September 17). The New York Times, pp. 1, 3. Retrieved from http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9A05E5D61E31E433A25754C1A96F9C946195D6CF

Gage, B. (2001, September 17). The first Wall Street bomb. History News Service. Retrieved from http://www.hsmichigan.org/~hns/articles/2001/091701a.html

Havoc wrought in Morgan offices. (1920, September 17). The New York Times, pp. 1, 4. Retrieved from http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9C05E5D61E31E433A25754C1A96F9C946195D6CF

Kengor, P. G. (2011, November 8). In 1920, U.S. saw the carnage of class warfare. USAToday. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2011-11-08/occupy-wall-street-bombing/51125358/1

Roberts, A. R. & Yeager, K. R. (2009). Pocket guide to crisis intervention. New York, NY: Oxford University.