Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
Compared with other parts of the world, the U.S. has been largely spared from terrorist attacks. The bombings of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center in New York, however, are reminders that the country is not immune. This was also demonstrated 79 years ago when explosives planted in a horse-drawn wagon rocked Wall Street, killing 30 and injuring hundreds more. Foreign terrorists were suspected, but no one ever claimed responsibility or was charged. An excerpt from The Post of Sept. 17, 1920:
A mysterious explosion in Wall street, near Broad, believed by trained Department of Justice and police investigators to have been caused by an infernal machine, rocked the heart of New York's financial district at noon today, leaving death and destruction in its wake.
At least 20 persons were killed, more than 200 were injured, the banking house of J. P. Morgan & Co., the sub-treasury and the assay office were partially wrecked and property damage estimated in excess of $1,000,000 was caused by the blast. ...
The noon hour had struck and an endless stream of office workers had just started pouring into the streets from buildings in the neighborhood. Suddenly, a cloud of yellowish, black smoke and a piercing jet of flame leaped from the street outside the Morgan office.
Then came a deafening blast. A moment later scores of men, women and children were lying prostrate on the ground and the streets were covered with debris from thousands of broken windows and the torn facades of adjacent buildings. Two minutes later the stock and curb exchanges, the financial pulse of the world, had closed. Panic and confusion reigned in the heart of New York's financial district.
Thousands of clerks and stenographers fled in terror from adjoining structures. Scores fainted, fell and were trampled on in the rush. Meanwhile, the noise of the explosion which was heard throughout lower Manhattan and across the river in Brooklyn brought thousands of the curious to the scene.
The few police on duty in the district were unable to cope with the crowds and a hurry call for police reserves was sent to all downtown police stations.
Subtreasury officials, fearing that an attempt might be made to rob the building, all the windows of which were broken, requested assistance of the military authorities at Governors Island and a company of soldiers was sent to guard the institution.
Hurry calls were sent to all hospitals in the downtown section of New York and scores of ambulances were soon speeding through the narrow streets. Dressing stations were established in the lobbies of the buildings nearby where the less seriously injured were given immediate treatment.
Evidence tending to confirm the theory that the explosion was caused by a bomb or some other infernal machine came from several sources.
Chief Police Inspector Lahey reported late today that he had found evidence to justify the conclusion that the explosion was caused by a huge bomb loaded with T.N.T. -- trinitrotoluol -- reinforced with iron slugs fashioned from window weight bars. Pieces of these slugs were found in several adjacent structures. The type of weight bars, a close inspection by police and Department of Justice agents disclosed, is not used in any building within a radius of several hundred feet from the scene of the explosion.