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Wall Street Stories: From Tag to Tragedy

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The streets of NYC all have different stories – most have just one, but our more famous streets have multiple narratives. Our streets are palimpsests – ongoing historical chapters. On Sunday we added another, silly story to the long life of Wall Street. And last night we attended a reading at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum about a bloody event on the same block.

Sunday was the fifth straight year of Freeze Tag on Wall Street; in which a bunch of us  play old-fashioned street games like Freeze and Blog Tag, Red Rover, Wolf-Rock-Lamb and of course, the beloved Duck Duck Goose. In past years we’ve had bunches of people running around, getting sweaty, screaming, laughing and having a goofy, good time on this most serious and self-important of streets. This year, thanks to press in Time Out NY and Washington Square News (who sent us a very silly press inquiry, asking all sorts of important questions), we had another great turn-out. Teens, college kids, skaters, prepsters, post-collegiate hipsters, family types and the intrepid 9 year old seen in the video. After a couple of hours of running around, freezing, blobbing, wolf-rock-lamb-ing, we called it a day and went to catch the end of the Chinese New Years parade in Chinatown.

Wall Street is a very serious street, but rarely visited by tragedy. Last night, Mark and I went to a reading at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, focused on a Wall Street story of a very different stripe. At the stroke of noon on Sept 16th, 1920, a horse-cart crammed with dynamite exploded outside of the House of Morgan and across the street from the NY Stock Exchange and the Sub Treasury (now Federal Hall National Monument.) The attack killed 38 civilians and seriously injuring 143 more, it was the largest act of domestic terrorism in NYC until 9/11; the case went on to become the largest Federal manhunt in modern history and remains unsolved to this day.

Wall Street Bombing, Sept 16 1920. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jed Rubenfeld is a popular author who just published The Death Instinct, a historical thriller about the attack. Mr. Rubenfeld gave a short but intense reading:

The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld

“At the stroke of noon on September 16, 1920, the bells of Trinity Church began to boom, and as if motivated by a single spring, doors flew open up and down Wall Street, releasing clerks and message boys, secretaries and stenographers, for their precious hour of lunch. They poured into the streets, streaming around cars, lining up at their favorite vendors, filling in an instant the busy intersection of Wall, Nassau and Broad, an intersection known in the financial world as the Corner – just that, the Corner.”

Then Rubenfeld goes on to describe the foreboding, driverless horse carriage, as it is approached by an angry cab driver, demanding to know who is responsible for leaving this old bay mare in the middle of the intersection. The cab driver peels back a corner of the burlap sack used to cover the 100 lbs of dynamite and 500 lbs of heavy cast-iron sash weight. Rubenfeld ends his intro with these short two sentences:

“The taxi driver whispered, ‘Lord have mercy.’
Wall street exploded.”

Pockmarks in the Wall of The House of Morgan. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

The pock marks in the wall are still there – J. P. Morgan opted to leave them in the walls, to prove that the endless march of capitalism will continue, regardless of those that attempt to destroy it. We’re very much looking forward to reading our new book and adding another layer to our love of Wall Street’s history.

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