Flame and smoke towered 100 feet skyward.
The blast, enclosed within a valley of tall buildings, trapped office workers and threw lunch-crowd pedestrians off of their feet. Its concussion lifted cars from the ground, as blood splattered the sidewalks and surrounding buildings.
The year was 1920, the city was New York, and the guilty terrorist was an anarchist who used a horse-cart bomb to blow up Wall Street, center of the nation’s commerce and symbol of all that was successful in America.
Thirty-eight people ultimately died; hundreds were wounded.
Historian David Pietrusza says the scene was horrendous. “The shrapnel and slaughter make the Boston Marathon events very similar to the 1920 incident, and both were timed for maximum damage — the start of lunch time in 1920, just as the marathon attacks were timed for the four-hour mark of the race,” he explained.
In 1920, the New York Stock Exchange opened as usual the next day. By then, the blood and body parts had been washed away, the broken windows covered with burlap or wood planks.
The perpetrator was a man who saw the country as one of divided classes, the wealthy holding all of the power and the working class oppressed. He wanted revenge.
Instead, the majority of the dead were working-class people — secretaries, clerks, deliverymen, brokers and peddlers who toiled on and around Wall Street.
It was the era of the Red Scare, jailed dissidents, Prohibition, bomb-throwing terrorists and the Ku Klux Klan. A politically turbulent time that marked the end of progressivism, with the economy not yet roaring.
The attack was widely believed to be part of a series of dynamite-filled bombs mailed to elected officials, political appointees, newspaper editors and businessmen, all in brown-paper-wrapped packages marked “Gimbel Brothers,” from the followers of anarchist Luigi Galleani.
As we grapple with another attack — this time not on a symbol of capitalism or military strength, as in 2001’s attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, or on a government center such as Oklahoma City’s Federal Building in 1995 — we are contemplating that Main Street has become the new target.
The Boston Marathon is an all-American event. It is a long-held tradition celebrating ordinary people achieving an extraordinary feat: finishing a 26-mile race.
It is the highlight of a weekend filled with baseball games, family reunions, parades and the convergence of old college friends and Bostonians come back to run or to celebrate achievement and fellowship.
To have terror hit Main Street is unusual, unsettling, devastating. This time it took the lives of Lu Lingzi, 23, a Boston University student from China; Martin Richard, 8, a spectator enjoying the day with his family; and spectator Krystle Campbell, 29.
It injured more than 170 runners, spectators and small children, many of whom lost limbs and will never be the same.
The marks of the 1920 bombing remain visible on the façade of the JP Morgan building, and the villains were never caught.
This time the villains were caught as authorities combed the crime scene, using surveillance photos, the Internet and cell-phone chatter for evidence that led them to the guilty terrorists — and I say “terrorist” because that is all one can be called for executing lives as was done in Boston.
Some people are using this moment to hope that someone aligned with their political opposition carried out the terrible act.
Most other people are simply grieving for their fellow Americans, and wondering if this soft target attack is the new way of life.
As Western Pennsylvania native Terry Francona, the former manager of the Boston Red Sox who now runs the Cleveland Indians, said: “You know, you turn on the TV and you hear ‘right wing,’ ‘left wing.’ I wish there were no wings. I just wish people would get along. I don’t understand it and I don’t pretend to.”
The New Brighton native said all he cares about is that, someday, folks a lot smarter than he are able to figure this out, so stuff like this doesn’t happen and that we remain a powerful America.
I think the majority of America agrees with him.