08 April 2013

Did Arthur Stringer Incite the Bolshevists to Blow Up Wall Street? Maclean's Dares Ask the Question!

Myth: On 11 September 2001, President George W. Bush told Americans to go shopping.

Fact: He told them to go to Disney World.

Terrorism sells. Ten years ago, it was duct tape and plastic sheeting, eight decades before that it was issues of Maclean's:

The Regina Morning Leader, 15 November 1920
(ciquez pour agrandir)
"Did Arthur Stringer incite the Bolshevists to blow up Wall Street?' The question is absurd, is it not? How would the Reds have known of an unpublished novel that had been submitted to a Toronto general interest magazine? Besides, are we really to believe that no one had ever thought of blowing up New York's financial district?

My questions can't keep up with the fast and furious of the advert: "Who did it? Was it an accident? The bomb of a Bolshevik? Or merely ordinary insanity?"

Let's consider the Maclean's questions one at a time:

Who did it?

We don't know. What we do know is that at noon on Thursday, 16 September 1920, a horse-drawn wagon carrying roughly 100 pounds of dynamite was brought to a halt across the street from the offices of J.P. Morgan. A minute later, the horses and wagon were no more. Thirty-eight people were killed – most instantly – and who knows how many people were injured. The driver is thought to have fled the scene just before the explosion.

Was it an accident?

No, though a whole lot of people considered the possibility. Initial police investigations focussed on the sloppiness of businesses that sold and transported explosives. However, by the next day investigators had come to the conclusion that the carnage had been intentional. The give-away: an estimated 500 pounds of iron weights that had been mixed in with the explosives.

The bomb of a Bolshevik?

Doubtful. Early in the investigation police came upon a cache of flyers from the American Anarchist Fighters. "Remember, we will not tolerate any longer", read the text. "Free the political prisoners, or it will be sure death for all of you."

Or merely ordinary insanity?

Oh, there was insanity. Take New York Law School graduate and one-time tennis star Edwin P. Fischer. Mr Fischer had sent postcards to friends and relatives warning them of the devastation that would be brought upon Wall Street on 15 September, the day before the actual blast. He was picked up the next day in Hamilton, Ontario.

The New York Times,18 September 1920
Under questioning, Fischer at first appeared uncertain as to how he'd known about the coming carnage, telling Magistrate George F. Jelfs that a message had come "through the air". However, he soon became more certain:
I have lived a life of helpfulness and unselfishness. I have never held a grudge against anyone, and have always tried to do good to everybody. For this reason I think that God, perhaps, has given me a power that has not been given to those who lead selfish lives.
When the magistrate asked how he knew exactly where the explosion would take place, Fischer replied, "I knew because Wall Street is the centre of evil in the world."

Not so insane after all.

Fischer had not only entered Canada illegally but had threatened some of our finest millionaires in Toronto's Queen's Hotel, and so was deported. He returned to New York's Grand Central Station clothed in two suits over tennis whites,  at the ready for a chance match. The poor man would end up being institutionalized in the Amityville Insane Asylum.

Despite all the publicity, Stringer's The City of Peril did not appear in book form until 1923, when it was published by McClelland & Stewart and Alfred A. Knopf. I've yet to come across a copy myself, but Kathleen K. Bowker's Canadian Bookman review has me sold:

March 1923
Trivia: Edwin P. Fischer was 1895 Ontario Tennis Champion.

More trivia: The Wall Street bombing very nearly ruined Anti-Straw Hat Day:

The Globe & Mail, 16 September 1920
Related post:


  1. Fascinating. The contempt for Wall Street was common in the literature of the 1910s. Stringer's novel THE PRAIRIE WIFE is next on my to-read list.

    1. I'll be interested to learn what you think, Ron. If you go by the critics, it's for The Prairie Trilogy (Prairie Wife, Prairie Mother, Prairie Child) that we remember Stringer. An "enduring contribution to Canadian literature" says The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, and yet no volumes have seen print since 1950.

    2. Hello, I happened upon your site and article related to Arthur Stringer's The City of Peril book. You might like to know that it has become available for download at the following link. Paul Moulder. UK. http://www.fadedpage.com/showbook.php?pid=20140324

    3. Thank you for this. It's wonderful to find that the book is available online - doubly so to see that it is the McClelland & Stewart edition (which I have never seen).