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Seventy Years Before The Twin Towers

June 2024
2min read


In the early fall of 1920 I was nineteen years old and one year out of high school, working in the engineering department of an import/export firm that dealt in steel. We were located at 49 Wall Street at the corner of William Street, exactly three buildings from J. P. Morgan & Co. at Wall and Broad. Unlike the nineties when any clerk who can type is euphemistically referred to as a secretary, in the twenties young graduates who took dictation and transcribed it were called stenographers. The president, vice president, and general manager had private secretaries of many years’ experience who were very much older.

All the stenographers occupied a central, windowless room. The junior supervisors occupied one-windowed small offices, and the bosses were on a lower floor in many-windowed, spacious, mahogany-furnished offices.

On the stroke of noon, half of the stenographic pool began their onehour lunch break, and on their return at one the remaining stenographers went out for an hour. I had selected the noon group. All through my life I have been an organized, methodical person at work and at home, and on September 16 I decided to relinquish a few minutes of my lunch break to complete a letter. When I finished it, and while it was still in my Underwood typewriter, I started to proofread it. Then an explosion propelled me from my chair, hitting my head so hard it stunned me.

All the typewriters bounced heavily, and the skeleton force of stenographers had bruises; several had broken ribs. The electric light bulbs fell into shards. While it isn’t now, and was not then, pleasant working from nine to five in a windowless room, windowlessness was what saved us.

The bosses on the floor below all had offices with windows facing Wall Street, and they all had their desks up close to those windows so a modicum of sun could penetrate the canyon of office buildings. Most of the executives lunched after twelve-thirty, so they were all victims of broken glass and the sash-weights that had been packed into the wagon left by the never-to-beapprehended Wall Street bomber.

I always went out to lunch promptly, and I used to walk down to Broad Street, passing the Morgan offices. Their entrance was eater-corner, so that the left side of the building was on Wall Street and the right side on Broad Street. When I reached Morgan I took a left turn and walked past their right side (directly opposite the New York Stock Exchange) until I arrived at the next block, Exchange Place, then I crossed over diagonally to Weber and Heilbroner, the haberdashers, and on to Schrafft’s restaurant, where I enjoyed my daily lunch. Had it not been for that letter, I would have been in the very center of the explosion.

After the debris was cleared and business resumed, a plainclothes detective (always wearing his hat) was stationed as a lookout just inside the entrance to J. P. Morgan & Company. Many years later, after I had moved to another state, I was on vacation in New York and made a nostalgic visit to Wall Street. As I stood at the Morgan Building examining the deep gouges that remained from that fateful day, I noticed the detective, in his hat, just inside the door. I thanked God for having been a lookout for me.

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