Monday, August 6, 2012

The "Roaring Twenties": Part 1

The 1920's. Flappers and Prohibition. Gangsters and speakeasies. A wild and crazy time that followed the Great War and preceded the Great Depression. So, is that all there is?

Great War Heroes
Not a chance. As I gear up for the launch of my third young adult novel, SIRENS, I thought I might address the Roaring Twenties in all their glory - including a ton of stuff you might not know, a lot of stuff that I learned as I was researching the novel. For example, are you aware that there was a Wall Street Bombing in September 1920 that killed a number of people and was called a "terrorist" threat? Yes? No? Let's start there.

The early twentieth century saw a huge immigrant migration into the United States. In fact, this country wouldn't be the great nation it is without the waves of immigrants who "made good" in the burgeoning economy that followed World War 1 (at the time, it was called the Great War, the war to end all wars). But the immigrants to this country also faced discrimination and isolation. And the Russian Revolution of 1917 generated a fear of socialism and what was called "Bolshevism." It was the time of the Big Red Scare and anything foreign, odd, or not "American" was frightening, especially those thought to be harboring Bolshevik or socialist ideas.
Wall Street, September 1920

Amid all the angst there were terrible incidents: the riots in Chicago and Tulsa, that rose out of racial tension; bombings in 1919 targeting public officials. The temperature was rising, and the Attorney-General, A. Mitchell Palmer, met it with his own guns blazing, raiding meetings in a hunt for "radicals".

And then came a shocking event on September 16, 1920. In the street in front of the office of J.P. Morgan and Co. a bomb went off around noon, just at lunch hour, as clerks were heading out for a bite, as secretaries were taking their breaks. It formed a huge cloud of acrid smoke that rose up between the buildings of Wall Street, shattered windows for blocks, wrecked havoc with Morgan offices, and clouded the air with dust and debris. Thirty people were killed outright, hundreds were wounded. The bomb had been planted in a horse cart parked on the street. The horse did not survive.

But the ostensible target, Mr. Morgan himself, did. He was not at work - he was traveling abroad. Clerks, runners, stenographers, secretaries, brokers' assistants - they were the victims. And the perpetrators? No one knows, to this day. A $20,000 reward was posted (a fortune at the time), but nothing came of it. Two Italians -Sacco and Vanzetti - sentenced to death for their involvement in similar incidents were accused but they were never indicted in the Wall Street case.

September...Wall Street bomb...many innocent people killed...terrorism...fear of foreigners...What amazed me as I researched the 1920s was how many parallels there are between that decade today. This is why I love writing historical fiction - it's like looking in a mirror.

Every couple of weeks leading up to publication (some time in November!) I'll be posting on the 1920s and the interesting stuff I've uncovered. Enjoy!

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