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Friday, September 18, 2009

Horseshoes CSI: Who Shod the Wall Street Bomber's Horse Back in 1920?

by Fran Jurga | 18 September 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

Today's a dark day in New York history, and the day when horseshoes made the headlines of the New York Times...and it wasn't good news.

It was 89 years ago today that a horse and wagon ambled down Manhattan's Wall Street and exploded into bits in front of the Morgan Bank in an attempt to assassinate financier J.P. Morgan. Instead, the heinous act killed 38 innocent people and injured at least 300 more.

When the 9/11 tragedy struck in 2001, few people were familiar enough with New York history to know that it was not the first terrorist attack in lower Manhattan on a September day. The anarchists had tried it first.

All that was found of the wreck were the horses' hooves--all four showed up mysteriously in a neighborhood church. The police combed all the stables and blacksmith shops in New York City looking for clues…by trying to identify these horseshoes. Because the farrier had stamped the initials of his two unions ("JHU" and "NOA"), the NYPD detectives, Department of Justice (this was before the FBI) and Secret Service hoped the shoes could be traced back to horseshoers who belonged to both unions, until the detectives found out who had actually shod the horse.

To quote from the December 1920 edition of the Horseshoer’s Journal: "Of course, no onus is attached to the shoer, but the link of evidence is of greatest importance. (The horseshoer’s identity) lead to the arrest of the party responsible for the awful calamity which shocked not merely the whole of America, but the entire world."

This is one of the hind shoes taken off one of the hooves of the dead horse. The initials stamped in the shoe indicate union membership as a protection mark. Another union farrier might help out and reset the shoe if it was loose, but they would honor that horse as being shod by the brother. This was a code of honor among union horseshoers.

The headline in the New York Times read "200 Detectives Canvass Farrier Shops for Clue to Identity of Bomb Driver". The police began by enlisting their own farriers to analyze the horse shoes and tell them everything they could about them and the horse that might have worn them.

Finally the shoes were traced to the farrier shop of Finnegan and Kyle at 85 New Chambers Street and a farrier from the Bronx named John Heggarty.

How did Heggarty pick the shoes out as his? How would a farrier know his own shoe? Heggarty told the Times that he "found on the fore shoes the horizontal line just above the heel clip which he always has put on his handiwork as the sort of secret identification mark which all horseshoers use, largely for the purpose of know their own work in case of complaint. Haggerty is a non-union man and called attention to the absence of the JHU...from the front shoes, though they were on the hind shoes.

What's going on at the site of the shoeing forge at 85 New Chambers Street in Manhattan today, thanks to Google Maps

Unfortunately Heggarty couldn't (or wouldn't) remember who brought the horse in, and said as way of explanation that he shod eight to 12 horses a day. The shop is near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Fulton Street Ferry, so police speculated that the horse had come from off Manhattan.

Interestingly, farrier unions are among the oldest in America, and in the 1920s, farrier unions espoused what sounds today like extreme left-wing rhetoric. An editorial in the same edition of the Horseshoer's Journal calls on local unions to "oust their Bolshevik members". Was Heggarty a Bolshevik sympathizer? Did he re-use someone else's shoes who was a union member for the hind feet of the horse? What happened to him?

This story raises many more questions than it answers, but it offers many great history lessons. I highly recommend the archives of the New York Times, which are available online, or interested blog readers can email me or leave comments to continue this discussion.

In Boston also in 1920, the JHU struck against the Master Horseshoers Association; employee farriers (journeymen) walked out of the large city farrier shops owned by the powerful master farrier owners. The city stopped.

The year 1920 was also the height of the horse population in the USA: an estimation 25 million horses, perhaps even more, were hard at work in the cities and on farms, compared to less than 10 million today. (Estimates range from 6 to 9 million horses.)

To this day, the crime has never been solved, but the scars on Wall Street have never been repaired. They remain as a solemn reminder of the day a horse and wagon became the first suicide bombers in the neighborhood. But not the last.

Portions of this article originally appeared in Hoofcare and Lameness #75. Thanks to the New York Times archives and especially to Cornell University's Flower Sprecher Library at the College of Veterinary Medicine for help in preparing this article.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use without permission. You only need to ask. Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site,, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to


Anonymous said...

Very interesing story Fran.

With regards to the "NOA" brand, I think the "O" is actually a bar shoe, and represents the National Horseshoers Association. Can anyone confirm this?
Pat Reilly

Anonymous said...

I'm writing a story about this event and your details confirms what I've researched adds so much more.

Can anyone tell me what metal was used to make horse shoes in 1926 - for another story.

Thanks, Jo

Fran Jurga said...

I believe the answer is iron, Jo. I'm glad you found the article helpful.

Anonymous said...

Pat, that is true. I have a photo of a certificate.