Students tell of little-known New York story

By Carl Ballenas

The young student members of the Aquinas Honor Society of The Immaculate Conception School Catholic Academy, Jamaica Estates are a remarkable group of academically gifted scholars and have garnered accolades and awards over the years for their many unique and historical projects.

The students have a strong 9/11 connection. They were recently made the stewards and caretakers of a 9/ll Mural, given to them by the 9/11 Museum. On Sept. 16, the students will visit the Maple Grove Cemetery 9/11 Memorial to unfurl their 9/11 Mural and offer a moment of silence for all those who were lost. Then, they will proceed to the grave of Ludolf Portong, one of the 38 victims of another New York City terrorist bombing and mark the 95th anniversary of the bombing of Wall Street.

Ludolf Portong of Richmond Hill, a Wall Street clerk, bravely fought in World War I and survived. He returned home, married his sweetheart and was expecting the birth of his first child, when he went to lunch on Sept. 16, 1920 and became a victim of the first act of terrorism aimed at the heart of America’s financial institution. He was buried in the family plot at Maple Grove Cemetery.

On that day, a horse-drawn wagon, loaded with a bomb containing dynamite and 500 pounds of small iron weights, was parked in front of 23 Wall Street, a corner building then the headquarters of J.P. Morgan & Co., the nation’s most powerful bank. At 12:01 p.m., the timer on the bomb reached zero and a terrific explosion rocked the street. Thirty people died instantly from the blast, and another eight died later from the injuries they sustained. Today, the limestone facade of 23 Wall Street still bears the scars from the shrapnel that blasted into it 95 years ago.

No one claimed responsibility in the aftermath of the attack. Despite a three-year investigation, those responsible for the attack have never been officially identified. In 1944, however, the FBI revisited the case and concluded that anarchists were likely behind the plot—the group had conducted a series of bombings across the United States in 1919, which fueled the nation’s first Red Scare.

The students did extensive research on this event and made a presentation at the annual Aquinas School Expo last May. They created a display filled with photographs and documents they will set up at Maple Grove Cemetery. The students have not failed to make a profound connection with the Wall Street bombing and the 9/11 terrorist attack, remembering the victims from each. They have already designed and created a stained glass memorial window of peace and hope designed and created in memory of the victims of the 9/11 attack. The window contains pieces of steel from the Twin Towers, given to them by the New York Fire Department. They were the first group of school children to book a class trip to the 9/11 Museum and were recently given a mural from the museum made by visitors from around the world.

There are no plaques or memorials commemorating the 1920 bombing or its victims anywhere. The students will gather at the cemetery to remember those victims and at precisely 12:01 will ring their Aquinas Memorial Peace Bell to mark the moment the bomb exploded 95 years ago. The names of the 38 victims will be read, floral tributes will be presented to remember those lost on that sad day.

Carl Ballenas


Immaculate Conception School Catholic Academy

Jamaica Estates

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