Wall Street’s famed bronze bull arrived 25 years ago (without permission)


It was 10 nights before Christmas, and all the way down Wall Street the coast was clear.

A flatbed truck turned the corner and lurched to a stop directly in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Arturo Di Modica and his small band of co-conspirators jumped out of the truck and got right to work — the night watchman had just completed his patrol of 11 Wall St., and, having cased the block for several nights, Di Modica and his team knew they had just 4 ½ minutes until he returned.

They lowered the bronze beast — all 3 ½ tons of it — right into the middle of Broad Street, and right under the exchange’s Christmas tree. The truck zoomed out of sight, but Di Modica stood at the corner, watching and waiting for morning.

It was 25 years ago today that Wall Street’s favorite mascot arrived downtown. Di Modica, the Italian artist who spent $350,000 of his own money to cast “Charging Bull” in his Soho studio as a Christmas gift to the city, relished the reactions of New Yorkers — traders, tourists, cab drivers and hot dog vendors. Unlike in Pamplona, they were running toward the bull, he said.

“It was love right away,” Di Modica, now 73, told MarketWatch. “They wanted to touch it, embrace it — it was beautiful. I stood there watching until about noon, when I took a break and went to lunch.”

Executives at the New York Stock Exchange were not nearly so amused, perhaps mistaking the bull for some sort of Trojan horse. Though there were no Athenian soldiers lurking inside, ready to jump out and spear the Masters of the Universe, apparently NYSE Chairman Richard Grasso didn’t want to take his chances, Di Modica recalled.

The police were called in, and, when they proved unwilling or ill-equipped to run an 18-foot-long bull out of town, the exchange hired private contractors to remove him. The beast suffered a fate far less dignified than being slain by a matador in the ring. He was hauled off to Queens.

“Bah, Humbug!” proclaimed the front page of the next morning’s New York Post, above a photo of the bull being carted away. “N.Y. Stock Exchange grinches can’t bear Christmas-gift bull.”

Di Modica, who for years plopped his works out on city streets in the middle of the night, should have been used to this sort of thing. But even though his bull seemed menacing, nostrils flared and ready to gore anything or anyone in its path, the sculpture, he said, was intended as a symbol of New York’s drive, optimism and willingness to barrel ahead against the odds and in spite of what had come before.

The artist conceived “Charging Bull” during the city’s most bearish hour — just days after the stock-market crash of 1987. A Sicilian immigrant who had found success in New York — enough to buy a Manhattan studio and a Ferrari — remained hopeful for his adopted home at a time many were selling the city short, convinced its best days were behind it. Though the market had recovered much of its losses by 1989, the city was stlll a crime-ridden shadow of its former and future self.

Though Grasso could not be reached to corroborate the story, the chairman, according to Di Modica, offered to bring the bull back to the exchange on one condition. “He wanted me to make a bear, too,” the artist said. “I told him I was not going to do that — the bear means the market goes down, but I wanted to represent the city getting bigger, stronger, faster.” Grasso, recalled Di Modica, hung up.

Di Modica paid to bail “Charging Bull” out of the outer boroughs, and with the help of community activists, and the city’s Parks Department, found a new home for him just a few blocks away from the exchange in Bowling Green. There he has remained the past 25 years, greeting millions of tourists, newcomers and natives as a kind of free-market Statue of Liberty.

The bull’s time in New York has been generally bullish. The beast witnessed the city’s reversal of fortune, the drop in crime, the rise in real-estate prices, the election of a billionaire mayor. He’s also stood firm through the dot-com bust, two terrorist attacks (Sept. 11 left him covered in a thick layer of soot), the Occupy Wall Street protests (during which “Charging Bull” was used a symbol of greed run amok) and the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.

Di Modica likely recouped the expense of building the bull several times over in the past 25 years, having cast sibling bulls for cities around the world, and having sold many smaller versions to collectors.

Whenever the market is down, people stop him in the street and ask, “Why isn’t the bull working?” he reported. “I tell them he’s resting, he’s tired, but he’ll get back to it soon.”

The artist doesn’t play the market himself: “I’m not an investor — I have a manager to do that work.”

But every couple of week he pays a visit to his most famous creation, watching the tourists pose with it the way they first did 25 years before.

The wolf never cut it on Wall Street, but Di Modica’s bull charges on.