On August 9, 1995, the Grateful Dead brought one of the biggest sources of information on Wall Street to a stop.
On this day 21 years ago, Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia was found dead of a heart attack. While it certainly stopped many Dead fans in their tracks, it also seized up one of the most important tools on Wall Street.
The Bloomberg terminal, the ubiquitous and essential source of information for bankers and traders on Wall Street, sent out an alert of the news informing clients of Garcia’s death. The service had been distributing non-finance news for a short-time, but the Garcia alert evidently brought down the terminal.
According to Reddit user u/Mercury_NYC, who claimed to be working at Bloomberg’s new division at the time (full disclosure: We here at BI compete directly with Bloomberg’s news service), the alert attracted so much attention that it brought down the whole service . Here’s Mercury_NYC’s description of the confusion (emphasis ours):
“When someone clicks on the news, it directs the screen to something akin to a webpage. Much like the ‘reddit hug’ we often see here – if too many people click the same link it overloads the system.
Up until this point we had minor blips, issues, outages because in 1995 we were in the midst of becoming a big player in the news market, and our terminal news was just starting.
The ticker read ‘JERRY GARCIA DEAD AT 53’ in all caps. Well, so many Bloomberg users clicked that link it not only stopped the news to that link…it took out our entire news feed.”
While we were unable to verify that Mercury_NYC worked at Bloomberg at the time, a Los Angeles Times report referenced in the post from August 10, 1995, supports the claim of the terminal outage.
“News of Garcia’s death Wednesday morning also shot through the intricate weaves of cyberspace, where the band has a high profile,” wrote the LA Times. “So many Wall Street professionals called up the news on Bloomberg news service terminals that the system froze briefly around noon.”
Garcia was just 53 at the time of his death, which despite the psychedelic rock legend’s struggles with drug addiction and his weight, meant that many fans and evidently Wall Street traders were taken aback by the news.
According to Mercury_NYC, the chaos surrounding Garcia’s death caused at Bloomberg was enormous. From the post:
“At our call center we had a queue monitor to tell us how many people were waiting on the phone. It went from 10 in queue…to 50…to 100…to 500…then 999….and froze on 999. Our office was, in a word, in chaos. This was when Bloomberg maybe had 100-200 employees working at 499 Park Avenue, and the ‘customer service desk’ was about 20 people between the ages of 22-28. We had to keep answering the phone, explain that our entire news feed was down because of Jerry Garcia, take a name and number to call the customer back to let them know when it would be back up.”
It’s unclear whether the overloaded system also brought down the raw financial data that the Terminal offered, but even just losing the real-time news feed would be a huge disruption for many on Wall Street.
According to Mercury_NYC, the feed was down for roughly 20 minutes before being re-booted, but as the Reddit user put it, “in Wall Street world that is a lifetime.”
An odd, sad quirk of history.