Saturday, July 30, 2016

100 Years Ago: The Black Tom Bomb

Morgan, in Philadelphia Inquirer
"Under the Stars and Stripes"
On a quiet morning in 1916, hours before dawn, New Yorkers woke to an explosion that shattered windows in Manhattan, could be heard as far away as Philadelphia and southern Connecticut, and measured 5.5 on the Richter scale. In fact, the reason you can't go into the torch of the Statue of Liberty today is owing to damage from shrapnel from this very explosion. The source was a tiny island  with a name that could have come right out of a pulp magazine. Black Tom Island was a munitions dump and shipping facility from which ammunition was shipped to the allies in Europe to support their efforts in World War I. At 2:08 AM on Sunday, July 30th, German agents detonated over 2 million pounds of ammo.

Initially, theories about the cause of the explosion abounded, but it didn't take long for the press to latch onto the idea of German sabotage. Kaiser Wilhelm and his government's denied any involvement, but there was no turning American sentiment. Within a a year the U.S. would enter the war on the side of the Allies and the die would be cast.

It would be 1939 before a joint German-American commission, analyzing the evidence, would come to the conclusion that Germany had actually supported the attack. Of course, by that time a certain Adolf Hitler was in charge of the Fatherland and he wasn't exactly inclined to pay reparations to Germany's old enemy. Reparations wouldn't come until 1953 when World War II had ended and the German economy had been taped back together. The final payment arrived in 1979 and the first "worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil" was brought to a close.

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