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bobster1985

The 1940 bombing

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bobster, this is great stuff. The third news story, the one with the map and the list of dead and wounded, really hit me. Firstly, I knew of the bomb explosion story but have always thought it was in the British pavilion. I was unaware they were in the process of moving the device. I am still not clear on where they hoped to take it. I wonder what is on the site of that explosion today. Maybe it is just a part of the vast space of the park.

Secondly, when I see an old story such as this and addresses are listed I wonder what is there today. In both cases, if I did it correctly, I found the Bronx and the Brooklyn addresses the two dead officers called home. Both appear to be apartment buildings. The Bronx address, 230 Naples Terrace, is an apartment building built in 1929 (with a monthly rent of $1300) and the one in Brooklyn appears to house a business known as Grace's Day Spa at 582 Leonard Street. It may still have apartments as well.

It also strikes me that the 1940 explosion never had a resolution. No culprits were found. It reminds me of the September 16, 1920 Wall Street bombing in front of the Morgan Bank (near Federal Hall with the famous GW statue). A horse drawn wagon parked in front of the building and at about noon just as offices were letting out for lunch on a beautiful day, there was a terrific blast that took nearly sixty lives and wounded about 150 others. To this day, shrapnel marks can be seen on the Morgan Bank building and on others buildings as well. The interior floors of the Morgan Bank were severely damaged. Police used the same techniques to piece together bomb fragments looking for clues (just as they did on Boston last spring) but they never found the person who planted that bomb. They even found small flyers dropped into a post box that demanded freedom for political prisoners but they, too, led to a dead end.

These things are so curious and so creepy. A 1940 news story, so important and emotional at the time, is all but forgotten today. Once again, those primary sources are blowing me away!

And thank you for your kind words. I am grateful.

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It remains a great mystery. Naturally, pro-Nazi elements were immediately suspected, but given the inevitable crackdown on the local fascists that followed the bombing, it seems like a foolish thing to do. As the stories relate, a major roundup of Nazi sympathizers began immediately. It's enough to make me wonder if perhaps pro-British elements were responsible for planting the bomb, in order to trigger an anti-Nazi backlash. It's a fascinating cold case that probably will never be solved, like the J.P. Morgan bombing you mention. Forensic technology has improved vastly in recent years, particularly with DNA evidence, but these events seem too long ago to ever be resolved.

The techniques of bomb disposal have also changed enormously. The idea that a half-dozen officers would be standing around the bomb when it exploded, apparently wearing no protective gear, is astounding. I imagine the NYC Police Dept. learned some valuable lessons from the tragedy, too late for these two unfortunate officers who lost their lives, and the others who were maimed.

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One other thing that occurs to me: the air of gloom that must have hung over the Fair in that summer of 1940. The Polish Pavilion is mentioned in some of the stories, but of course Poland had been carved up between Germany and Russia and her people were suffering terribly. Finland had a pavilion, too, but that country had been attacked by Russia and forced to give up parts of her lands to the invader. The bomb that exploded near the British Pavilion must have reminded the Brits working there of the bombs that were falling from German planes at that very moment back in England. And one can imagine the emotions over at the French Pavilion, knowing that their homeland had been conquered by the Germans only two weeks earlier.The Fair that had opened with such cheer and optimism a year before was now a backdrop to a worldwide catastrophe that would soon involve the U.S. too. We are lucky to be alive today and have missed those tragic times.

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I had not really thought about those officers handling that bomb without protective clothing. Holy crap. That had to be a duty nobody really wanted.

I think bobster is right when he senses the Fair was not the most joyful of places in 1940--or at least as joyful as it was intended to be. I remember that the Corporation posted signs "reminding" visitors "not to discuss the European situation" at Fair restaurants and public areas. I have to double check but I believe I found that info in the TImes from sometime in the summer of 1940. I used it in my thesis but I have never forgotten that line.

The theory that the bomb might have been planted in order to blame Nazi sympathizers is interesting. I have to look back at the articles to see how the bomb was first discovered. Was there a call to the police warning them it was in the British building? I have sometimes wondered why someone would plant a bomb and then call in a warning. Maybe, just maybe, whoever planted the bomb really did want it discovered and then blamed on some other, more obvious, group.

bobster, have you found any information as to when (and if) the case was officially closed?

That first photo from the Times (showing the scene) is one I had never seen before last night when I found it on the "then and now" site. That must have been a sobering image in July, 1940. It still is.

And I had the same reaction Bill had when looking at that stretch of road where the blast happened. As much as it has all changed, the curvature of the road and the fence line provide a clear idea of where the crater was located. It is all rather haunting. I did notice at the bottom of that "then and now" page that the photographers hope to place a small memorial at the site.

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PS: I just noticed when I enlarged the photo of the crime scene that the uniformed man in the lower foreground (with his arms folded) appears to be a NYWF security guard of some sort. I believe I see a Trylon and Perisphere logo on his hat. Well, it looks like that might be correct but then why does he carry a side arm? Were those guys armed?

I also noticed, for the first time, that there are three men on the opposite side of the fence who appear to be scouring the ground for fragments and clues.

The photo clearly shows the tree that had its leaves blown off by the blast (as described in the Times account). There is also a coat hanging on the fence, right near the damaged portion.

And I don't see a single woman in that crime scene photo.

If you look closely at the street lamps, they appear to have some sort of sunburst decoration on them--near the top. No relation to the crime but it is interesting.

One other observation: I could be wrong but those stanchions supporting the rope barrier look very similar to the photo of the one posted just a few days ago on the 1939 NYWF thread and the ones I see every summer at the New York State Fair. I wish I could further enlarge that image!

And I just thought that it is possible that the children of these two policemen might still be living.

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Hello!

First of all, thank you for posting our link, thesiteisstillthere is a blog that I put together to gather the information that Mitch and I were able to uncover about the exact spot where this tragic event occurred. Ever since I first laid eyes on the plaque by the Queens Museum some years back, I have been curious as to where exactly it happened. The terminology used, "were killed in the line of duty while examining a time bomb taken from the British Pavilion..." only raised more questions for me. Where was the British Pavilion? Where did they take it? Where did it actually detonate? When I looked at a map of pavilions from that fair, I realized that the British Pavilion was quite removed from where the plaque is located today.

We were able to uncover a newspaper article that drew the route the officers took from the British Pavilion, they took the shortest route they could to the perimeter road, I assume in an attempt to get the ticking satchel to the furthest point away from fair attendees while still remaining on the grounds. The road they took passed the rear of the British Pavilion and up and over to the road that led to the perimeter. The pavilion on the corner was the Polish Pavilion and I have read that windows were shattered in that building from the blast. The bomb left a crater on the ground, right by the perimeter fence, which can be seen in photos on the blog.

We were very struck, like you, Bill and Jim, by the fact that the road is still there and intact and there is nothing there to indicate that something with this much weight occurred at that spot. We put the blog together and began taking steps to initiate the process of placing a historical marker there. Happily, we are in contact with Parks, they have viewed the blog, and they are supportive of the idea. Once we are able to receive approval, we already have a plan in place to raise funds, have the sign made, and then have it installed. We will let you all know once our fundraiser is up and running!

Not all have forgotten, we haven't and neither have you good folks. Hopefully the road will be a little less sad with the marker in place.

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I must add that the modern bomb squad and techniques arose from this tragic incident. The first bomb truck was designed and built as a response. The heroic officer's sacrifice has saved many officers over the years.

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Stephanie, thank you for such a great post. I am so glad that you found this site and I am happy that I could share your information with other people here.

I am always intrigued with "then and now" images and this particular moment in time has been all but forgotten even by some of the most enthusiastic students of world's fair history.

I believe that the plaque that you first saw had originally been located near the British pavilion and remained there until the time those structures were demolished. It must have been cast very quickly after the officers were killed and was at the pavilion for another few months. At the time of demolition, it was moved to the location near the Queens Museum. After that, the exact site of the explosion was, for the most part, forgotten.

When posting here several nights ago, I wondered where that exact site would be today because I had thought the bomb detonated near the British pavilion. When bobster's primary sources provided all of that information, I began to wonder just where those officers were located when the device exploded

Looking at some Fair maps on line somehow brought me to your excellent blog and I have been amazed for several days now. The photographs are so interesting and the crime scene photograph, when enlarged, provides a treasure worth of information. I had not seen that image before and it really is quite remarkable. And your ability to locate the exact spot is just the sort of thing I love to do with old photographs. It is like actually touching history. You are an excellent investigator.

Please stay involved with this site and I will keep checking your blog. I suspect you will find some supporters for your plan to create a memorial at the site. You are correct that the road seems sad. That thought really strikes me. A small memorial may, indeed, help to fix that.

Thank you again.

Jim Flanagan

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bobster, great cartoon! It is also in keeping with the fact that there had been several explosions in NYC in the months preceding the bomb blast at the Fair. People were on edge. The world had become a very unfriendly place by the middle of 1940.

All of you articles--or most--have been from the Times. The cartoon is from the Buffalo Courier Express. I am curious how you found that cartoon. That was a great old newspaper and, I believe, as late as the 1960's it had one of the largest circulations of any metro newspaper in the nation. It is gone now.

But what an amazing find! The irony is almost overwhelming. I am sure that was not lost on people who saw that cartoon on July 5, 1940. Your original postings have sparked quite a discussion here and I thank you for that. Please keep sharing what you find.

Jim

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Jim, the Superman cartoon is from a website called Fulton History, which has digitized thousands of New York State-based newspapers. It's one of the most amazing websites you'll ever encounter, but be warned: it will devour many hours of your valuable time! :)

Check out the Brooklyn Eagle clips on the 1940 bombing that I also posted yesterday. They include some details that aren't in the NY Times clips. I also got those from the Fulton History site. http://www.fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html

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Hello,

Two others here know more than I ever could about this subject. One is MIA? Is Molasses around??

All I can say is that out of the thousands and thousands of photographs I have collected, bought and sold, I only once found a bomb damage photograph. It was a close-up of a young man pointing to a 1' x 9" (?) hole in a plaster exterior wall. There were no clues to what/when/where, apart from a bit of a architectural edge of what could have been anything, and the fact I plucked it from a WF album. I believed it but could not prove it beyond a Polish Pavilion menu that purportedly showed the restauarant area with matching architectural detail. I have learned people generally do not take photographs of nothing. Sold on spec - happy buyer and seller. A week or two later - detailed individual images of the damage caused by the blast were located and direct match was made. That is the story of the one 1940 bombing photo I had.

Best wishes,

Eric

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bobster, that is an incredible site. I took a quick look at it and it appears to have mountains of information. It is a bit confusing. Do I have to register and then sign in each time or is it available to navigate without doing that?

I think that the Brooklyn Eagle covered the bombing in more personal detail. And there is another photograph of the scene that I did not expect to see. Many of the headlines certainly indicate a nation on edge. Also, I was not very familiar with the Christian Front. Learning that Charles Coughlin was one of its leading voices was enough to realize what a hateful group it was. I can see why they were viewed as possible suspects by the police.

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Jim, I've never registered on the Fulton site, so as far as I know you can just jump in get searching. I'm posting yet another article, this one from the long-defunct newspaper PM. It has a number photographs that are new to me.

By the way, I've noticed that attachments tend to disappear after a certain amount of time on this site, so you might want to save them on your computer if they interest you.

New York NY PM Daily 1940 - 0484.pdf

New York NY PM Daily 1940 - 0485.pdf

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They ALL interest me! I just noticed that the article about the doctor who treated some of the wounded also mentions the 1920 Wall Street blast. In the midst of all of those unhappy headlines, I loved finding the story of Sonja Henie's wedding. She basically invented modern figure skating and won gold in three consecutive Olympic Winter Games an is still something of an icon in Lake Placid today. But she was also controversial and she established a personal connection with Hitler in 1936 which caused her home country of Norway to view her with suspicion and some even thought she was a traitor when she warmed up to the Nazis. So, I guess even a feature on a celerity's wedding had its own way of dredging up negative feelings in 1940.

PS: I should know this, but how do I save those news stories to my computer?

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Got it. Thank you, bobster. Oh, I found the list of old NYS newspapers. But I think you mentioned that you use a separate site for the Times articles. Is that correct?

Jim

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Jim, yes the New York Times maintains its own archive. If you subscribe to the NY Times online, you gain access to their archive and you can read up to 100 articles per month.

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On ‎3‎/‎13‎/‎2014 at 9:42 AM, bobster1985 said:

It's terribly ironic, but this comic strip happened to run on the very day the newspapers reported the bombing at the World's Fair:

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The bomb explosion actually took place on July 4th  - this comic strip is dated July 5th.

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