Jersey City, NJ Munitions Explosion, July 1916

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A series of explosions of munitions on the Jersey shore of New York Harbor on Sunday morning, beginning at 2 o'clock, caused loss of life and property not yet fully ascertained.
The fire and explosions were not of incendiary origin.
First reports greatly exaggerated the loss of life being estimated at 400, and property loss at $75,000,000. The loss of life, it is now thought, will fall below 20 and the property loss below $25,000,000.
Thousands of windows in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Jersey City were broken by the explosions, and it is said that there is not sufficient plate glass on hand to repair the damage.

New York, July 31. -- With three investigations under way it is expected that by night marked progress will be made in placing complete responsibility for the ammunition explosion at Black Tom's Island that caused damage extimated at from $20,000,000 to $50,000,000, is known to have killed three persons and it is believed to have resulted in the death of a dozen more, still missing, 24 hours after the terrific blast.
Already a charge of manslaughter has been lodged against three men. They are accused of criminal negligence. Other arrests are also expected. The accused men are:
Theodore B. Johnson, president of the Johnson Lighterage COmpany, and a resident of Brooklyn.
Alexander M. Dickman, Jersey City, agent of the Lehigh Valley Railway Company at the Black Tom Island pier.
Alexander Davidson, Jersey City, superintendent of the National Storage Company's warehouses on the pier.
These three men are specifically charged with causing the death of CORNELIUS LEYDEN, captain of the Lehigh Valley police. LEYDEN was last seen standing near the warehouse on the pier a few moments before the first great explosion that was felt 15 miles away from New York. His body has not been recovered, but the authorities believe it will be found under the ruins of the warehouse.
The warrants allege that Johnson and Davidson permitted the skipper of one of Johnson's barges to tie up at the pier with a cargo of dangerous explosives. Dickman is accused of allowing cars containing 3,000 boxes of high explosives to be placed on the railroad siding at the pier in such a position as to be likely to catch fire and explode.
Dickman and Davidson were arrested shortly after the warrants were issued. Johnson was sought all night without success, but his friends stated today that he would surrender.
Commissioner of Public Safety Frank Hague of Jersey City declared that the blame for the explosions could be laid at the door of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, the National Storage Company and the Johnson Lighterage Company.
More than forty persons are receiving treatment for injuries in their homes or hospitals today. Numerous inquiries have been made for persons unaccounted for since the explosion, but the police list of missing narrowed down today to twelve. The ruins of the buildings wrecked by the blast are being searched today for the recovery of additional bodies.
Up to this forenoon it had been impossible to make anything like a systematic inspection of conditions on Black Tom Island. At that time, however, the full effect of the blasts was seen. The buildings there were shattered and torn. Barges tied at the pier were completely shattered, their upper works being torn away.

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related links to black tom explosion

family's "black sheep"

Trip to Washington, DC

Yearly, I make a trek to Washington, DC to look up genealogy info at the National Archives. On one trip, I decided to spend an afternoon visiting the new Spy Museum in D.C..

So, I'm walking around listening to the audiocassette, and I come to an area about terrorist attacks on American soil. The first display explained that 9/11 was NOT the first attack we've had on American soil. Rather, there was an attack during World War I which was also in the New York City area. There was a small island called Black Tom Island that was a storage facility for munitions being shipped overseas to the soldiers- - - the island was wall to wall with assorted ammunition - - TNT, dynamite, etc..

Long story short, there were explosions on the island that were heard as far away as Maryland. Shards of shrapnel left pockmarks on the Statue of Liberty and many windows in Manhattan were blown out. About 50 people died. Then I read that one of the culprits / terrorists was a German agent named LOTHAR WITZKE. (My grandmother's maiden name was Witzke.) This museum was NOT where I wanted to find my family's name! [One of many sources to this story is at: Just do a search on Lothar Witzke and you'll come upon hundreds of articles.]

While I haven't found the direct link to Lothar in my family research, I just KNOW he must be the crazy, black sheep cousin no one wanted to talk about.

When I was shopping in the Spy Museum gift shop, I bought a wristband that reads: "WARNING: Everyone has a history." Isn't THAT the truth!!! I went to D.C. to research family history - - - I just wasn't expecting to find anything at the SPY MUSEUM!!!! (