New Jersey July 01, 2019
The Untold Story Of Espionage In New Jersey
New Jersey has a rich history but there are a few things you may not have learned in school. Though it happened over 100 years ago, the story of the Black Tom Explosion is as fascinating as ever. At first, officials said the explosion was caused by a faulty mosquito-proofing mechanism. The real story is much more sinister. However, the truth behind the massive explosion was kept secret for decades.
Black Tom originally referred to an island in New York Harbor next to Liberty Island. The island was artificial, created by land fill around a rock of the same name.
Between 1905 and 1916, the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which owned the island, expanded it with land fill, and the entire area was annexed by Jersey City. Today, what remains of Black Tom Island is now part of Liberty State Park.
During WWI, Black Tom was a major munitions depot for the Northeastern United States. It's estimated that 75 percent of all ammunition and armaments shipped from the United States to Europe were stored at Black Tom.
Until early 1915, U.S. munitions companies could sell to any buyer. After the Blockade of Germany by the Royal Navy, however, they could only sell to the Allied Powers. In response to this, Germany sent over secret agents to destroy the depot. The intention was to obstruct the production and delivery of munitions that were to be used by its enemies.
At the time of the attack, about 2,000,000 pounds of small arms and artillery ammunition were stored at the depot, including 100,000 pounds of TNT.
Black Tom was literally a ticking time bomb. After midnight on July 30, 1916, a series of small fires were discovered. Many guards fled, fearing an explosion. Others attempted to fight the fires. Sadly, there was no stopping them. At 2:08 am, the first and largest of the explosions took place.
The explosion was the equivalent of an earthquake measuring between 5.0 and 5.5 on the Richter scale and was felt as far away as Maryland. Windows were shattered in New Jersey and Lower Manhattan (including the stained glass windows at St. Patrick's Cathedral), and debris lodged into the Statue of Liberty.
The attack forever changed the United States.
Damage totaled around 460,000,000 in today's dollars. The Statue of Liberty was scarred, and the torch structurally damage. It was closed to the public, never to reopen again. Those at Ellis Island were temporarily evacuated to Lower Manhattan, and at least 5 people died in the attack. (Others went missing and were never found.) The sabotage played a part in the U.S. entering WWI and it also led to the formation of domestic intelligence agencies in the United States. The site of the explosion is pictured - a plaque can be found among the flags.
Did you know that New Jersey was at the center of such a massive historical event? What’s an interesting tidbit of New Jersey history that you can share? Another of the most fascinating tales in the Garden State is that time when
South Jersey almost seceded.