In 1914, labor leaders and anarchist groups had John D. Rockefeller Jr. in their sights.
They blamed Rockefeller, head of U.S. Steel and one of the world’s richest men, for the Ludlow massacre—the deaths of striking workers and their families at a Rockefeller-owned mine in Ludlow, Colorado in April.
Anarchist leader and New Yorker Alexander Berkman ( below), who had served time for attempting to murder industrialist Henry Frick in 1892, called for Rockefeller’s assassination.
Other anarchists and labor leaders, roughed up during a subsequent protest at Rockefeller’s Tarrytown estate, also felt that a bomb left at Rockefeller’s estate would be appropriate payback.
So out of a top-floor apartment in a tenement house on Lexington Avenue at 103rd Street, several men armed with dynamite and batteries set to work.
On July 4—Independence Day, oddly enough—the bomb exploded prematurely, killing three anarchists, the girlfriend of one, and injuring other residents of the otherwise unremarkable tenement in working-class Italian East Harlem.
“Lexington Avenue and the thickly populated intersecting streets in the neighborhood were crowded with men, women, and children on their way to seashore or park to spend the holiday, when suddenly there was a crash like that of a broadside from a battleship,” wrote The New York Times.
“Simultaneously the roof of the tenement house at 1626 Lexington Avenue was shattered into fragments and the debris of it and the three upper floors showered over the holiday crowds, some of it falling on roofs two and three blocks away.”
Four mostly mangled bodies were eventually found. The dead were IWW (International Workers of the World) leaders or followers with “anarchist leanings,” as the Times put it.
A week later, about 5,000 people came to Union Square to hear a tribute to the would-be bombers.
As officials investigated, Berkman first denied any involvement. He later admitted that he was aware that the bomb was destined for Rockefeller’s estate.
Here’s the tenement at 1626 Lexington Avenue today; its anarchist past long obscured.