An anarchist bomb explodes on Lexington Avenue

Lexington103rdstreetsignIn 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.

LexingtonavebombAnarchist 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.”

Lexingtonavenuebombsite2014Four 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.

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8 Responses to “An anarchist bomb explodes on Lexington Avenue”

  1. RD Wolff Says:

    That’s pretty cool seeing the before and after shots, in fact looking at the 2014 picture I can see they replaced all of the terracotta over the windows that were damaged- with exact factory replacements! The bricks differ some in color though.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I was hoping to see some scruff marks or other damage on surrounding buildings, century-old evidence of the bomb’s damage. Amazing that they were able to salvage the tenement.

  3. Jena Says:

    When I read about this last summer, I was inspired to do more research about the people involved. I’ve created a blog for my research:

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    A friend of mine was also involved with a years-later firebombing at a site uptown East Side, not much damage since they all got caught and spent a few years in jail

    • mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

      By the way, my friend Marty used the name Alexander Berkman as an alias, shows the world is a small place at that.

      • mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

        I just got an email from Marty’s ex-wife:

        I’m sure you remember that Marty’s nom-de-Evergreen (Magazine, where we used to work in the Village) was “Alex Berkman.” but, did you know that the bombing that Marty and his cohorts tried to do was at the First National Bank (now Citibank) located at Madison Avenue and 91st Street–just a few blocks away from the location cited in this article.
        The anniversary of Marty’s death (April 6, 2008) is coming up in a few days.

        Life is a cycle but of what I just don’t know…

  5. FDR Says:

    The industrialist Henry Frick (not Fricke) who Berkman tried to assassinate built a mansion on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street that now is the Frick Collection, an art museum.

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Frick–thank you! Just fixed.

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