Labor Day parades, rallies in favor of birth control and suffrage—Union Square in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was ground zero for demonstrations that advocated progressive causes and reform.
But only one rally turned deadly, thanks to a police-hating anarchist who brought a crude homemade bomb to the park in March 1908.
The gathering attracted 7,000 participants to Union Square. But the city had refused the group’s permit to hold a public demonstration.
So hundreds of policemen were called in to help disperse the crowds, reported the New York Times on March 29.
At about 3 p.m., just as the crowds had mostly been cleared out of the park, Silverstein, standing by the fountain, raised his arm to toss the bomb at a policeman—but instead it exploded in his hands, blowing his face and fingers off and mortally wounding him.
“In a moment all was pandemonium,” wrote the Times, adding that windows a block away rattled and shook, and pedestrians were “thrown to their knees.”
An innocent bystander lay dead, and parkgoers were driven to the surrounding streets by mounted officers.
Cops used their bully clubs on the crowd, and “the fleeing throng started in to sing the ‘Marseillaise’ and jeer at the police.”
Silverstein, a member of the Anarchist Federation of America, ultimately died of his injuries at Bellevue Hospital two weeks later.
Before he did, however, he supposedly proclaimed, “I came to the park to kill the police . . . I hate them,” states New York at War, by Steven H. Jaffe.
[Photos: LOC; Find a Grave]