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Remembering and Forgetting Sites of Terrorism in New York, 1900-2001
This article assesses the manner in which terrorist attacks have been remembered and
forgotten within New York during the twentieth century. As a ‘global city’, New York has
frequently been the focus of individuals and groups seeking to promote their cause by
attacking targets in the city, its businesses, its infrastructure, its organisations and its citizens.
By examining how these events were reported and subsequently incorporated or dismissed
within both the urban fabric and the city’s ‘collective memory’ this article addresses how
violent terrorism is engaged with by society. Building upon the advances made within the
study of modern conflict archaeology, this article examines the possibility of an archaeology
of terrorism.
Terrorism, New York, Memory, Conflict, Democracy, Cognitive Mapping
On the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center the 9/11
Memorial opened, housing a museum and memorial to commemorate the deaths of over 3000
individuals who were killed in the worst act of terrorism in the history of the United States.
The design and function of the memorial site have been fiercely contested since the inception
of the plan to provide a memorial on the site. The memorial is testament to the scale of life
lost, the destruction of the iconic structures and the shock and bereavement felt across many
parts of the world as a global audience became witnesses through live news feeds to the
destruction of the twin towers (9/11 Memorial 2011). However, the 9/11 Memorial is only the
latest addition to the commemoration of the attacks in the city. In the days and months after
the attacks, temporary shrines, memorials and commemorative markers were placed across
the city’s five boroughs as citizens responded to the loss, bereavement and trauma of the
event. The city became both figuratively and literally shrouded in a veil of memorials to the
dead (Simpson 2006). In this manner, the local memorials provided residents with a means to
consider how the events of September 11 affected their area as issues of empathy, anger,
grief, justice and resolution were all played out within these responses (New York Times
Despite of the presence of these memorials, the focus of activities has remained on the
site of the attack itself: Ground Zero. It is this site which was invested with the ideology of
the political response of the United States in the wake of the attacks. The process by which
the site was ‘consecrated’ as important for the nation occurred during President George
Bush’s first visit to the area on September 14 2001. During this visit, President Bush
dedicated the location as an ‘altar’ for a nation which was on ‘bended knee’:
I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these
buildings down will hear all of us soon.
(Bush 2003: 7)
Through this act and subsequent commemorations the site was thereby fixed in memory and
named as important for the nation, invested with the political and ethical agenda of the
subsequent ‘war on terror’ (Sherman 2006). The meaning of Ground Zero was appropriated
in this manner as it became a lieu de memoir – an invention of tradition which provides a
framework for the collective memory of the nation (after Nora 1989). The mode in which the
memory of the September 11 attacks have been framed within the context of the Bush
Presidency (2001-2009) reflect a means by which a sense of meaning and understanding was
placed upon the terrorist attacks (see Jackson 2005: 35). As the site of the Twin Towers has
been rebuilt into a memorial, it remains imbued with this ideology as evidenced by the large
crowds that gathered around the area as the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden was
announced on May 2 2011 (Zakarin 2011). Reflecting on this response to the terrorist attacks
of September 11 2001 is significant as this attachment of meaning onto the space of the
terrorist violence of 9/11 shares contrasts and similarities with the nature of previous terrorist
attacks on the city, its citizens and its structures. Throughout the twentieth century, New
York has been a frequent target of violent terrorism perpetuated by both domestic and foreign
individuals, groups and organizations. Analyzing these terrorist sites in New York provides a
distinct contribution to the study of modern conflict archaeology as it reveals how the
heritage of violence is remembered, forgotten or marginalized within an urban landscape.
Therefore, following a framework which is partly drawn from the work of Rapoport (2006a;
2006b; 2006c; 2006d) within his ‘waves of terrorism’ thesis, this article will examine the
responses to terrorist violence through several episodes of terrorism within New York during
the twentieth century:
The Black Hand Terror, 1900s-1910s
German Subversives, 1914-1918
Anarchists, 1900s-1920s
The Mad Bomber, 1940s-1950s
Political Violence, 1970s
The responses to these terrorist attacks is a reflection of the values associated with the acts of
terrorism and the issues of politics, culture and identity that structure acts of remembrance
and forgetting (Connerton 1989; 2009). Through the use of historical accounts of these
attacks and their contemporary place within the city these sites of terrorist violence will be
assessed. From this study of how terrorist acts have been marked and commemorated within
New York over the last century, a framework for comprehending the response to terrorist
violence can be built (after González-Ruibal 2007; Meskell 2002; Moshenska 2008a; 2010;
Price 2005). This framework addresses the cultural reaction to the trauma of terrorist
violence, of the requirement to return to a degree of normality after an attack and the political
expediency of remembering or forgetting (Janz 2008; Brown and Hoskins 2010; Hoskins
2011). Through this assessment, a social response to terrorist acts can be considered that
rejects simplistic and singular interpretations of terrorism, but rather examines how sites of
violence can be used to remember what is held in common across communities as a means of
reconciliation, recognition and reflection.
Terrorism and Modern Conflict Archaeology
The subject of how communities respond and recover during and after periods of warfare,
atrocities and acts of terrorist violence throughout the twentieth century have been the recent
subject of examination in the nascent field of the archaeology of modern conflict (Page et al
2009; Pollard and Banks 2006; 2007; 2008; Schofield 2009; Schofield et al 2002; Schofield
et al 2006). This area of study has encompassed a diverse set of interests and has in part
focused on the trauma of a brutal, war-ridden twentieth century. From the study of the
battlefields, dugouts and trench art of First World War battlefields (Saunders 2000; 2001;
2003), the archaeology of the Spanish Civil War (González-Ruibal 2007), the shrapnel
collections of London schoolchildren during the Second World War (Moshenska 2008b), to
the derelict bunkers, anti-tank devices and early-warning systems of the Cold War (Cocroft
and Wilson 2006; Schofield and Cocroft 2007), the archaeology of modern conflict has
addressed how societies have experienced the effects of war. In addition to these studies,
scholars have also examined sites of genocide, protest, repression and revolution to analyse
the complex histories of the recent past (Badcock and Johnson 2009; Funari et al 2009;
Myers 2008; Myers and Moshenska 2011; Saitta et al 2005; Saitta 2007; Zarakin and Funari
2008). Accompanying this endeavour, to unearth and recover the painful histories of the
recent past, has been a concerted campaign led by archaeologists from around the world to
locate ‘the missing’; victims of civil wars, repressive regimes, terrorist acts and ethnic
violence from unmarked graves in Spain, Argentina, Northern Ireland, Guatemala, Rwanda,
Iraq and the former Yugoslavia (Crossland 2002; Juhl and Olsen 2006; Renshaw 2010; Steele
2008). Studies of the archaeology of war, violence, murder, memory, internment and dissent
have, therefore, been the innovative areas in these fields as archaeologists have confronted
the fraught and traumatic history of the twentieth century. Placing themselves at the centre of
these debates, archaeologists have also considered the ethics of studying modern conflict;
both in terms of its relation to contemporary society and to teach an understanding of the
nature of violence in past societies (see Moshenska 2008a). In this respect, modern conflict
archaeology situates itself morally and politically in relation to the history and legacy of the
trauma of the twentieth century.
This process of reflection on the role and place of archaeology in the analysis of the
study of modern conflict has a significant bearing on the study of terrorism. Whilst
archaeologists are increasingly studying the material, cultural and memorializations of
terrorism (see McAtackney 2011), this stands in contrast to the uneasy, troubling and anxious
position that western society holds towards terrorism and terrorist attacks. Terrorism or the
threat of terrorism possesses an unusual social and political power; it enables governments to
enact new policies, restrict freedoms and reorganize policing, whilst it can also provoke fear,
paranoia and uncertainty amongst the wider populace (see Savitch 2008). Western
governments and societies have faced these issues throughout the twentieth century as threats
posed by groups such as Al Qaida, the IRA, the UDA, the Barder Meinhof Gang or Brigate
Rosse have provoked responses within legal systems, modes of policing, security proceedings
and urban architecture (Coaffee 2003; Graham 2004). However, despite the upheavals caused
by such actions a resounding feature of this process has been a need to stress a degree of
normality (see Hills 2002). Indeed, a noticeable cultural response towards terrorism can be
identified as seemingly contradictory – to remain vigilant but to ‘carry on’ as normal (after
Žižek 2008). Repeatedly, in the wake of terrorist violence or the threat of terrorism, citizens
are encouraged to maintain the routines of their daily lives, as if an alteration in habit or
perception would carry some tacit victory for those who carried out the acts of terrorism. The
resulting pace at which buildings are reconstructed, businesses are resumed and the structures
of society are returned to their previous state has a significant effect on the sites of terrorist
violence. These places can be cast as liminal; situated on the periphery of society their history
is forgotten and neglected. The sites of the late nineteenth century terrorist attacks of the
‘Fenians’ in London provides a case in point (Jenkins 2008). The locations of these
significant bomb explosions are absent in a city which is otherwise highly cognizant of its
heritage and history. Such absences are as conspicuous and limiting as the dedications of sites
of terrorist atrocities as ‘sacred to the nation’ or ‘scenes of martyrdom’.
Towards an Archaeology of Terrorism
An archaeology of terrorism, therefore, must address the complex responses to terrorist
violence and destruction. In engaging with the material and immaterial responses to sites of
terrorism the archaeologist is situated within a context whereby victims, survivors, wider
society, governments and terrorist groups are considered within a nexus of meanings (after
Moshenska 2008a). Evidently, it is the latter which poses both epistemological and ethical
problems, as to grant extremist groups space within an analytical framework would appear to
confer violent acts with the legitimacy of acceptable discourse. However, the goal of an
archaeology of terrorism should be to ensure that violent actions are not ‘closed off’,
‘tactically forgotten’ or provided with singular interpretations. In this manner, sites of
terrorism are well suited to the subject of archaeology, as a recovery of the layers of meaning
and a commitment to analysing long term trends resists simplistic assessments which might
otherwise denounce ‘evil’ actions or praise ‘heroic’ endeavours (after Hodder 1992). Such an
approach does not entail that terrorist acts involving murder, violence and destruction are
placed within a relativistic interpretation and devoid of meaning; rather, it acknowledges that
the meaning of events, their place in ‘collective memory’ are a process of representation,
structured by governments, media and political discourse (after Baudrillard 1995). An
examination of the sites of terrorism, their tangible and intangible legacies, presents a means
of addressing the effect and affect of terrorism upon the communities themselves by focusing
on what those communities possess in common. In this manner, sites of terrorism can be
understood within Latour’s (2005) notion of a ‘democracy of things’. In this approach, Latour
(2005: 16) describes how objects of concern, of discourse or of debate, create different
assemblies around themselves that interpret and perceive that object differently. An objectcentred democracy enables a space where those assemblies can discuss those differences on
the basis of that object. Therefore, assemblies debate what is held in common rather than
what divides:
In the object-orientated conception, “parliament” is a technical term for “making
things public” among many other forms of producing voices and connections among
(Latour 2005: 34)
Within this conception, sites of terrorism can be reconceptualised as locales of public debate
for what unites a community or group, as singular interpretations of terrorist atrocities by
governments or by extremist groups are negated. This consideration follows Husserl’s (1970:
12) command to return ‘back to the things themselves’ by offering a consideration of the
matter that matters. The locales of terrorist attacks and their vicinities can, therefore, act as
arenas where diverse responses such as hatred, understanding, remorse, resolution,
nationalism and morality can be debated. Significantly, however, these are regarded as
responses which are held in reply to a common object; not as an imposed framework of
commemoration or ‘tactical forgetting’.
It is these tangible and intangible responses to such events which are the subject of
this analysis, as the terrorist attacks in New York throughout the twentieth century have
resulted in both presence and absence within the urban landscape. The city, therefore, can be
interpreted as a palimpsest, with the traces of events and actions obscured, overlaid or
ossified within the cityscape (after Hall 2006). To re-orientate the sites of violence within the
contemporary city as a means of engaging what is held in common across society, Jameson’s
(1991) consideration of ‘cognitive mapping’ can be employed. Jameson (1991: 51-52) offers
‘cognitive mapping’ as a way of alleviating the processes of late capitalist society. In this
critique, the perspective of the individual is limited through political, social and moral
confinement in order to perpetuate the conditions of the capitalist system (Jameson 1991: 54).
‘Cognitive mapping’, rejects this confinement by connecting individuals and societies with a
broader understanding of their place and their connections within a larger local, national and
global system. By using historical accounts of terrorist attacks and their contemporary place
within the city’s landscape this analysis provides a means of engendering a ‘cognitive map’
of terrorist violence within New York. This approach, therefore, enables individuals to place
themselves within a wider nexus of issues, concerns, histories, perspectives and viewpoints
(after Jameson 1992: 189). Through applying this scheme of analysis to the sites of terrorist
attacks, the implications of what is held in common and what is used to divide or attributed to
some singular interpretation can be assessed.
This approach shares a great deal of similarity with developments across a number of
disciplines that has resulted in the recent emergence of ‘critical terrorism studies’ (see
Chomsky and Herman 1979; Zulaika and Douglass 1996; Jackson et al 2009). Under this
banner, scholars have attempted to investigate the cultural, social and political meanings of
terrorism within contemporary societies from all perspectives, including the perpetrators of
terrorist violence, the targets of terrorist attacks and the victims of terrorism (Rosenfeld
2011). These studies have highlighted the way in which acts of terrorism in its enactment,
representation and in its aftermath are constructed through a variety of discourses which can
serve to obfuscate, prevent or simplify the meanings of terrorist attacks for wider society
(Martin 2009). Indeed, the very definition of terrorism within this field is both politicised and
problematised as the labelling of an act as a terrorist attack is observed to denote value
judgements on those responsible for the action, the actions itself and those who are effected
by that action (Hodges and Nilep 2007). The rise in interest in terrorism studies in recent
years has also ensured that ‘terrorism’ has become a nebulous term encompassing a wide
variety of meanings and definitions. To avoid such confusions within this investigation, the
application of the term ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist act’ occurs within a defined framework.
‘Terrorism’ refers to an indiscriminate act or threat of violence which is intended to procure
financial, political or social aggrandisement for the perpetrator. Such a broad definition is not
intended to render the particular characteristics of terrorism as merely just another criminal
act; it is used to enable analysis of the response to violence, trauma and anxiety within
New York: Terrorism in the Twentieth Century
New York’s status as a world city from the nineteenth century, as a space for artists, political
radicals, global finance, as an international industrial entrepôt, as a symbol of ‘American’
dominance and as a final destination for millions of immigrants and refugees has made the
city both a target for terrorist acts and a haven for potential terrorist activity (Smith 1994).
Throughout the twentieth century, the city has been effected by this status as different groups
and individuals have launched terrorist attacks against the city, its infrastructure, its
businesses and its citizens (see Gage 2009). Indeed, New York has witnessed more terrorist
attacks than any other part of the United States. Between 1970 and 2007, 21% of the 1,347
terrorist activities in the United States occurred in New York, whilst in 1973 alone, 43% of
terrorist attacks in the United States targeted sites in New York (START 2011). Between
1900 and 2000, approximately 500 different acts of terrorism can be assessed within New
York, perpetrated by a range of organisations for various motives. The responses to these
attacks provide a means of reflecting upon how societies incorporate the occurrence of terror,
anxiety and violence. Through examining how the sites of terrorist attacks reflect a variety of
responses or have been provided with singular interpretations, the function of these locales in
forgetting or remembering and as spaces where communities can discuss what is held in
common can be comprehended.
The Black Hand Terror, 1900s-1910s
Immigration throughout the nineteenth century from the Italian peninsula had resulted in a
thriving Italian community within New York City by the turn of the twentieth century.
Indeed, census records reveal that by 1900 over 145,000 individuals born in Italy were living
in the thriving Italian areas of Brooklyn and the Lower West Side of Manhattan (Census
Office 1902: 107). However, with the development of these areas as well as the growth of
Italian-American businesses within the city, an Italian crime syndicate began targeting this
émigré community with threats, extortion, blackmail and a wave of terrorist violence that
plagued the city during the first two decades of the 1900s (Critchley 2009: 14). The Black
Hand originated in Southern Italy and its members established themselves in major cities in
the United States with sizeable Italian communities from the late nineteenth century (see
Lombardo 2009). As the organisation grew in confidence and developed its connections, the
tactics employed by members altered significantly. By 1900, the Black Hand had begun to
target prominent Italian-American individuals and businesses in New York to extort money
through the both the threat and the action of planting small explosive devices in tenements
and shop frontages (Critchley 2009: 29). These attacks were designed to instil terror within
the Italian communities of the city. The bombs used ranged from simple fireworks to larger
‘pipe-bombs’, which were crudely-fashioned from metal piping and filled with gun cotton
(Reid 1911).
Despite the rudimentary nature of the devices, the effect of the explosions was
substantial, spreading panic amongst residents and significant structural damage (White
1907). For example, a bomb explosion in Elizabeth Street in Manhattan, between Houston
and Prince Streets, in December 1909, resulted in significant damage to the bank and ticket
agency Carmello Sanfilippo & Company as well as terrifying local residents (New York
Times 1909). However, the attack was only one instance of the Black Hand campaign in the
street, with the area suffering four other separate attacks within the previous year. In another
event, in January 1908, a five storey tenement at 332 East Eleventh Street was left in ruins as
a large bomb explosion wrecked the building, forcing residents to leave the premises through
shattered timbers and broken glass and congregating in a panicked mass in the street (New
York Times 1908a) (see Figure 1). The explosion tore away the walls of the tenement,
destroying the ground floor shop, obliterating the block’s stairwell and shattering every
window in the building. These attacks brought significant structural damage but they also
resulted in horrifying members of the city’s Italian communities as attacks could lead to
significant injuries and in some instances the deaths of local residents (New York Times
The scale of these attacks was considerable. By 1906, over 100 separate bomb
incidents had occurred in the city since the turn of the century and the areas inhabited by
Italian communities in the Lower East Side had been termed the ‘Bomb Zone’ by the city’s
police and press (Warner 1909). The efforts to prevent these attacks and prosecute culprits
were continually hampered by the ‘hit-and-run’ tactics of the Black Hand and the murder of
the leading officer, Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino in Palermo in 1909 whilst investigating the
Black Hand’s operations in Italy (Anon 1909). The work to prevent the terror campaigns of
the Black Hand were also restrained by the perception, perpetuated within the popular press,
of the criminal network as being a specific problem for the Italian American community
(Reid 1911; White 1907; 1909). In this manner, the bomb attacks that tore through tenements,
disrupted businesses and terrified residents were regarded as a ‘foreign’ issue (after
Lombardo 2010). The response to each attack served to reinforce popular notions of New
York as a ‘un-American’ city or a city composed of ‘foreign villages’, blighted by problems
which derived from overseas (see New York Times 1905; 1908c). An attack on the city’s
Italian American community was, therefore, not an attack on the wider body politic – it
appeared as an embarrassment for the city’s politicians and police (see Woods 1909). The
reaction to the explosions was to rebuild and repair the shattered buildings and to continue.
There was no pause or reflection required for these events as they were not a shared problem.
Tenements, such as that on 332 East Eleventh Street were quickly restored to their previous
form and re-let to the city’s inhabitants. The attacks on the city’s Italian American
community by the Black Hand only began to subside as members of the community rose to
political prominence and organised resistance campaigns in the city (see White 1910). The
absence of recognition within the city for these sites of terror has ensured that this pursuit of
violence against one of New York’s diverse communities was forgotten. The material,
perceived space, where attacks against homes and businesses could not be considered as a
shared, conceived and lived space, as a common bond, was deferred as a singular
interpretation of the terror campaign as a ‘foreign’ issue was maintained. There is, therefore,
an absence in the contemporary city of these sites of reflection where residents can regard
how a community was targeted and victimised by a terror campaign.
German Subversives, 1914-1918
A notable feature in New York during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was the
substantial and prominent German communities in the city. Indeed, German migrants to the
United States seeking jobs, political tolerance and religious freedoms had ensured that the
German American population was one of the largest ethnic groups in the city in 1900, with
over 300,000 residents of New York born in Germany (Census 1902: 107). Through this
influx, New York was home to thriving German shops, businesses, beer halls and an
influential and politicised German language press (Nadel 1990; Schneider 1994; Shore et al
1992). A strong sense of German American identity was visible across the city as German
Lutheran and Catholic churches provided a means to maintain ties both with fellow émigrés
and with the homeland (see Dolan 1975). The outbreak of the Great War in August 1914 was,
therefore, a moment when a substantial number of German Americans in the city sided with
the Kaiser and supported the war aims of the Central Powers (see New York Staats Zeitung
1915). Whilst the United States remained neutral, New York was divided in its loyalties as
political, religious and ethnic connections swayed support for one of the opposing combatant
nations. Whilst members of the Anglophile elite formed the ‘Preparedness Movement’ to
ensure a ready supply of officers if the United States entered the war, the German-language
newspapers and supporters campaigned vociferously against what it perceived to be a bias
towards the Entente Powers within the popular press (see Vireck 1915). As New York
became a significant trading post for materials to assist the war effort of the Entente,
representatives of the German American community voiced their discontent over the United
State’s ability to proclaim its neutral status (see Leonard 1920).
Indeed, the city and national authorities were mindful of the potential support for
Germany in the city and began a process of surveillance for ‘suspect’ or ‘foreign’ groups
whilst posting armed guards on New York’s major bridges, roads and ports (see Chadbourne
1917). A growing fear of foreign subversives planning attacks on the city accompanied or
perhaps fuelled these moves (New York Times 1915). Lurid headlines denouncing German
plots to detonate bombs and destroy vital infrastructure were repeated themes within the
popular press (see New York Times 1917). Such fears appeared to be realised with the
immense explosion on Black Tom Island on July 30 1916 in New York Harbour, three
kilometres from downtown Manhattan (Landau 1937: 77). The site of Black Tom Island was
an important congregation point for exports and had become a storing area for war material
and ammunition en route to the Entente Powers. A series of explosions tore through the site
igniting the two million pounds of ammunition stored in the area, causing a shock wave that
smashed windows across Manhattan, inflicting significant damage upon the Statue of Liberty
and resulting in the evacuation of immigrants from Ellis Island. The resulting damage was
estimated to cost over $25,000,000 and at least seven people were killed by the explosion
itself or by resulting falling glass and debris (The Independent 1916). The resulting
investigation into the explosion did not result in any arrests but widespread suspicion was
placed upon German agents. This mistrust of the German American community was
heightened by the entry of the United States into the war in 1917 with prominent German
newspapers and individuals forced to proclaim their allegiance to their adopted nation. To
confirm the suspicions of German involvement, a commission initiated by Germany and the
United States in 1939 found Imperial Germany directly responsible for the explosion and
awarded significant damages to United States businesses (MacDonell 1995: 16-17).
The extensive damage to the site ensured that it remained derelict throughout the war
and fell into disrepair in the interwar years. The site became lost as a focus of memory as the
significance of the explosion was not valued by residents or authorities. The space of the
attack was closed off from an engagement with wider society. However, a programme of land
reclamation in the 1970s created a land bridge to the mainland and the site of Black Tom
Island was incorporated into the area of Liberty State Park in 1976. Perhaps befitting a park
that was opened in the bicentennial year, the space of the explosion was dedicated as a site of
terrorist violence against the nation. A circle of United States flags surrounds a plaque
dedicating itself to the explosion:
You are walking on a site which saw one of the worst acts of terrorism in American
(Liberty State Park 2011)
This interpretation of the site as an attack against ‘we the people’ has proliferated since the
dedication of the park. Indeed, the events of September 11 2001 have served to continue this
approach and cast the Black Tom Island explosion as a ‘warning from history’, as
commentators have linked the site and that of the World Trade Center to emphasise the need
for the United States to remain vigilant of alien and indeed domestic subversives (see
Doherty 2010). In this manner, the space of the explosion was interpreted and is still
perceived within a singular fashion that stresses the site as an attack upon the endeavour of
the nation itself. This memorialisation eclipses an interpretation of the space of the site as a
complex area that reflects the diversity of politics, culture and thought within American
society (after Jameson 1991: 54). The Black Tom Island explosion has, thereby, become
another lieu de memoire – a site in the collective memory of the nation whose origins have
been obscured whilst a singular aspect of its history has been reaffirmed as a ‘self-evident
truth’ (after Nora 1989: 7).
Anarchists, 1900s-1920s
Throughout the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, in Europe and the United
States, the Anarchist movement spread in popularity amongst disenfranchised social groups
(Goodway 1989). The Anarchist movement promoted the causes of workers’ rights and
called for the disestablishment of the capitalist system which repressed the majority of
society whilst enriching industrialists and businessmen. With the repression that followed
revolution in Europe after 1848, many political dissidents and refugees sought asylum in the
United States (Avrich 1995). The Anarchist cause thereby proliferated within the larger cities
in the United States as individuals and political groups sympathetic to the principles of the
Anarchists organised rallies, distributed materials and promoted their political beliefs
amongst working class Americans (see Goyens 2007). Whilst not necessarily committed to
terrorism to achieve political aims, Anarchist groups did consider violence as a means to
disrupt the operation of the capitalist system (see Hunter 1914). Therefore, the rise of
Anarchism within the country alarmed the political establishment as the prominence of the
Anarchist cause was firmly established with the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 in Chicago,
where a bomb thrown at an Anarchist rally resulted in a melee and the deaths of police
officers and civilians, and the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 by the
Anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, in Buffalo, New York State (Fine 1955). These events served to
heighten tensions within New York City, which possessed a substantial Anarchist following,
inspired by the radicals Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. Berkman founded the
American Anarchist Federation (AAF) in 1908 whilst Goldman’s publication Mother Earth
was first issued in 1906 and proclaimed its anarchist agenda targeting the growing resentment
regarding labour conditions within the city:
Mother Earth will endeavour to attract and appeal to all those who oppose
encroachment on public and individual life...The Earth free for the free individual!
(Goldman 1906: 4)
Issues such as unemployment, poor housing, low wages and oppressive working conditions
led many within New York to side with the Anarchists. This support manifested itself in a
wide readership for Anarchist literature, mass rallies to support the working classes and
violent attacks on the city’s establishment. The first instance of these terrorist acts occurred in
March 28 1908, during a rally for the unemployed of the city in Union Square, downtown
Manhattan, which had been banned by the city’s police (New York Times 1908b). An
Anarchist and member of the AAF, named Selig Cohen also know as Selig Silverstein,
attempted to throw an improvised bomb into a parade of police officers (Anon 1908). The
device exploded early, killing a passerby whilst severely wounding Cohen and causing panic
amongst the crowd. This event, whilst initially disowned by the Anarchists, led to the site
becoming a temporary memorial for the Anarchist cause. Whilst the police regularly
dispersed the crowds around the site of the explosion, preventing any permanent memorial
site to emerge, the significance of the Union Square site for the Anarchist cause was self
evident. The dichotomy of life in the city was plainly visible, as the area was home to some
of the metropolis’s wealthiest inhabitants whilst some of its poorest citizens slept rough in the
alleyways surrounding the square (Mother Earth 1907).
The bomb attack drew the ire of the popular press who characterised the Anarchists as
‘mad’, ‘fanatics’ or ‘loners’ whilst emphasising the ‘foreign’ element within the movement –
both Berkman and Goldman were émigrés to the United States (see Tobenkin 1908). These
tensions continued on July 4 1914 when four people were killed when an Anarchist cell based
in Manhattan on 1626 Lexington Avenue, accidently set off a bomb, intended for the
industrialist John D. Rockefeller, destroying the tenement. Berkman and fellow Anarchists
validated the activities of the Anarchist cell by criticising Rockefeller’s suppression of
workers’ rights (New York Times 1915). The wrecked tenement was quickly rebuilt and
evidence of the activities of the Anarchists were taken away by investigating officers. Whilst
the activities of the Anarchists declined during the First World War as Berkman and
Goldman were arrested and later deported for distributing anti-draft literature in 1917, a wave
of Anarchist violence spread across the city in the immediate post-war years (New York
Times 1919). Through April and June 1919, Anarchist supporters of the radical Luigi
Galleani, used letter bombs to strike at prominent businessmen, politicians and officials
across the United States (Feuerlicht 1971). With each bomb a letter outlining the ‘class war’
which would rid the world of ‘tyrannical institutions’ was addressed to the intended targets
(See House of Representatives 1920: 26). In New York, the house of Judge Charles C. Nott
on 151st East 61st, Manhattan, was targeted with an explosive device that killed a passing
night-watchman, injured others and destroyed the front of the house. The property was rebuilt
quickly which downplayed the significance of the attack whilst in response to this violence
Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer launched the ‘Palmer Raids’ in late 1919 and early
1920 which detained and deported suspected radicals within the United States (Feuerlicht
In what has been considered to be a retaliation for the ‘Palmer Raids’ and to continue
the ‘class war’, suspected Galleanists carried out, what was until the Oklahoma bombings of
1995, the largest terrorist attack in the United States. On September 16 1920, a horse-drawn
cart, carrying a device containing over 45 kilograms of explosives and over 200 kilograms of
shrapnel was detonated on Wall Street, the centre of American capitalist enterprise in
downtown Manhattan (Gage 2009). The resulting blast devastated the area, spraying debris
across the financial district, killing 38 people, wounding hundreds and causing substantial
damage to buildings and offices (see Figure 2). Despite a substantial manhunt over the next
decade, the perpetrators of the attack were not discovered. The area was, however, swiftly
rebuilt, the only trace of the attack that remained was the pockmarks caused by shrapnel on
the exterior of the J.P. Morgan Bank – a testament to the indefatigable nature of American
capitalist endeavour (see New York Times 1920). In this manner, the site of the explosion
followed the precedent set for all of the Anarchist attacks within the city. The rebuilding of
these sites of terrorism and the labelling of these actions as ‘extremist’ has contributed to the
subsequent disappearance of these events from the ‘collective memory’ (see Clymer 2002).
These sites as reflective of wider social and political unrest within the city and the wider
nation are thereby absent. The spaces of engagement with a violent past that reflects issues
of dissent, control and protest are obscured in the interpretation of the site that considers the
event solely as the result of ‘foreigners’ and ‘fanatics’. (INSERT FIGURE 2 NEAR HERE)
The Mad Bomber, 1940s-1950s
During the middle decades of the twentieth century, New York witnessed the explosion of a
series of bombs that terrorized the populace and appeared to reveal and exacerbate tensions
and divisions within the city. The campaign began in 1940 when two bombs were placed in
Manhattan, neither of which exploded, but they were left with messages indicating a vendetta
against the Consolidated Edison Company which has supplied power for the city since the
nineteenth century. Whilst the bomber indicated that no more bombs would be placed during
the Second World War, between 1950 and 1956 nearly 30 explosive devices were placed
around New York in public places, steadily increasing in size, contributing to a sense of fear
and paranoia amongst the city’s residents (Perlmutter 1956). These explosive devices were
crude, homemade effects, fabricated from everyday items such as battery-powered torches,
cheap watch mechanism, stockings, tape, copper wire and primed with gunpowder (New York
Times 1951). Places of public congregation appeared to be the favoured target with bombs
planted in Grand Central Station, the New York Public Library, bus terminals and theatres in
Manhattan and Brooklyn (Berger 1957). The devices were placed in lockers, public
telephones and within the interior of theatre seats. As these explosions occurred, the city’s
newspapers received letters proclaiming to be from the perpetrator which appeared to blame
the attacks on the Consolidated Edison Company and their mistreatment of the bomber (Life
1957: 34-35). Through these missives, which were often disjointed and confusing, accusing
the company of being ‘crooks’ and stating that the bombs would assist in gaining support
amongst the public for ‘justice’ for the bomber, the popular press dubbed the attacks the work
of the ‘Mad Bomber’ (See New York Journal American 1957). This appellation served both
to instil a sense of foreboding regarding the next target for this unbalanced terrorist and to
present a singular interpretation of these attacks on the city.
Whilst the explosions did not kill any victims they succeeded in injuring scores of
bystanders and generating a great deal of fear and paranoia within the city. Public places were
considered unsafe and the identity of the bomber became a divisive issue within the city as
different ethnic groups were accorded blame depending on stereotypical appearances. The
nature of the explosive devices, their location in public places and their indiscriminate targets
led some of the city’s diverse inhabitants to consider the bomber to be a ‘white male’, ‘a
nervous woman’, ‘an atheist’ or a ‘Protestant’. Similarly, the bomber was also accorded a
national identity based upon the attacks; ‘Russian’, ‘Polish’, ‘Italian’ or ‘German’ were the
most frequent suppositions as the bomber was assumed to reflect the characteristics of
particular national stereotypes (see Winick 1961). The suspicion and fear within the city were
heightened by December 1956 when an explosion occurred in the Paramount Theatre in
Brooklyn, seriously injuring six individuals. The terrorized populace were now casting
suspicions onto any individual:
...there was not a man in his right mind who dared to buy a cheap watch, a small piece
of pipe or a pair of red socks.
(Time Magazine 1957)
Officers investigating the terrorist attacks arrested George Metesky in January 1957 who
immediately confessed to being the ‘Mad Bomber’. His subsequent trial appeared to affirm
the newspaper headlines as Metesky was found to be mentally unbalanced and sentenced to a
psychiatric institution (Roth 1957). However, whilst the sites of the bomb attacks were
repaired and subsequently faded from public memory, what was also quickly forgotten was
the rapidity in which the city’s residents had cast aspersions upon others within their
communities. Removing the sites of terrorism from the material fabric of the city certainly
disengaged the fear within the city’s residents of indiscriminate attacks through a process of
‘carrying on’; however, it prevented an engagement with how citizens responded to the fear
that a fellow citizen or a neighbour could potentially be a terrorist or a ‘mad bomber’. Within
the contemporary city there exists no means of engaging with this history as the singular
interpretation of an unbalanced ‘mad bomber’ with a grudge against society terrorising the
body politic remains undiminished (see Greenburg 2011).
Political Terrorism, 1970s
Although New York experienced terrorist attacks throughout the twentieth century, during
the 1970s the occurrence of serious terrorism in the city increased dramatically (Smith 1994:
22). A range of political groups were responsible for these attacks as they sought to target
sites in New York to bolster their international profile, to destroy the property of companies
and overseas governments as well as to assail the social and political institutions of the
United States. For example, groups such as the Independent Armed Revolutionary
Commadoes, a Puerto Rican nationalist group that bombed United States Federal Buildings
and Puerto Rican banks and businesses in New York in the late 1970s, or Omega 7, an antiCastro Cuban organisation that bombed national consulates and businesses in the city which
supported or aided Communist Cuba, used New York because of its international financial
and diplomatic status (see González-Cruz 2008; Pérez-Stable 2010). Similarly, the Jewish
Defence League targeted the Soviet Embassy Officials and businesses with ties to the Soviet
Union in New York during the 1970s for the repression of Jews within the former Eastern
Bloc (see Hewitt 2000). However, a number of organisations also attacked sites in the city as
a direct response to the domestic and foreign policies of the United States. One of the most
substantial bombings of the period occurred on January 24 1975, when the Fuerzas Armadas
de Liberacion Nacional (FALN), a Puerto Rican nationalist movement, exploded a large
device within the historic Fraunces Tavern in downtown Manhattan, killing four people,
injuring over 50 and causing extensive damage to the area (see McFadden 1975). Notes were
attached nearby to the site which stated the reasoning for the bomb:
The Yanki (sic) government is trying to terrorize and kill our people to intimidate us
from seeking our rightful independence from colonialism
(quoted from Esposito and Gerstein 2007: 79)
The tavern was rebuilt and refurbished whilst, despite a lengthy investigation, those who
carried out the attack were not found. The rapidity by which this attack was forgotten is
striking. The tavern is considered historically significant for its role within the Revolutionary
War, when it was damaged by cannon fire, however, its role as a site of modern violence is
not considered. The terrorist attacks were interpreted both within the media and by the
authorities as the actions of ‘extremists’. The space of the terrorist violence, where
individuals had been killed or injured, where the politics of the nation and its wider global
role had been brutally questioned was reworked as the building was returned to its ‘normal
state’. This return to normality and the invocation to ‘carry on’ is also notable in the largest
terrorist attack in the city during the decade, the La Guardia Airport bombing on 29
December 1975 (see Kupperman and Smith 1978). A substantial device had been left in the
lockers within the baggage claim section of the airport. Its explosion killed eleven people,
injured nearly over 100 individuals and the force of the blast resulted in the partial collapse of
the building. No group claimed responsibility for the attack and no suspects were ever
apprehended by investigators. The airport, however, was swiftly returned to business, with
flights rescheduled and passengers able to fulfil journeys. This resumption in the aftermath of
an anonymous terrorist attack which left substantial damage and killed innocent bystanders
can only be comprehended within the context of the response to terrorist activities that impels
the wider public towards continuance rather than reflection.
An archaeology of terrorism can analyse the material and conceptual responses to terrorist
violence to investigate how modern society regards attacks against its infrastructure, its
politics and its people. Through this assessment the processes by which sites of murder and
destruction are marginalised, valorised or reinterpreted can be critically examined. New York
provides a significant case study through which to apply this approach as its role as ‘global
city’, as a cultural, political and financial hub, have made it a potential target throughout the
twentieth century for terrorist acts from a variety of groups. The manner in which these
terrorist attacks have been incorporated within the city’s material fabric indicates how
cultural and political responses to terrorism are largely constituted by an invocation to ‘carry
on’. This process of resuming normality in the wake of a terrorist attack is also accompanied
by the imposition of a singular meaning onto the event. Terrorist acts are denounced as the
action of ‘extremists’, ‘mad men’ or ‘criminals’. Whilst this attribution of meaning
underscores the moral outrage at the targeting of civilians or non-military targets it
nevertheless obscures the ability for the wider community to consider the meanings of the
attack for themselves. Although terrorist violence is often interpreted as an attack against the
state, its policies or its associations, the effects of that attack are experienced and lived with
by the wider community (see Hoskins 2011). Enabling a means by which that community can
engage with the effect of the terrorist attack on their physical and social environment
provides an alternative interpretation of the event (after Jameson 1991: 54).
The refusal of a single, simplistic assessment of a terrorist attack ensures that the
meaning of the event is not bound by a solitary ideology as a process of validating its cause
or agenda. The responses to the attack can, therefore, be contradictory, complex, nationalistic,
empathetic, angry, or loaded with campaigns for justice, resolution or recognition. This
multifarious reaction from New York’s citizens in the wake of the attacks of September 11
2001 is evidence of this process. Regardless of the form that these responses take, they take
shape through an engagement with what is held in common within a society. Terrorist attacks
that target civilians or public spaces where civilians congregate attack the shared spaces and
materials of communities. Acknowledging this through an engagement with the spaces of
terrorist violence provides a suitable goal for an archaeology of terrorism. A process of
‘making things public’ opens up the possibility of reinterpreting historical sites of terrorist
violence as a space where society can address how these acts can disrupt, disturb and divide
communities, but ultimately unify them in discussing what is held in common across society.
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