JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork)–Long before September 11 there was another catastrophic act of terror that shook lower Manhattan.

It happened across the harbor at a place called Black Tom Island.

“Out of nowhere, suddenly New York harbor lit up, hit the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island… windows came blowing out of the skyscrapers and all hell broke loose,” veteran journalist Jules Witcover, author of “Sabotage At Black Tom,” told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. 

In the wee hours of July 30, 1916 there was a colossal explosion of seismic proportions at a munitions depot, where Liberty State Park is today in Jersey City.

“The explosion woke up most of Manhattan. People, by the thousands, grabbed cabs or cars or on foot and went down to lower Manhattan to see what was going on and also the fireworks were over the city, thousands of thousands of skyscraper windows were blown out by the explosion. It was heard as far south as Philadelphia,” Witcover said.

In July of 1916, the United States had not yet entered what would become known as World War I. Witcover outlines a web of espionage, linking German spies and saboteurs to the fire and explosion. They were trying to keep U.S. arms from getting to the British.

“The German ambassador to the United States in Washington was assigned by the German foreign department to oversee all these sabotage operations and finance them,” he said.

Witcover said a handful of people were killed, including a baby that was thrown from its crib. A plaque in Liberty State Park calls the Black Tom explosion one of the worst acts of terrorism in American history.

July 30 marks 100 years since the act of sabotage rocked New York, New Jersey and beyond.

 

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