November 16, 1940: Mad Bomber of New York Plants First Bomb

George Metesky, the most disgruntled of all disgruntled workers, planted his first bomb at a Consolidated Edison power plant on Manhattan.  A former Marine, Metesky had worked for Consolidated Edison and been injured at a work place accident in 1931.  Consolidated Edison successfully defeated his legal attempt to obtain compensation, his last appeal occurring in 1936.  (He waited too long in order to file a claim under workers compensation.)  He developed a strong hatred for the company, and decided to use homemade bombs to get his vengeance.  His first bomb was a crude one, a brass pipe filled with gunpowder, with an ignition mechanism consisting of batteries and sugar.  The bomb was discovered before it could go off.  It was wrapped in a note signed F.P. stating :  CON EDISON CROOKS – THIS IS FOR YOU.

In September 1941 the police found a similar bomb, this time a dud, without a note, laying in the street, five blocks from Consolidated Edison headquarters.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Metesky sent a note to the police stating:  I WILL MAKE NO MORE BOMB UNITS FOR THE DURATION OF THE WAR – MY PATRIOTIC FEELINGS HAVE MADE ME DECIDE THIS – LATER I WILL BRING THE CON EDISON TO JUSTICE – THEY WILL PAY FOR THEIR DASTARDLY DEEDS… F.P.

He kept his word, and took a ten year hiatus from planting bombs.  Between 1951-1956 he planted at least 31 bombs in New York City, twenty-two of which exploded.  Mercifully no one was killed, but fifteen people were injured.

The public was getting hysterical due to the police inability of stopping the bombings, the New York City police being surrounded by blind leads and a wave of false confessions.  They turned to criminologist James Brussels who worked out a profile of the bomber that was published in newspapers by the police:

Male, as historically most bombers were male. Well proportioned and of average build, based on studies of hospitalized mental patients. Forty to fifty years old, as paranoia develops slowly. Precise, neat and tidy, based on his letters and the workmanship of his bombs. An exemplary employee, on time and well-behaved. A Slav, because bombs were favored in Middle Europe. A Catholic, because most Slavs were Catholic. Courteous but not friendly.

Has a good education but probably not college. Foreign-born or living in a community of the foreign-born – the formal tone and old-fashioned phrasing of the letters sounded to Brussel as if they had been written or thought out in a foreign language and then translated into English. Based on the rounded letter “w’s” of the handwriting, believed to represent breasts, and the slashing and stuffing of theater seats, Brussel thought something about sex was troubling the bomber, possible an oedipus complex – loving his mother and hating his father and other authority figures.

A loner, no friends, little interest in women, possibly a virgin. Unmarried, perhaps living with an older female relative. Probably lives in Connecticut, as Connecticut has high concentrations of Slavs, and many of the bomber’s letters were posted in Westchester County, midway between Connecticut and New York City.

Pleased by all the publicity, Metesky entered into a taunting correspondence with the police by sending letters to the New York Journal American.  A Consolidated Edison clerk, Alice Kelly finally broke the case.  She had been assigned to examine files in which injured workers had made explicit or implicit threats.  She noticed that some of the phrases used in Metesky’s letters to Consolidated Edison matched the correspondence  sent by F.P. to the New York Journal American.  Police arrested Metesky on January 21, 1957.  He made a complete confession and told the officers that F.P.  stood for Fair Play.  Found to be insane, Metesky spent 25 years in a mental hospital before being released, having been unresponsive to therapy but otherwise a model inmate.  He died twenty years later in 1994, age 90.

Published in: on November 16, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 16, 1940: Mad Bomber of New York Plants First Bomb  
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George Templeton Strong on the New York City Draft Riots

A video from the BBC show Copper gives us a good summary of the New York City draft riots.  The draft law which went into effect in the summer of 1863 was immensely unpopular.  New York was not the only city to experience riots because of it, Buffalo and Boston for example also experiencing disturbances, but New York was by far the worst.  Ironically, the first drawing of numbers for the draft on July 11, 1863 went off peacefully.  The second day of drawing of numbers on July 13, 1863 set off the worst urban riots hitherto seen in American history.  For a week New York was in turmoil from anti-draft rioting that in the history of New York City is known as Draft Week.

Diarist George Templeton Strong, a rich lawyer living in New York City, left an eyewitness account of those days.  As can be seen from his account Strong hated the Irish.  The riots cemented but did not create his antipathy.  Here is a typical non-riot related mention of the Irish:

The earth had caved in a few minutes before and crushed the breath out of a pair of ill-starred Irish laborers. They had just been dug out, and lay white and stark on the ground. Around them were a few men and fifteen or twenty Irish women, wives, kinfolk or friends. The women were raising a wild, unearthly cry, half song, wailing as a score of daylight Banshees. Now and then one of them would throw herself down on one of the corpses, or wipe some trace of defilement from the face of the dead man with her apron, slowly and carefully, and then resume her lament. It was an uncanny sound to hear. Our Irish fellow citizens are almost as remote from us in temperament and constitution as the Chinese.

Even with such a strong prejudice, Strong is an important source for the riots, especially as they appeared to the non-Irish.   Here are his diary entries for those days: (more…)

On the Sidewalks of New York

The past is a wonderful place to visit, even if we wouldn’t want to live there.

Published in: on March 24, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on On the Sidewalks of New York  
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March 5, 1864: Ovation for a Black Regiment

26th United States Colored Troops

Following the draft riots in New York City in July 1863 where blacks were hunted and murdered in the streets by mobs, the Union League of New York City helped the blacks of the city recover from the devastation inflicted upon them, and in December 1863 received permission to sponsor the raising of a black regiment.  The regiment was duly raised, the 26th Infantry, United States Colored Troops.  They would see service on the South Carolina coast, fight in several engagements, and be mustered out on August 28, 1865.  On March 5, 1864, they paraded before a crowd of 100,000 New Yorkers, white and black, and a reporter from the New York Times marveled at the change from just nine months before: (more…)

How Dagger John Saved the Irish

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Matthew 6:33

Archbishop John Hughes of New York, universally known to friend and foe as Dagger John, was  a very tough and fearless man.  After the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844 he called on the mayor of New York, an anti-Catholic bigot, and informed him that if a single Catholic church was touched in New York, New York would be a second Moscow.  (The reference was to the burning of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon’s occupation of the city.) Not a Catholic church was touched.  On another occasion when a threat was made to burn Saint Patrick’s cathedral the Archbishop had it guarded within hours by 4,000 armed Catholics.  He earned his nickname!

Among his many accomplishments was his success in leading the New York Irish out of poverty.  It is a fascinating story and relevant to our time.  In 1997 in City Journal, William J. Stern wrote an article on how Dagger John did it:

Hughes once remarked that “the Catholic Church is a church of discipline,” and Father Richard Shaw, Hughes’s most recent biographer, believes that the comment gives a glimpse into the inner core of his beliefs. Self-control and high personal standards were the key—and Hughes’s own disciplined labors to improve himself and all those around him, despite constant ill health, embodied this ethic monumentally. Hughes proclaimed the need to avoid sin. His clergy stated clearly that certain conduct was right and other conduct was wrong. People must not govern their lives according to momentary feelings or the desire for instant gratification: they had to live up to a code of behavior that had been developed over thousands of years. This teaching produced communities where ethical standards mattered and severe stigma attached to those who misbehaved. The priests stressed the virtue of purity, loudly and unambiguously, to both young and old. Sex was sinful outside marriage, no exceptions. Packed together in apartments with sometimes two or three families in a single room, the Irish lived in conditions that did not encourage chastity or even basic modesty. Women working in the low-paid drudgery of domestic service were tempted to work instead in the saloons of Five Points, which often led to a life of promiscuity or prostitution. The Church’s fierce exhortations against promiscuity, with its accompanying evils of out-of-wedlock births and venereal disease, took hold. In time, most Irish began to understand that personal responsibility was an important component of sexual conduct. Since alcohol was such a major problem for his flock, Hughes—though no teetotaler himself—promoted the formation of a Catholic abstinence society. In 1849 he accompanied the famous Irish Capuchin priest, Father Theobald Mathew, the “apostle of temperance,” all around the city as he gave the abstinence pledge to 20,000 New Yorkers. A religion of discipline, stressing conduct and the avoidance of sin, can be a pinched and gloomy affair, but Hughes’s teaching had a very different inflection. His priests mitigated the harshness with the encouraging Doctrine of the Sacred Heart, which declares that if you keep the commandments, God will be your protector, healer, advisor, and perfect personal friend. To a people despised by many, living in desperate circumstances, with narrow economic possibilities, such a teaching was a bulwark against anger, despair, and fear. Hughes’s Catholicism was upbeat and encouraging: if God Almighty was your personal friend, you could overcome. Hughes’s teaching had a special message for and about women. Women outnumbered men by 20 percent in New York’s Irish population partly because of famine-induced emigration patterns and partly because many Irish immigrant men went west from New York to work on building railways and canals. Irish women could find work in New York more easily than men could, and the work they found, usually as domestics, was steadier. Given the demographic facts, along with the high illegitimacy rate and the degree of family disintegration, Hughes clearly saw the need to teach men respect for women, and women self-respect.

He did this by putting Catholicism’s Marian Doctrine right at the center of his message. Irish women would hear from the priests and nuns that Mary was Queen of Peace, Queen of Prophets, and Queen of Heaven, and that women were important. The “ladies of New York,” Hughes told them, were “the children, the daughters of Mary.” The Marian teaching encouraged women to take responsibility for their own lives, to inspire their men and their children to good conduct, to keep their families together, and to become forces for upright behavior in their neighborhoods. The nuns, especially, encouraged women to become community leaders and play major roles in church fund-raising activities—radical notions for a male-dominated society where women did not yet have the right to vote. In addition, Irish men and women saw nuns in major executive positions, managing hospitals, schools, orphanages, and church societies—sending another highly unusual message for the day. Irish women became important allies in Hughes’s war for values; by the 1850s they began to be major forces for moral rectitude, stability, and progress in the Irish neighborhoods of the city. When Hughes went beyond spiritual uplift to the material and institutional needs of New York’s Irish, he always focused sharply on self-help and mutual aid. On the simplest level, in all parishes he encouraged the formation of church societies—support groups, like today’s women’s groups or Alcoholics Anonymous, to help people deal with neighborhood concerns or personal and family problems, such as alcoholism or finding employment. In these groups, people at the local level could exchange information and advice, and offer one another encouragement and constructive criticism. (more…)

Published in: on August 20, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on How Dagger John Saved the Irish  
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