Tag Archives: Long Island

Terror Spree: Harvard professor bombs U.S. Capitol, shoots JP Morgan

In the early days of July 1915, the United States was preparing for a subdued celebration of America’s 139th Independence Day.  It was hardly a festive time. War was still raging in Europe, and America was debating its entry on the side of Britain, Italy and France.

The deaths of 128 Americans aboard the RMS Lusitania on May 7 had forced the U.S.’s hand, some thought. President Woodrow Wilson pressed Germany for an apology while not yet calling for war. His Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan thought even that too harsh; he resigned in protest from Wilson’s cabinet in June.

The headlines were dire as it seemed the entire world would soon be caught in the maelstrom of the Great War.

And then, right before midnight, July 2, 1915, a bomb went off at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

It exploded in an empty reception area. “The explosion was a loud one and shook the entire building, breaking transoms and shattering plastering, ” said the Sun.  Windows and mirrors were smashed, but the only bodily harm it caused was throwing a watchman from his chair.

The Sun: “Some persons in the crowd which had gathered around the Capitol were inclined to believe that the bomb had been placed by some war fanatic as an act of resentment against the United States government.”

Below: The Capitol reception room after the explosion

1
Courtesy Library of Congress

They were right. And Eric Muenter wasn’t done.

Before newspaper readers in New York City would find out about the bombing, its instigator would have already arrived in their city, with a roster of further crimes on his mind.

Muenter (pictured below), a former professor at Harvard University*, was a German sympathizer angered at American intervention in the war. He spread his vitriol wide, preparing to target private businessmen personally funding war efforts.  In fact targeting one of America’s most wealthy financiers — JP Morgan Jr.

Below: Muenter after he was captured

4502797-4840111722-cover

Following his sabotage at the Capitol, Muenter fled to New York on the morning of July 3 to wreak further chaos. He had a makeshift headquarters at the Mills Hotel (Seventh Avenue and 36th Street) where he had stored dozens of sticks of dynamite and fuses. At the port of New York, he managed to sneak aboard the SS Minnehana, an ocean liner filled with explosives destined for England, and install a time bomb to detonate once the ship was at sea.

Minnehaha-01
Courtesy Library of Congress

It’s at this time that a similar time bomb was placed at New York Police Headquarters at 240 Centre Street. The device here was later believed to be from the same batch of dynamite as Muenter’s. If he was involved, you have to admit he was incredibly efficient with his time, for by 8 am, he had boarded a train, headed to Glen Cove, Long Island.

Below: New York’s Inspector of Combustibles with Muenter’s steamer trunk filled with dynamite. (Courtesy Glen Cove Heritage)

Courtesy Glen Cove Heritage

JP Morgan Jr. had been in control of his father’s banking empire since the elder’s death in 1913. The son embodied America’s involvement in the Great War in the years before the U.S.’s official entry. He facilitated an unprecedented loan of 500 million dollars to the Allied countries, backed by a consortium of over 2,000 American banks.  The loans would soon grow to almost 3 billion dollars.

This made the financier both a symbol of American beneficence for some and a target of unwanted intervention for others. New York was a great stew of European diversity in the 1910s, and the far-away war often played out in the streets of New York, especially in German communities.

Morgan Jr had his recently-built summer home in Glen Cove, a palatial manor called Matinecock Point (pictured below). This was Muenter’s destination.

The assailant arrived, armed with two revolvers and a set of dynamite in his pocket, during an opportune breakfast meeting; the Morgans just happened to be entertaining the British ambassador Sir Cecil Spring-Rice.

Courtesy American Homes of Today, 1924
Courtesy American Homes of Today, 1924

At the door, Muenter pulled a gun on Morgan’s butler who, quickly thinking, directed the intruder down an opposite hall then shouted in the other direction for the Morgans to hide.  The family scattered throughout the house.

Eventually, for the safety of their children, the Morgans did appear at the second floor landing and lured Muenter to them.

“Now Mr. Morgan I have got you.” he said reportedly.

His wife Jane attempted to leap in front of the gunman but was harshly shoved out of the way.  Muenter then shot Morgan twice and prepared to fire again from the second pistol.

Fortunately Morgan had actually fallen into the gunman, pinning him to the floor. This allowed time for Mrs. Morgan and the children’s elderly nurse to finally apprehend the shooter. The fact that Spring-Rice, the British ambassador, also personally assisted in the capture of the shooter seems especially notable.

His plan thwarted, Muenter reportedly exclaimed, “Kill me! Kill me now! I don’t want to live any more. I have been in a perfect hell for the last six months on account of the European war.”

eric

Originally giving his names as Frank Holt, it was soon discovered that the assailant was in fact Muenter, the former Harvard professor.  In 1906, he was accused of poisoning his pregnant wife.  Most likely, he did indeed kill her, for he disappeared from campus, changing his name to avoid arrest and had apparently spent years cultivating this new identity.

Once in custody on Long Island, Muenter spilled the beans. “I wanted to attract the attentions of the country to the outrages being committed by those who are sending the munitions of war to the Allies.” [source]

Below is a fragment of a letter Muenter wrote to his father-in-law while in custody. “I learned to my sorrow that Mrs. M[organ] was hurt,” it begins.
letter

On July 5th the explosion at New York Police Headquarters went off, following another explosion at the home of Andrew Carnegie.  Nobody was hurt in these blasts. These similar explosions were later declared unrelated to the Muenter incident itself, but it grimly reinforces the danger New Yorkers faced during wartime, even so far away from the battlefields.

Morgan quickly recovered from his injuries although the attack had a chilling effect among the residents of Long Island’s Gold Coast. Security was quickly beefed up at Matinecock Point and at the estates of other wealthy financiers associated with the Morgan bank loan.

Below: Muenter in custody

Muenter

On the evening of July 6, Muenter leaped to his death from his cell at Nassau County jail in Mineola. While it was but a short drop, he had jumped head first, crushing his skull. The death was so bizarre and sudden — it actually made a loud, deafening thud — that investigators initially believed that he had placed a blasting cap in his teeth to hasten his demise.

But the reign of terror wasn’t over.  The time bomb that Muenter had placed aboard the SS Minnehaha did eventually explode while the ship was in the Atlantic. While it caught the ship ablaze, fortunately the ship was able to reroute to Halifax, and the fire was safely put out.

4

 

 

For more information on this spellbinding case, I highly recommend this excellent write-up by Daniel E. Russell for Glen Cove Heritage.

NOTE: Original version of this story featured the mugshot of another bomber Alexander Burkman. It’s been corrected to include the proper mugshot.

*Press reports initially thought he was from Cornell.

The Dictaphone Murder Trial of 1914: A Mystery In Pictures

Does this woman look like a murderer to you?

This is Florence Carman, the wife of Dr. Edwin Carman, one of the most respected men in Freeport, on Long Island’s south shore.  Mrs. Carman would be at the center of a murder trial that captivated New Yorkers 100 years ago.

Dr. Carman received a visitor in his office on July 1, 1914, one Louise “Lulu” Bailey.  Her visit was after hours, so we can perhaps surmise the tenor of their engagement.  So, does it seem, did Mrs. Carman.

Here’s Dr. Carman, the subject of his wife’s suspicions and the possible recipient of Mrs. Bailey’s affections:

That evening, claimed Dr. Carman, as he entered his office to meet Mrs. Bailey, somebody shot at her through the window. She fell dead to the floor.  I should add that the office just happened to be on the ground floor of the Carman’s Freeport home, a handsome structure, “one of the show places of the village.”

Below: Investigators case the Carman’s house for clues

The following day revealed a bizarre twist — Florence had purposefully left on a Dictaphone machine on in the office.  After the police left, she removed it from the crime scene and hid it in the attic.

At right: One example of a Dictaphone machine from the 1920s..

Mrs. Carman, it seems, did not trust her husband with any female patients.  With the Dictaphone on, she could listen in on the conversations between the doctor and his patients.  In particular, she could spy upon any possible dalliance between her husband and Mrs. Bailey.

Her guilt seemed assured when witnesses declared seeing a “woman in white” standing on the porch at the time of the murder.

For many days, suspicions actually volleyed between the doctor and his wife.  For instance, some days later, Dr. Carman claimed that he was shot at by a man on a bicycle while entering his house, a tale others contradicted.  Detectives actually re-enacted the murder with the doctor and his wife.

From the New York Sun:  “The detective took the part of the assassin, creeping at dusk among the hemlocks and crawling, pistol in hand, to the window of Dr. Carman’s office through which Mrs. Bailey was shot.”

At left: A map of the murder scene from the New York Sun

Guilt eventually rested on Mrs.Carman, who was arrested exactly one week after the murder.

Meanwhile, Bailey’s murder swept away all other news of the day, filling the New York newspapers for weeks with the possibility of a salacious scandal.

Here’s the Doctor with his daughter Elizabeth Carman, who later took the stand to defend her mother:

Florence was brought up on charges of murdering Bailey, and evidence was brought before the Freeport Justice of the Peace.  In October, the case went to trial in the nearby town of Mineola.

The following photographs were taken outside the courthouse.

Florence’s defense rested on the testimony of Celia Coleman, the Carman’s maid, who produced a solid alibi for Mrs. Carman, proving she was inside the house the entire time, not on the porch, and thus not the “woman in white.”

However, by October, Coleman claimed that Florence had in fact crept out the back door moments before the fatal murder.  Then she testified….

The reasons for her conflicting stories are muddled, but she may have been covering for her employer then later told the truth.  Or else, she was bought off, as a later conspiracy theorized, brought forth a more tantalizing story to the delight of newspaper men everywhere.

The dashing Dr. William Runcie also took to the stand in regards to the presence of the Dictaphone and whether it was an indication of her mental state.

Runcie had come to the house on the evening of the murder, and Florence had told her then of hiding the machine in the office. But she urged Runcie not to tell her husband this fact.  He tried to brush away this fact.  “While it is out of the ordinary, I cannot see why so much importance is given to it.” [source]

Another witness named George Golder, who had originally testified of Mrs. Carman’s guilt, now “made an affidavit practically repudiating his identification of the doctor’s wife as the woman he saw on the porch.” [source]  His testimony was later used to cast guilt upon Doctor Carman.

Below: A jury of her peers?

The family of the deceased woman made a dramatic entrance.  This is Lulu’s daughter, mother and husband.

A little sex appeal was brought into the courtroom with the appearance of Florence Raynor, specifically there to contradict the testimony of another man who claimed to have seen Mrs. Carman on the porch that night.

In the end, the jury could not come to a consensus regarding Mrs. Carman’s guilt.  Wrote the New York Times, “After deliberating for thirteen and a quarter hours, the jurors in the trial of Mrs. Florence C. Carman for the alleged murder of Mrs. Lulu D. Bailey filed wearily into the Supreme Court room at 10:58 o’clock this morning and the foreman announced that it was impossible for them to come to any agreement.”

She was re-tried in May of 1915 and given a vigorous grilling on the stand. The New York Times makes note of the soft-spoken woman raising her voice for the very first time — evidence, so goes the inference, of the trial taking its toll upon her.  The jury sympathized with her and finally acquitted her of the murder.

By this time, of course, the story was relegated to the back pages, as world events — and other local murder cases — monopolized the attentions of New Yorkers.

To this day, the murder of Lulu Bailey has not been solved.  It’s unclear whether justice was really served that day.  “I do not believe a jury in Nassau County can be brought to convict a woman of murder in the first degree,” said the district attorney.

All the photographs above are courtesy the Library of Congress.

Come to the Airdome! Over 100 years of outdoor movies in NYC

[Outdoor movie theater.]

An outdoor movie theater in Brighton Beach, 1920. (MCNY)

It’s outdoor movie time again in New York City!  The tradition of screening films in city parks at dusk has become more popular than ever. (Just check out this complete list of this year’s offerings.)  As you prepare to spread your blanket on the lawn of Bryant Park to await a Hollywood classic, just realize that you are part of a grand tradition in the city that traces back almost one hundred years.

Yes, there were outdoor (or open air) theaters showing films almost as soon as the medium became popular.  This is not terribly surprising.  There were already outdoor playhouses for theater and vaudeville, and, in an era of over-crowded tenements and no air conditioning, any reason to sit outside on a nice summer’s night seemed practically luxurious.

One drawback outdoor movie lovers deal with today is the loud city interfering with the sound of the movie.  Not so then; the city might have been loud, but the movies had no sound.  It was a purely visual sensation, a thrilling entertainment light show under the moonlight.

At right: An advertisement for a rare Midtown open-air theater.  The lights of Broadway and street noise would have been a serious impediment. 

Early outdoor theaters in New York, sometimes called airdomes, were not usually in city parks, but in abandoned lots or open spaces in upper Manhattan.  Here’s a description of an airdome from a 1914 exhibition guide:  “An airdome is simply an outside moving picture show that is run on practically the same lines as the old summer garden, and is therefore essentially a fair-weather show, although a few airdomes are equipped with pavilions.”

Airdomes were designed to be temporary although you did need a permit from the city to operate one. Other than that, anybody could do it! “Nothing elaborate …is necessary for a successful airdome,” said the guide. “The chairs and tables may be of the ordinary kitchen variety.”

Below: An advertisement for two Brooklyn airdomes — in Coney Island and Prospect Heights (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

From surveying various newspapers from the 1910s, it appears most airdomes were located either in upper Manhattan and the Bronx (where there were more open lots) or in Coney Island (where the masses went for recreation).

Before 1915, movies were one-reelers, quite short, and often featured alongside live acts as part of a vaudeville routine.  This airdome (listed in the July 1909 New York Sun) was typical of the day:

Outdoor movie theaters were so prevalent in the 1910s that, during planned war time electrical blackouts in 1918, they were specifically mentioned as a “bonafide food and entertainment establishment” alongside “roof gardens and outdoor restaurants.”  [source]

As with modern outdoor theaters, sometimes reality elbows its way into picture.  One of the Bronx’s most prominent open air moving picture theatres was the Nickelet (at Tremont and Prospect avenues), presumably named for the admission price.  One evening in June 1913, audiences witnessed a terrifying sight — a woman burning to death in a building adjacent to the theater lot.  Audience members scrambled to her rescue to no avail.

The transient nature of the airdome — and the ability for anybody with a license to have one — did cause friction at times. During the spring of 1909, in the Long Island town of Freeport, a Brooklyn man enraged the town when he set up an airdome there even though he was not a town resident.

The airdome never went away of course.  But the experience paled in comparison to the grand delights of the movie palaces, especially when air conditioning technology came along.  They eventually died out, along with the rooftop garden, in the 1920s, only to return later in the century when sound and projection technologies allowed for a more enjoyable evening at the movies.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’re reading this outside! Create your own airdome experience and watch this film — Charlie Chaplin’s Sunnyside — enjoyed by Brooklynites over 90 years ago in an outdoor moving picture theater:

 

The Queens boundary line, some amazing New York City trivia, and a clarification to our latest podcast

 Reaction to the Bowery Boys podcast on the Consolidation of 1898 has been tremendous!  But I do have one clarification, and provided by a very excellent source.

The accurate placing of the boundary line between Queens and the newly created Nassau County was a source of frustration for a great many months after consolidation.  I recounted one such tale involving a schoolhouse in Hempstead, included within New York City’s border after a revised survey was completed. (You can read the complete tale here.)

But that is only one part of the story, specific to the area around that particular building.  It may have gained a schoolhouse, but in fact, overall, New York City lost land in the revised survey, and quite a bit of it too!

According to Manhattan borough historian Michael Miscione:  “When the NYS legislature created Nassau County on Jan. 1, 1899 out of that portion of Queens County that was not part of Queens Borough, they almost entirely redrew the Queens Borough line. In the process, Greater New York did NOT gain territory as you state; though it may have acquired an extra sliver of real estate here and there in the resurvey, NYC ultimately LOST about 12 square miles.

Check out the Queens Borough border on an 1897/8 map versus a map from 1899 or later, and the difference is obvious. As a consequence, NYC was the largest it has ever been during the 12 months from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 1898! (A very cool piece of trivia that might come in handy some day.)”

Thanks for that great information, Michael!   If you enjoyed our podcast, you’ll have to check out Miscione’s upcoming lecture on the most malleable neighborhood in the history of New York — Marble Hill, the Manhattan neighborhood that’s really in the Bronx:

PEOPLE V. BOYD: THE MURDER TRIAL THAT NEARLY REDREW THE MAP OF NEW YORK CITY 

Manhattan Borough Historian Michael Miscione will describe the peculiar and complex status of Marble Hill, a neighborhood that is attached to the Bronx but is legally a part of Manhattan. (Or is it?)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013
6:00p The General Society Library
20 West 44th St. (Between 5th & 6th Aves.)
 $15 general admission / $10 General Society members / $5 students
Advanced registration is suggested.
Call 212.840.1840 ext. 2, or email victoria.dengel@generalsociety.org .
http://www.generalsociety.org/

Above: A map of the town of Hempstead in 1876.  Part of its western border was affected by the re-surveying of the border with New York City.