We've all followed recent events in Charleston. Domestic Terrorism is nothing new. As Howard Blum so well documents in his narrative nonfiction, American Lightning: Terror, Mystery and the Birth of Hollywood . By the time the smoke cleared at the Los Angeles Times Building on October 1, 1910, the building was in ruins, twenty-one people died, and dozens more were injured. As Anna writes her brothers from Los Angeles in Yours in a Hurry, there is no need to worry about the rumors of more bombs in the city as no one can do anything about it.
Los Angeles employers had successfully resisted unionization for nearly half a century. Desperate union officials turned to violence after setbacks they had suffered since 1906. Harrison Otis, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, was vehemently anti-union. Since 1896 he had been in control of the Merchants and Manufacturers' Association, spearheading a 20-year campaign to rid the city of its few remaining unions. The strongest, the Iron Workers, started a unionization campaign in the spring of 1910. A strike in June resulted in thirteen new unions by September, increasing union membership in the city by almost sixty percent.
The Los Angeles Times Building Bombing
It was a quiet night at 1st Street and Broadway until 1:07 a.m. when a bomb went off in an alley outside the three-story building. Many fell to their deaths by jumping out windows to escape the resulting fire, and many couldn't escape the flames. The "crime of the century" was carried out by members of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Workers who were not adept at planning. The bomb was supposed to go off at 4:00 a.m. when the building would have been empty, but the clock timing mechanism was faulty. There was not enough dynamite for the job. They didn't know that natural gas main lines ran under the building, and they were unaware that 115 people were still in the building working on an extra edition for the next day.
Organized labor was immediately suspect.
The investigation and trial brought experienced private detectives to town who searched the country to solve the case, but national labor leaders didn't like the way the situation was handled.
Brothers John J. and James B. McNamara were arrested in April 1911 for the bombing. James admitted to setting the explosive, and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. John was sentenced to 15 years in prison for bombing a local iron manufacturing plant, and returned to the Iron Workers union as an organizer. Another fifty five members and officers were eventually arrested and the investigation revealed the Dynamite Conspiracy, which was linked to more than 100 bombings across the country. The Iron Workers asked Clarence Darrow to defend the McNamaras, adding more national attention to their cause. The labor movement in Los Angeles collapsed in 1912 and only began to show signs of growth again in the 1950s.
Howard Blum, American Lightning: Terror, Mystery and the Birth of Hollywood
Photos and additional information: Library of Congress
Next time: Cy Young in Cleveland