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1916 Black Tom Blast Anniversary Observed

A recent study theorized that the force of the Black Tom blast would have been equal to a 5.5-magnitude earthquake, more than 30 times greater than the collapse of the World Trade Center's north tower, which registered 2.3 at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Palisades, N.Y.

German suspects fled the country after being identified through a secret message, written in lemon juice and visible only when held over a flame. Tracked to Latin America, agent Lothar Witzke told investigators that he and fellow spy Kurt Jahnke had triggered the blast, then nearly drowned in the waves it generated.

Although no one was ever convicted, a postwar claims commission weighed demands by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which owned the island, and other companies for reparations by Germany. In 1939, on the cusp of World War II, the commission found Germany liable for $95 million in damages. The then-Nazi regime refused to pay. The case was finally settled in 1979.

The accusations of skullduggery devastated Jersey City's once-thriving German community, says Gomez, but "a lot of stained-glass makers, including the Germans, had big business replacing church windows."

One such window, at Our Lady of Czestowchowa Catholic church, is the only memorial to the victims of the blast.


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