A look back at the 1917 Kingsland (Lyndhurst) Explosion
One of the most notorious acts of foreign sabotage to take place on American soil happened in New Jersey on Jan. 11, 1917. It happened at the Canadian Car and Foundry plant in Kingsland (now known as Lyndhurst) in the Meadowlands.
The plant manufactured munitions for export to Great Britain and Russia. On that fateful day, Theodore Wozniak showed up for his job cleaning artillery shells with gasoline soaked rags. Investigators say that Wozniak intentionally set a pile of rags on fire, using an accelerant to hasten the conflagration and the fire quickly spread. High winds that day carried the flames to the rest of the other buildings at the plant; gunpowder, TNT, and an estimated 500,000 artillery shells were stored there.
As the fire spread, so did the explosions, reportedly shaking the ground from Yonkers to Staten Island and rupturing a nearby train line. The 1,400 employees stampeded out of the complex, knocking down a fence and climbing over barbed wire. Miraculously, no one died, and that is at least in part due to the heroic efforts of a switchboard operator at the plant. Tessie McNamara stayed at her post even as shells were hitting her building, calling all the other buildings in the complex and telling people to evacuate. She eventually fainted at her post and had to be carried out by firefighters. The entire facility was destroyed.
Wozniak denied any role in the sabotage but disappeared soon after. It was later revealed that he was on the payroll of a German spy named Frederick Hirsh who had paid him to set the fire. The investigation took decades, however, and Wozniak was not arrested until 1942. In 1953, the German government agreed to pay the US $55 million to settle claims for the Kingsland explosion as well as for the earlier Black Tom explosion in Jersey City.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Doyle. Any opinions expressed are Bill Doyle's own.