Chicago is no stranger to bombs.
We live in a relatively bomb-free era, the first such respite Chicagoans have enjoyed since at least the middle of the 19th century.
The city that gave the world the mother of all explosive devices and ushered in the Atomic Age also endured the Pineapple Primary, a particularly violent March and April in 1928 that saw scores of grenades and other explosives tossed between warring factions battling for political control of City Hall.
- Wrigley Building
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400 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
29 North Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60606, USA
55 East Monroe Street, Chicago, IL 60603, USA
East Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60601, USA
1100 South State Street, Chicago, IL 60605, USA
Aon Center, Chicago, IL 60601, USA
Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg, IL 60173, USA
West Madison Street & South Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL 60603, USA
Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654, USA
Arguably the most famous explosion occurred more than a century ago at the Haymarket Square Riot. The May 4, 1886, labor demonstration turned violent when somebody threw a bomb at a line of police officers, killing seven and injuring many others. The police opened fired on the demonstrators, killing and injuring an unknown number. (The statue memorializing those fallen officers was twice bombed by the left-wing Weatherman organization in 1969 and 1970.)
The most frequent — or at least the most often blamed — bombers were the mobs and the unions, which frequently were one and the same. From 1907 to 1909, rival gambling bosses — the likes of "Big Ed" Wagner, "Blind John" Condon, "Mont" Tennes and "Big Jim" O'Leary — blew up each others' saloons and other gambling fronts. One of the last blasts in that series destroyed a telephone company's central exchange downtown. It was unique in that somebody was seriously injured and many more hurt. Further, police speculated it could have been set by the electrical workers union rather than the gamblers, though the Tribune tallied it up for the gamblers. At other times, movie theaters, taxis and even barbershops were targeted as unions tried to force recalcitrant businesses to toe the line.
Rare, though, in Chicago history are indiscriminate attacks aimed to inflict injuries or deaths on the general public. In the overwhelming number of major explosions reported by the Tribune in the last 160-plus years, the target was clear, and the goal was to scare or warn, not to maim or kill.
Any bombing is an act of terrorism, of course, but the myriad attacks through the city's history didn't sow widespread fear or cause public panic.
That started to change with possibly the most mysterious incident, a series of explosions in July 1965 at landmark buildings downtown. While nobody was injured and all the bombs exploded overnight, they occurred in public places and didn't seem to follow any rhyme or reason. Coming in the middle of a turbulent decade, the attacks were unsettling.
The blasts started July 7, when a powerful "black powder bomb" ripped the entryway of the Masonite Corp. building at 29 N. Wacker Drive, shattering windows up to the 15th floor of the Opera House across the street. Three days later, a blast on South Franklin Street blew out windows in all seven floors of the buildings on both sides of the street. The next night, the Wrigley Building was targeted when a bomb exploded under a parked car on lower Water Street with such force the vehicle's hood was embedded in the structure above. More than 30 windows in the Wrigley Building were shattered. On July 14, R.R. Donnelley's Lakeside Press buildings were hit. The notable difference then was that a thousand workers were inside, though nobody was hurt. The Tribune and the Wrigley Co. offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the bomber. Meanwhile, the police issued photos of bomb-making equipment and asked the public to report any suspicious activity.
Then nothing. The Illinois Crime Commission blamed the mob but failed to offer a motive for the disparate attacks. Nobody was ever charged.
The most sustained terrorist attacks in Chicago were carried out by the Puerto Rican separatist group FALN from 1975 to 1980. The Puerto Rican independence movement had made headlines in 1950 with an attempt on President Harry Truman's life, and in 1954 when five congressmen were wounded on the floor of the House of Representatives by gun-wielding assailants in the gallery. In January 1974, the FALN claimed responsibility for a bombing at a restaurant in New York City that killed four and injured more than 50. More bombings followed.
The terror campaign arrived in Chicago early on the morning of June 14, 1975. Just hours before the Puerto Rican Day Parade was to step off on State Street, bombs exploded outside the Mid-Continental Plaza Building at 55 E. Monroe St. and the United Bank of America at State and Wacker. Four people were injured. In October, bombs exploded outside the IBM Building, Sears Tower and a LaSalle Street bank and unexploded dynamite was found in a bouquet of roses at the Standard Oil Building (now the Aon Center). Nobody was injured in those attacks. That same day five bombs in New York City and two in Washington, D.C., exploded.
The most serious episode came about 11 p.m. June 7, 1976, when police headquarters at 11th Street and State, the First National Bank at Dearborn and Madison, the John Hancock Center and a bank across from City Hall were targeted. Five people were hurt, two seriously, outside the First National Bank. The victims had just emerged from "Sherlock Holmes" at the Shubert Theater. Further injuries were avoided during a shift change at the police station, the Tribune reported, through the actions of a officer who noticed a suspicious package after hearing reports of the other blasts and helped clear the area.
Over the next four years, the FALN (a Spanish acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation) carried out 16 more bombings, including at a Holiday Inn, the Merchandise Mart, two armed forces recruiting offices, the County Building and the Great Lakes Naval training base outside North Chicago. Nobody was injured in any of those overnight attacks. The only event to break that mold occurred June 24, 1978, a Saturday, when six firebombs went off about noon in a crowded Woodfield Mall. A security guard trying to dispose of one of the devices was the only person injured in the attack, which produced a lot of smoke but not much fire.
The terror didn't end until April 4, 1980, when 11 people — including 27-year-old reputed ringleader Carlos Torres — were arrested near the Northwestern University campus in Evanston. They were about to try to rob an armored truck when Evanston police responding to a nuisance call rolled up. Torres, who had attended high school in Oak Park, was paroled in 2010 after serving 30 years of a 78-year sentence.