New York City detectives Joe Lynch and Freddy Socha were assigned to the Bomb and Forgery Squad just before the opening of the 1939 World’s Fair.
They’d investigated bomb threats and a series of explosions in the city, none deadly. As a quarter of a million people jammed into the fairgrounds to celebrate the 1940 July 4th holiday, that was about to change.
An electrician saw an unfamiliar overnight bag in the control room of the British Pavilion, heard ticking and brought it to his boss. Not knowing what to do, they took the bag and walked through the crowded building in search of the head of security, who was standing guard over the Magna Carta. He called the police and carried the bag outside.
When Lynch and Socha arrived, following procedure, they cut open the bag. The resulting explosion killed them both instantly and injured many others. As the Nazi war machine savaged Europe, bomb threats and investigations became ubiquitous, and fear of terrorism spread throughout the city.
New procedures for defusing bombs were developed. Most important, armored vehicles were deployed to remove suspicious devices from public areas. As for the World’s Fair bomb, even after a massive police investigation, the case remains unsolved. A $26,000 reward for information about the bombing is still unclaimed.
I spoke with James Mauro, author of “Twilight at the World of Tomorrow” (Ballantine), on the following topics:
1. Ash Dump to World of Tomorrow
2. Cost Versus Benefit
3. Einstein Opens the Fair
4. Hall of Nations Members Fall to Nazis
5. Terrorist Bombing
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)