Shortly before noon on March 6th 1970, three explosions rocked 18 West 11th Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. In the aftermath, three bodies were found. The victims, Diana Oughton, Ted Gold, and Terry Robbins, turned out to be members of the Weather Underground, a leftist, paramilitary group whose plans to unleash terrorism had backfired on them.
The Weather Underground originated from the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), an antiwar, anti-racism organization that was founded in the early 1960’s and was inspired by the non-violent protests of the Civil Rights Movement. As the Vietnam War escalated, the SDS’s numbers swelled to over 100 thousand. By 1969, with no end in sight to the war, a faction of radical SDS leadership and supporters formed “Weatherman,” a militant faction of the SDS that would eventually become known as the Weather Underground. Taking their name from a Bob Dylan lyric, the Weather Underground sought to do whatever it took to end the war, even if that meant bringing the war home.
“At that point in our thinking, there were no innocent Americans. At least not among the white ones. They all played some part in the atrocities of Vietnam, if only the passive roles of ignorance, acquiescence, and acceptance of privilege.. all guilty. All Americans were legitimate targets for attack. We wanted this country to taste a tiny bit of what it had been dishing out. Just like the passive Americans we derided, I acquiesced to this terrible, demented logic. Not only was I willing to take the risks and suffer the consequences, but more importantly, I was overwhelmed by hate. I cherished my hate as a badge of moral superiority.”
-Mark Rudd (Weather Underground leader)
By the summer of 1969, the group was putting their politics into practice. Across the country, several hundred collective houses sprang up in cities, where members looked to bring in working-class youth into their organization. In New York City’s Greenwich Village, a small autonomous group led by Terry Robbins had set up shop in a 19th-century townhouse that had once been owned by Merill Lynch founder, Charles Merrill. At the time, the 10-room house belonged to advertising executive, James Wilkerson. While on vacation with his wife in St. Kitts, Wilkerson gave permission to his daughter Cathy to stay there. Cathy, an SDS member brought home Weather Underground members, Kathy Boudin, Diana Oughton, Terry Robbins and Ted Gold.
In the basement of the townhouse, the group began to build bombs. Their leader, Terry Robbins believed that it was too late for reconciliation and that the best thing that they could do was bring catastrophic actions. Actions that would get the attention of the world and move forward the revolution they longed for. According to member, Mark Rudd, the bomb they were building would be detonated at a non-commissioned officers dance at Fort Dix in New Jersey. For them, there were no innocents in this war of aggression.
“They came to the conclusion that was come to by all the great killers, whether Hitler or Stalin or Mao. That they have a grand project for the transformation and purification of the world and in the face of that project, ordinary life is dispensable.”
-Todd Gitlin (former SDS president)
But as the group was putting the final touches on the bomb, a short circuit in the wiring set it off, killing Robbins, Gold, and Oughton and completely destroying the townhouse.
In the aftermath of the bomb, Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson escaped the wreckage. In shock and injured, the two went into hiding for the next decade, but by 1980, Wilkerson had surrendered herself and a year later, Boudin was arrested for her involvement with an armored car robbery.
Following the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion, the leaders of the Weather Underground met in Northern California to discuss the incident and the future of their organization. They decided that it was wrong to unleash indiscriminate violence on ordinary people and that as they moved forward with plans to continue their targeted bombings of government sites, they would put into place measures that would ensure that nobody would be harmed.
But by 1973, the U.S. reached a peace accord in Vietnam and four years later, the Weather Underground went defunct.
Three months after the explosion, the architect, Hugh Hardy bought the house, but would eventually sell it to owners who would build the design he had envisioned. Today, it stands out for its modern look, angular exterior and the dark history that surrounds it. A unique mixture that if you had to put a price tag on it, would be $19 million as of last December.