Thursday, 19 February 2009


On first glance, all of the five-storey townhouses lining West 11th. Street between 5th and 6th Avenues blend together, lending the the block the same charming and unaffordable air of any other in Greenwich. However, 18 West 11th Street is a modern-looking, odd-angled house somewhat at architectural odds with its neighbours - a decided afterthought. The reason being that the property originally there was destroyed by a series of seven violent explosions just before noon on March 6th. 1970.

Those responsible for the levelling of no. 18 were 5 members of the radical Weathermen, an extremist group opposed to the Vietnam War, that in 1969 split from the Students for Democratic Society. The name 'weathermen' comes from the rather unfathomable logic that "You don't need to know the way the wind blows." It was, according to rumours, whilst making bombs destined for a military compound in New Jersey and for Butler Library at Columbia University, that the explosions occurred killing three of the group. One of the survivors was Cathryn Wilkerson, daughter of the owner of the property, James Wilkerson, who had gone away on holiday comforted by believing his home would be well looked after. The other survivor was another woman, Kathy Boudin.
Living in one of the adjoining brownstones was Dustin Hoffman, just having starred in 'The Graduate', who was seen moments after the explosions scampering from his building, a Tiffany lamp under his arm. Hoffman and his family, who rented the first-floor apartment in no. 16, like other residents in the building never returned to their homes, telling the NY Times in 2000 that the explosion was a "philosophy-changing" experience that shook him out of a "chrysalis."
Wilkerson (above a short while before the explosion) and Boudin had apparently raced from the ruins naked and, after borrowing some clothes from a neighbour, vanished. Cathlyn turned herself in ten years later and was sentenced to eleven months in prison for negligent homicide. Boudin wasn't captured until 1981, when she participated in a Brinks armoured truck holdup in which two cops and a security officer were killed, for which she was sentenced to a prison term of twenty years to life. Cathlyn's father eventually sold his rubbled lot and the new owners built a modern, space-age home, to the howls of aesthetic protests all along the block.

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