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American Lightning

A riveting look at the 1910 bombing of the offices of the anti-union, anti-socialist L.A. Times.

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Tourists who visit a cemetery in Hollywood may notice an unusual memorial as they stroll amid the graves of famous movie stars.

Atop a rough-hewn stone monument stands a sharp-beaked, fierce-looking eagle. Below is a plaque dedicated to “Our Martyred Men,” a score of workers at the Los Angeles Times who “fell at their posts ... on the awful morning of October first, 1910 – victims of conspiracy, dynamite and fire. – The Crime of the Century.”

The plaque goes on in overheated language, lauding the “Sons of Duty” and “defenders of Industrial Freedom under law” – in other words, anti-unionists – and finally ending with the number 30 (that’s newspaper shorthand for the end of a story).

In fact, there’s much more to be told about the bombing of the L.A. Times and its dramatic aftermath. American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood and the Crime of the Century revisits a fascinating and forgotten episode from a time when the forces of American capital and labor met on a field of violence.

In 1910, the city of Los Angeles, home to fewer people than Buffalo or Milwaukee, became a hotbed of political intrigue. Socialists were a significant political force, unions were in danger of being run out of town, and the reactionary L.A. Times – supported by industrialists – bitterly fought both movements.

Then, early one morning, sticks of dynamite attached to an alarm clock shattered the newspaper’s offices and left 20 men dead, including a telegraph officer right in the middle of a message to New York about coverage of a major automobile race.

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