Liberty State Park: Black Tom


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Liberty State Park is on the Jersey City waterfront in full view of the NYC skyline, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The park was opened in 1976 for the nation’s bicentennial. The green oasis in urban surroundings is considered ‘The People’s Park.’


I’ve visited this park many times and blogged about the Empty Sky Memorial and the Central Railroad of NJ Terminal which are both on park grounds. On a recent visit to the park with a community group, our tour guide brought us to a section I hadn’t been to before: Black Tom.


Black Tom was originally an island between Jersey City and Liberty Island which became a peninsula when the railroad added landfill. Black Tom became a major munitions depot for the US in the early 1900s.  By early 1915, the US had not yet entered WWI, but was only selling weapons to the Allied powers.


Imperial Germany sent spies to the US to infiltrate and destroy the ammunition stockpile at Black Tom. On July 30th, German agents caused an explosion in the the depot that was equivalent to an earthquake of 5.5 on the Richter Scale. Windows shattered in midtown Manhattan, the roof of the Ellis Island Immigration Center collapsed (prompting the evacuation of immigrants to lower Manhattan) and the Statue of Liberty’s torch-bearing arm suffered structural damage (the torch has been closed to visitors since then!)


Though only a handful of people died in the attack, the property damage equated to $460 million in modern times. The attack also was one of the factors that led to the US entering the war. After WWI, the US sued Germany to be compensated for the loss, but WWII got in the way of the debt being paid.


Today, there is little evidence of the catastrophic explosion that took place here. There’s a picnic area, some jetties, a circle of flags and a sculpture of a WWII soldier carrying a concentration camp victim.


Location: 402 Morris Pesin Dr, Jersey City, NJ 07305

Designation: State Park

Date designation declared: 1976

Date of my visit: 9/23/2019


24 thoughts on “Liberty State Park: Black Tom

    1. I’m with you….I have lived in this area my whole life and knew nothing about it until the tour guide took us there and gave the talk. More time spent on WWII than WWI in grade school, I guess…

  1. looseliplucy

    Theresa, I am amazed at the wealth of informative geography, history, and topography you have shared about our National Parks. Thank you for pointing out the many beautiful parks we have here in the U.S. I know it gives me a sense of pride in our beautiful country. Maybe we should visit a few more National Parks. Love, Mom

      1. Peter J Callahan

        Great write up. Thank you. To be clear. the explosion was on July 30, 1916. The explosion blew out the windows of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Ave in New York.

    1. I hadn’t either until this tour. Being from the area, I knew Liberty’s torch had been closed long ago, but always thought the destabilization was due to people walking up her arm. Since this was a pivotal event in the USAs entry into WWI, I’m not sure why it wasn’t part of grade school curriculum.

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