The House on 11th St.: Digging Up the Debris

“The group helped write the 'don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows,' manifesto presented at the July, 1969 SDS convention”


A Bomb Factory?

The “live bomb” which, according to Monday night radio reports, was discovered in the ruins of 18 West 11th Street turned out to be a six-inch vintage 1916 shell, probably a souvenir, probably dead. But the two dead bodies pulled from the tons of brick, plaster, and charred furnishings in the basement of the townhouse were real enough. And then, late Tuesday afternoon, police and firemen still investigating the explosions which destroyed the building Friday morning came upon a quantity of live, wired dynamite fashioned into bombs, and announced that the $275,000 townhouse was a “bomb factory” filled with enough explosives to level the whole block if detonated at once.

Early Sunday morning, the body of 23-year-old Theodore Gold, a Columbia activist and Weatherman leader, was pulled up. Police then announced they were searching for SDS member Catherine Wilkerson, daughter of the owner of the four-story house. She was seen fleeing naked from the burning building with another girl. Three other as yet unidentified men were said to have fled the building shortly after the explosion.

Monday morning, firemen uncovered intact the building’s oil furnace, which seemed to rule out the early explanation that a gas leak had torn the 20-foot-high holes in the two-foot-thick walls and collapsed the roof, all four floors, and the front wall into the basement.

Monday afternoon, detectives, in charge of the investigation announced that they had discovered SDS pamphlets in the debris. And Monday evening, shortly after the “live bomb” scare, firemen began removing brick-red paper-like material which some observers described as wrapping for dynamite. Police would not confirm or deny this until the dynamite itself was discovered the next day.

Tuesday morning, the second body, that of a girl, badly mangled and missing the left leg, was discovered about halfway down into the basement. Police were checking evidence indicating that the dead girl was Kathy Boudin, also of Weathermen and the daughter of Leonard Boudin, the prominent Greenwich Village lawyer who defended Benjamin Spock in his conspiracy prosecution.

Theodore Gold, a leader of the 1968 Columbia strike, was one of the most influential organizers in the Weathermen movement. He is reported to have gone to Cuba last summer with Miss Boudin and Bernadine Dohrn, then a national coordinator of SDS. There they met with representatives of the NLF, a meeting which was said to have helped them shape the ideas which later became Weatherman doctrine. The group helped write the “don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” manifesto presented at the July, 1969 SDS convention, after their return from Cuba. The manifesto called for an immediate commencement of white guerrilla activity in America to “raise the price” of U.S. involvement in the Third World.

After the July convention, Gold travelled around the country urging local SDS chapters to move toward the Weatherman position. A Times story implying that Gold was one of the founders of the Mad Dogs, a Columbia SDS faction, was said to be “absolutely incorrect” by someone who knew Gold. “The Red Squad didn’t bother to get their facts right,” he added. A Post story depicting Gold as a moderate member of the Revolutionary Youth Movement II was met with incredulity by people who knew him.

Miss Wilkerson is reported to have participated in Weathermen actions in Chicago and Pittsburgh. An acquaintance described her as having developed into a militant at Swarthmore: “She was a premature Weatherman.”

Weatherman itself is reported to have declared its own death as a formal organization recently, but exists now as a decentralized underground in keeping with its guerrilla orientation. ❖

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 22, 2020