Boom Times: 7 Real-Life Explosion Sites - Atlas Obscura
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Boom Times: 7 Real-Life Explosion Sites


(Photo: CTBTO on Flickr)

Summer: the time of year when megaplexes all across the country are filled with images of fiery catastrophe and the sound of deafening thunder, as the movie industry delivers destruction on an ever-grander scale. Grandiose explosions on the big screen during blockbuster season tend to be quickly forgotten, but in the real world, giant explosions leave a more indelible mark both on the Earth and in our memories. Whether it is the massive blast from a nuclear warhead test or the tragic explosions that claim lives, there are spots all over the world that remember devastating detonations. As we gear up for another summer of cinematic explosions, let’s take a look at the sites of seven real-world explosions, some of which you can still visit.


1. TRINITY ATOMIC BOMB SITE
Socorro, New Mexico


(Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration on Wikipedia)

The superstar of terrifyingly powerful explosions, the Trinity Test Site in Socorro, New Mexico was the place where the first nuclear bomb was detonated. On July 6th, 1945, the “Gadget,” as it was clandestinely named, was detonated and the world would never be the same. To use the much weather cliche, the genie was out of the bottle and further nuclear tests would only follow. Today there is a tall stone monument on the spot where the bomb went off, and the site is open to visitors a couple of times a year.   


(Photo: BriYYZ on Flickr)


(Photo: BriYYZ on Flickr)


2. THE BLACK TOM EXPLOSION MEMORIAL
Jersey City, New Jersey


(Photo: Wikipedia)

Ever wonder why you can’t enter the torch in the Statue of Liberty? It’s because of a World War I terrorist explosion so large it destroyed an entire island. On July 30th, 1916, German spies posing as guards for a munitions dump on tiny Black Tom Island off the coast of New Jersey, made good on a plan to destroy the armaments that the U.S. was supplying to the French and British. They planted a number of timed bombs across the island and left the scene. In the middle of the night Black Tom Island essentially evaporated beneath a blast so big it could be felt in Maryland. Shrapnel from the blast slammed into the Statue of Liberty damaging the torch and parts of her robe. The damaged sections were eventually repaired, but the torch was never reopened. Black Tom Island was rebuilt using landfill waste and is now part of a New Jersey park with just a small plaque to remember the devastation.  


(Photo: Luke J Spencer on Atlas Obscura)


(Photo: Luke J Spencer on Atlas Obscura)


3. HALIFAX EXPLOSION MEMORIAL
Halifax, Canada


(Photo: Wikipedia)

Nuclear weapons are thought to create the most devastating explosions man has ever seen, but we were still able to do some pretty staggering damage even before then. In fact the largest man-made explosion prior to the advent of the atomic bomb nearly wiped the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia from the map. It was in December of 1917 that the French munitions ship, the Mont Blanc, collided with another boat in Halifax’s bustling harbor. The French ship was stocked to the gunwalls with high explosives and combustible fuel, so when the ships crashed, the resulting explosion destroyed over half of the city. Thousands perished, and many thousands more were seriously injured. The city was able to rebuild but the explosive tragedy would not be forgotten. A modern concrete monument now stands in the city that was almost obliterated by a simple collision.  


(Photo: Luke J Spencer on Atlas Obscura)


(Photo: Luke J Spencer on Atlas Obscura)


4. NOVAYA ZEMLYA
Novaya Zemlya, Russia


(Photo: atomicforum on Wikipedia)

Trinity may be the most well known atomic bomb ever tested, but the most powerful was actually set off over a small Russian archipelago known as Novaya Zemlya. Over 200 nuclear weapons were tested over Novaya Zemlya, but the largest one, indeed the largest the world has ever seen, was set off on October 30, 1961. The massive boom yielded 50-60 megatons of force compared to the most powerful weapon of its kind the U.S. ever created which only put out around 25 megatons. This super weapon came to be known as “Tsar Bomba,” and remains the single most devastating weapon humans have come up with. 


(Photo: NASA on Wikipedia)


5. THE WOLF’S LAIR
Ketrzyn, Poland


(Photo: Wikipedia)

The 1944 explosion that rocked the so-called “Wolf’s Lair,” a fortified Nazi stronghold deep in the woods of Poland, could very well have ended World War II early, or at least significantly altered the outcome., but unfortunately Hitler survived it. The plan was for a suitcase bomb to be placed in a meeting room in the stronghold, and detonated while Hitler was inside, blowing up history’s greatest villain. Shockingly, the plan eventually worked with the bomb going off while Hitler was in the room, but bafflingly, the dictator survived. At the very least, the Wolf’s Lair was now compromised and was abandoned, itself being rocked with explosions as the Nazis tried (unsuccessfully) to erase their base. This explosion inspired the Hollywood film, Valkyrie.     


(Photo: tomasz przechlewski on Flickr)


(Photo: Przemyslaw ‘Blueshade’ Idzkiewicz on Wikipedia)


6. SITE OF THE GREAT GREENPOINT SEWER EXPLOSION
Greenpoint, New York


(Photo: kschlot1 on Flickr

If you were standing on this spot on October 5th, 1950, you’d be dead. It was on that fateful day that the Brooklyn street at the corner of Manhattan Avenue and Huron Street simply exploded. Ten feet of asphalt on the corner was torn from the ground and manhole covers rocketed into the sky for blocks around. Given the atomic scare at the time, the huge boom had the locals running out into the streets thinking they were being bombed. In actuality the likely culprit of the destruction was simply backed up gas.  


7. THE WEATHERMEN TOWNHOUSE EXPLOSION
New York, New York


(Photo: Wikipedia)

Another New York explosion, this one was caused by a bit of homegrown terrorists. A group of militant radicals associated with the Weather Underground were working on some pipe bombs in the basement of their Greenwich Village home. Unfortunately the would-be bombers were not incredibly skilled with explosives and in creating their weapons of destruction, detonated them, demolishing the townhouse. Some of the group survived and managed to flee, but three others were killed in the ensuing destruction. Today the house has been rebuilt, but it still bears an oddly angled section that sticks out as a sort of silent monument to the blast.    


(Photo: Luke J Spencer on Atlas Obscura)


(Photo: Luke J Spencer on Atlas Obscura)