(Pictured: Karl Armstrong, in custody in Toronto in 1972, before his extradition to stand trial as leader of the Sterling Hall bombing conspiracy.)
August 24, 1970, was a Monday. Early this morning, a truck bomb explodes outside Sterling Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The target is the Army Math Research Center, housed in the building. Researcher Robert Fassnacht, father of three, is killed in the blast, which is heard 30 miles away. In California, the United Farm Workers go on strike after an agreement with growers earlier this month collapsed. A front-page story in the New York Times is headlined “Homosexuals in Revolt.” It discusses the new militancy of the gay liberation movement about a year after New York’s Stonewall riots. The National Organization for Women is planning marches in several major cities to be held on Wednesday. Women’s Strike for Equality events are timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment, which permitted women the right to vote. President Nixon is at the Western White House in San Clemente, California; he arrived Saturday after a brief trip to Mexico. Among his appointments today, he meets with his economic advisors and hosts a reception for West Coast business leaders. He declines to take two phone calls from 1936 Republican presidential candidate Alf Landon, gets a haircut in the afternoon, and ends his day watching the movie Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here.
Only two games are played in the National League. Chicago Cubs pitcher Ferguson Jenkins runs his season record to 16-and-14 with a complete-game 4-2 win over the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Elsewhere, Atlanta shuts out Montreal 6-0 in a make-up game after yesterday’s rainout at Parc Jarry in Montreal, and in the American League, Kansas City beats New York 8-7. At the University of Iowa, the football team assembles for its team picture. Future professional golfer Rich Beem is born.
Among his guests tonight, Dick Cavett welcomes singer James Brown and Dark Shadows star Jonathan Frid. Dark Shadows is one of 16 daytime dramas broadcast by the three networks today, along with eight game shows and primetime reruns including That Girl, Bewitched, The Lucy Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, and Gomer Pyle USMC. While being followed by a film crew, Elvis Presley plays dinner and midnight shows at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. Jefferson Airplane plays Atlanta and Johnny Cash plays Toronto. Chicago plays Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” is one of the top hits in its namesake city, at WLS. “War” by Edwin Starr is the station’s new #1 song this week, knocking last week’s #1, “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon and War, to #3. “I Just Can’t Help Believing” by B. J. Thomas is #2. Other top hits include “Signed Sealed Delivered” by Stevie Wonder, “Make It With You” by Bread, and “Why Can’t I Touch You” by Ronnie Dyson. The biggest mover on the chart is “Hi-De-Ho” by Blood Sweat and Tears, up seven spots to #13, although “Julie Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman debuts in the Top 30 at #22. Two other songs are in their first week among the Top 30: “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond and “Candida” by Dawn. The oldest records on the chart have all been around 13 weeks: Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold,” “The Love You Save” by the Jackson Five, and “Mama Told Me Not to Come” by Three Dog Night.
Perspective From the Present: Events of that day either changed things directly—in Madison, Sterling Hall brought an immediate end to the era of anti-Vietnam protest marches on the UW campus—or they signaled broader changes in progress. The women’s rights movement would gain force after the Women’s Strike for Equality (although gay liberation would take a while longer). The United Farm Workers strike, which would last several months, turned organizer Cesar Chavez into a significant historical figure.
In Monroe, Wisconsin, an hour south of Madison, it wouldn’t be long before I first heard WLS on the school bus. It was a change, inasmuch as WLS became the radio station I heard most often instead of the hometown station Mother and Dad listened to. But it was also a beginning.
If there is a single date in Madison’s local history that stands out from all the others, August 24, 1970—50 years ago today—is probably it. I wrote about Sterling Hall for my original blog 15 years ago (!) and reposted it here in 2010. It’s one of my favorite pieces of my own writing, and I invite you to read it, or read it again.