This article presents the story of the interplay of two events in 20th century history that are now mostly forgotten: the spectacular sabotage at Black Tom near the Statue of Liberty in late July 1916; and the sixteen-year interstate arbitration between the United States and Germany before a Mixed Claims Commission established by the Treaty of Berlin in 1921 to adjudicate claims between the U.S. and Germany arising out of World War I.
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When the Statue of Liberty was opened to visitors in 1886, one of its marvels was an internal staircase that allowed the hardy to climb to the tip of the torch. Thousands did so, until July 30, 1916. Since July 30, 1916, no one has done so. The torch steps have been closed off.
What happened on that date was the biggest explosion in the New York area until September 11, 2001. The explosion was not an accident. It was sabotage, directed not at the Statue herself but at an arms depot on a nearby slip of land on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. The slip of land was called Black Tom. Black Tom was the railway terminus for shipments awaiting loading onto ships to sail across the Atlantic Ocean for delivery to the Allied Powers opposing the Central Powers in World War I. The United States was at the time a neutral nation.