Sather Gate, UC Berkeley, 1969
The evening started as a typical weeknight evening in winter. The rainy season was just ending so most evenings were cool and damp. For those of us in Berkeley, Ca, winter was the rainy season. David, my boyfriend was out for the evening at a political meeting and Chara, my six year old daughter, was sleeping. I was planning on an evening of reading and studying.
The house was a small, older brown shingle house quite common to the Bay Area and part of the area’s charm. It was close to the center of downtown near Provo Park known officially as Civic Center Park, the library and my daughter’s school. It was also right across the street from the Berkeley Police Department. We felt as if our house would probably not be burgled so we took the extra traffic in stride. In reality, it made no difference in our daily lives. The front porch was shaded and covered with vines so thick that we could not see the street or the police station from our front windows even in winter.
The interior of our house was just perfect in my eyes. The main room of the house had a bay window at one end of room that caught the morning light. There was a fireplace at the other end of the room to warm the evenings. Around the room, there was shoulder high red oak wainscoting with a plate rail. There were built in bookshelves on both sides of the fireplace mantel. We had a worn burgundy print Persian carpet on the floor. The couch was covered with an orange Indian striped bedspread that was common to the era. There was a worn comfortable black leather chair with an end table next to it and was perfect for reading. It was the the usual beat up eclectic style favored by students in 1970.
On that evening in February, I was sitting in my living room in a nightgown and robbe is tending to Earth, Wind and Fire and finally catching up on the reading I needed to do for class. It was the day before Valentines Day and I wanted a clear evening for a celebration. The crackling fire in the the fireplace was taking the dampness out of the air. My dog, Stoney, was lying by the fire contentedly. Our two cats were roaming around the house and occasionally draping themselves on the mantel to catch the warmth of the fire.
I had my usual cup of coffee by my side and thought this was a perfect night without interruptions so I could get all my work done. As I was getting up to refill my coffee cup, there was an explosion so deafening that all the windows in the house rattled. Stoney jumped up and barked frantically. The cats fled towards the back of the house. I dropped the coffee cup in my hand spilling the last drops of coffee on the rug.
I stood in the middle of the home I considered a refuge from the world not knowing what to do. My mind was frozen. My blood seemed to stand still in my veins. Everything stopped for a moment.
Next, I ran. I’m not sure what possessed me but I ran to the front door. I threw the door open and raced to the street. All the street lights were still on. The Berkeley Police Department had all its light blazing and looking just as it usually did. I looked up and down the street and saw nothing that could explain the deafening noise I heard. There was no smoke or fire. I did see about ten of my neighbors in various stages of dress out on the street. All the dogs in the neighborhood seemed to be barking or howling.
“What happened?” Asked Nancy, my next door neighbor.
I came back with “I don’t know.”
None of us in the middle of the block had any idea do what had happened. Then we all turned towards the police department when we heard screaming and shouting. We saw over a dozen Berkeley police officers racing out of the police department building. All the police officers had their guns drawn and were running every which way waving their guns wildly. Some ran towards the parking lot. Some stayed in front of the station. One ran towards the bushes. And one ran back inside. They all looked just as scared as I
and all my neighbors were.
Then, there was another thunderous roar. This time it was so much louder since we were outside. All of us, the neighborhood, who were still on the street, turned and ran for our homes as If we were one body and slammed our doors. I still had no idea what had exploded. I could hear the sounds of activity and chaos outside. There was yelling and there were sirens. And I was still in the dark.
Being in the dark has never been easy for me. I remembered seeing two of my next door neighbors outside. So, I went out the back door after checking on my sleeping daughter and walked through an opening in the hedge to get to my next door neighbors house. I knocked on the door and heard a muffled squeal.
“Whose there?” Barb asked.
“Marsha”” I said.
Barb looked from side to side to see if anyone was with me and opened the door. We found after a short conversation that neither of us had any clue as to what had happened. I asked her if she wanted to come over. I couldn’t stay at her house because of my sleeping daughter. Barb decided to stay on her home. So I crept back through the hedge to my home.
At that point, any pretense of studying or reading was out of the question. My mind was racing a mile n minute with nowhere to go. And I still didn’t know what had happened. At this point, I thought I knew some bombs had exploded. I didn’t know if anyone had been hurt or who had done it.
I went back to check on my daughter. I checked the clock and it was only 9:00 p.m.. I began to busy myself around the house. I picked up the coffee cup off the rug and wiped up the spill. I got another cup of coffee and it tasted terrible. I felt as if I had been up for two days. My curiosity was out of control and I went to the front porch to see if I could catch sight of anything through the vines. After all, curiosity only kills cats. The vines on the porch made it impossible to see anything. Stoney came out fto survey her domain and after a brief inspection returned to the warmth of the fire. I followed her back inside to wait for David to come home. He had planned to come home early so now I began to wonder where he was. I called a couple of friends and found out he was not there. The friends were far enough away so that they had not heard the explosion. I told them that I thought a couple of bombs had exploded. We speculated on who might bomb anything and we thought maybe it was a splinter group of SDS(Students for a Democratic Society) called the Weathermen. But, we didn’t know.
Another coffee didn’t appeal to me so I opted for a beer. I hoped the beer would calm me. I tried reading and couldn’t. My next stop was the TV for the 10:00 p.m. news hoping the news had the story. At they moment, someone knocked at the door. I looked through the window and saw two very large cops. When I opened the door, one of the cops wanted to know if I had seen or heard anything before the explosion. The other one asked if I had seen a stranger in the area who looked out of place in Berkeley. I really hadn’t. I mentally wondered what would look it of place in Berkeley – maybe a pin stripe suit. They did tell me that the explosions had blown up two police cars in the police car parking lot and there were no injuries. They told me they would be searching my yard.
It scared me to think the “bomber” could be in my back yard or my crawl space without me knowing about it. They noticed my reaction and told me to lock the doors. My reaction must have been visible. They told me not to worry because the neighborhood was sealed and no one was getting in or out. With that piece of information, I knew why David wasn’t home. After the cops left, I looked out the bay window and could see the beams of two flashlights moving around the yard. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.
Another sound on the steps and I was on my feet checking to make sure the door was locked. This time it was David. He had been stopped at the end of the block. Both he and the car were searched. The cops had not found anything but made the comment that they were sure they could find something if they really looked. I told David all about my evening before we went to bed.
For the next week, everyone on the block was searched when ever we left or came home. They never found the bomber and no one claimed credit. It was attributed to the SDS splinter group called the Weathermen. All I can remember is how scared I was at the time.