The Bombing of Dayton's Department Store

(Image via Minnesota in the 70s)
The Vietnam War contributed to a change in the social attitude of the country that began in the late 1960's and stretched into the 1970's. The peace movements that ushered in the 1960's began to lose ground to much more militant movements toward the end of the decade. Racial tensions covered the country and the city of Saint Paul was no different.  

Mary Peek and her husband Roland went to Dayton’s to have dinner on Sunday August 22, 1970 not knowing that the events of the evening would change their lives forever. At 5:10 pm Mary was combing her hair in front of the mirror in the women’s restroom on the Cedar level (near Cedar and Sixth street) when a two pound stick of dynamite detonated in the wastebasket near her. The blast destroyed two toilets, two wash sinks, and blew a hole in the wall. According to an article in her hometown paper, the Albert Lea Tribune, her “lungs were seared, eardrums broken, and her body pierced with shrapnel and debris.” After five hours in surgery she would spend the next three months in the hospital recovering and would suffer from the blast for the rest of her life.

Gary Hogan was a 15-year old African American boy caught up in the militancy of the time. Described as an “admirer of the Black Panthers”, he planted two bombs in the Dayton’s Department store on August 22, 1970. The first one, the smaller of the two, would act as a decoy to bring in the police and fire department and twenty seven minutes later a second more powerful bomb, with ten sticks of dynamite, would go off killing everyone at the scene and destroying the store. When it was found and defused there were forty to fifty police officers, firemen, security employees, and newsmen in the area. Luckily for everyone involved a faulty timer kept the second bomb from detonating before it was located in a nearby locker. Police Chief Richard Rowan described the placement of the two bombs as "definitely a technique to kill as many police, firemen, and press representatives as possible."

Bomb scares littered the weekend in Saint Paul, with the Hilton, Pioneer Press Building, Donaldson's and Montgomery Wards all being the victim of called in threats. Dayton's employee Celeste Castillo spoke of a bomb threat to their store the Friday before the blast - but because nothing happened they thought nothing of it.

Mary, no longer able to perform her job as a teacher at Hastings High School, became a political activist in Minnesota and is credited with being a pioneer in the state’s women’s movement throughout the 1970's. In 1980 she authored the book “The Awful Lightning” describing the events surrounding her evening at Dayton's. She understood that anger and a desire for revenge could not change what happened that evening and carried that same courage and understanding throughout her life. She passed away on December 30, 2004 at the age of 82.

Gary, convicted of his crime and required to serve a twenty year sentence for his part in the bombing, was released from the St. Cloud Reformatory after serving for just over three years. While in prison he changed his name to Kofi Yusef Owusu and after his release moved to Washington D.C. to become a political activist. He passed away on May 24, 2010 at the age of 55.

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