Every Fourth of July, a bouquet of roses is left at a small memorial plaque in Flushing Meadows Park. The flowers pay homage to two city police officers who died 70 years ago while attempting to defuse a bomb at the World’s Fair.
Located outside the Queens Museum of Art, the memorial honors Detectives Joseph Lynch and Ferdinand Socha, members of the NYPD Bomb Squad, who were killed on July 4, 1940 in a case that is still open.
The QMA is the only major building left from the 1939-40 World’s Fair. It served as the New York City Building during the exposition.
Easter Lynch Miles was 10 when her father died, and she noted that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were not the first acts of terrorism in New York. “I empathize with the children whose parents died on Sept. 11,” Miles said, “and I want them to know their fathers are heroes too and will always be remembered.”
On the day of the explosion, police were tipped off about a suspicious package left inside the British Pavilion. It was removed by officers and placed under a tree in an unused area behind the Polish Pavilion.
That location no longer exists and is now part of the Van Wyck Expressway.
The two members of the Bomb Squad were called in. Wearing street clothes, the detectives determined the ticking satchel needed to be more closely examined. Lynch made a small hole in the bag and looked inside. His last words were, “It’s the business,” which meant the bomb was real.
The device detonated, killing the two men and leaving a crater 30 feet wide in the ground. Most fairgoers, celebrating the July 4 holiday were unaware of the explosion, and it has become a small footnote in the history of the World’s Fair.
The police immediately implemented a major manhunt, believing the attack was perpetrated by Nazi or IRA sympathizers. No one was ever arrested.
Lynch, 33, left behind a wife and five children in the Bronx. Easter, known as Essie, was in the hospital undergoing treatment for osteomyelitis, a chronic and painful bone infection. Eventually, the invention of penicillin would cure her.
“My mother didn’t tell me my father had died until I returned home in August,” she said. “She was the real heroine; taking care of five kids with the youngest only 22 months.”
Miles found out later that the wake was held at home because her mother couldn’t leave the children behind. “They made a funeral home out of the living room and the closed casket was covered with a blanket of roses from the British government,” Miles said. “They counted 5,000 mourners who came through in five days.”
One of the visitors was Babe Ruth.
Miles said when she returned home to learn her father had died, “I grew up overnight. I felt I had to take my father’s place, to take care of my mother and the other kids and I didn’t mind at all.”
The effervescent 80-year-old has fond memories of her father as a kind man who always spent time with his children. Ironically, he joined the NYPD to have a secure job. He was a graduate of Fordham University’s pharmacy program and an assistant professor there before switching to the police force.
“The Depression was on and he thought the pharmacy department was going to close at the college, so he joined the Police Department,” she said, “and he was a rising star, becoming a detective in just two years, and he did give my mother security with his pension.”
Socha, who lived in Brooklyn, was married but had no children.
Because of the officers’ deaths, more care was taken in the future to protect members of the Bomb Squad. “It’s much better today with the equipment and what they wear,” Miles said. “Thank God they have much better protection and training.”
Miles married and has one son and four grandchildren. She moved to Orange, Conn. 40 years ago.
Keeping her father’s memory alive is important to Miles, who still visits Flushing Meadows Park on occasion. “My father was handsome and a great guy,” she said. “And I’m still around kicking.”