It was a thunderous event in the history of Wisconsin, and now historians are seeking Madison memories of the Sterling Hall bombing on the bombing’s fortieth anniversary. Troy Reeves is head of the Oral History Project at UW Madison, which is teaming up with the Wisconsin Story Project. They’ve installed the Wisconsin Storybooth in Memorial Library on the UW-Madison campus to collect personal recollections of the bombing from those who were in Madison at the time. “I hope it gives people a chance to tell their story in a way that is good for them but also good for the Story Project and also for our archives,” says Reeves. “We intend to preserve them and provide access to them.”
Reeves says it’s a chance for people to not only tell their recollections, but to explain what the tragedy meant to them. “I think I’m biased, but I think this is an important event not only in Wisconsin and here on campus but also within the larger protest movement of the 60s and 70s,” he says. The booth will be located in the Memorial Library through Sunday, and is open to the public. The recorded videos will serve as research for the Wisconsin Story Project’s next documentary theater project, based on the Sterling Hall event and the era of protest in Madison that preceded it.
The bomb, contained inside a van that was parked adjacent to Sterling Hall in the early morning hours of August 24, 1970, was intended to destroy the Army Mathematics Research Center housed in building. It caused enormous destruction to the building, killed physics researcher Robert Fassnacht and three other people, but did not damage the AMRC. The bombers were Karleton Armstrong, Dwight Armstrong, David Fine, and Leo Burt. Fine and the Armstrong brothers eventually served prison terms for their roles in the bombing, and Dwight Armstrong died earlier this year. Leo Burt fled to Canada after the bombing and has never been apprehended. In 2007, the University of Wisconsin unveiled a plaque in memory of Robert Fassnacht.