This Day In History: An Anarchist Bombs Café Terminus In Paris

Gare Saint-Lazare, circa 1890. Pompiers

On this day in 1894, the French anarchist Emile Henry was in Paris sipping a beer at the Café Terminus, which was located conveniently just across the street from the Saint-Lazare train station. Henry’s plan was to detonate the homemade bomb he had slipped into his overcoat pocket before leaving home and escape using the train station.

It was nearly 8 p.m., an orchestra was playing music. Henry lit a cigar and continued to wait. He claimed during his trial that his intention that night was to kill as many bourgeoisie as possible. To him, they represented everything that was wrong with society. The anarchist movement during that time in Paris was made from a tapestry of young men who were unable to advance socially. Ironically, Henry had been offered ample opportunity from the French society he so willfully wanted to destroy.

Engraving depicting Henry’s capture after he lit the bomb in Cafe Terminus. Public Domain

Despite his father’s past entanglements with radical fringe political movements, Henry’s academic aptitude was acknowledged. From a young age, France offered him a scholarship that endowed him with access to an excellent education. With that came opportunities to engage on a wide social spectrum. His intellectual dexterity landed him in an elite France university.

It could be that Henry found himself being pulled by polarized ends of the universe.  He was invited into a social sphere totally incompatible with his upbringing. Henry was born to a revolutionary line of ancestors; his father and brother were both members of radical fringe groups. His brother, in particular, was an anarchist. Henry’s brother was basically a spokesperson for the cause. To be a part of that, Henry had only two assets at his disposal. His keen chemistry skills and his life.

That night in Cafe Terminus, he pulled the bomb from his coat pocket, lit the fuse and tossed it in the air toward the direction of the orchestra. The explosion killed one person and left twenty injured. Henry’s escape plan was thwarted when he was stopped, first by a waiter, then a patron. He never saw his 22nd birthday, was found guilty executed at the age of twenty-one.

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