Attentat: Homestead, 1892
gilt oak & balsa wood (gilding by Thad Kellstadt)
2012

Russian-born Alexander Berkman was a passionate writer, activist, and outspoken anarchist. In July, 1892, at age 22, Berkman attempted to assassinate Henry Clay Frick by shooting him with a pistol at close range, then attacking him with a homemade dagger, inside the offices of Carnegie Steel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Frick, in the employ of Andrew Carnegie, was largely responsible for violently diverting the massive Homestead Strike of that summer. At that time in his life, Berkman believed in a definition of "propaganda by the deed" which followed that political assassinations would provide the necessary spark to fuel a working class revolution. Frick's adversarial connection to the Homestead situation made him a ripe candidate for Berkman's focus. Frick survived the "attentat", however, and Berkman wound up serving 14 years of a 22 year sentence in Western State Penitentiary near Pittsburgh - most of it in solitary confinement and with little access to visitors or regular mail.

After a thwarted escape attempt in 1900, Berkman was eventually released in 1906. Although he continued his activism and prolific publishing into old age, his experience with the Frick scheme (and an aftermath he hadn't predicted) changed many of the views he had held in his youth. He remained an avowed anarchist until his death.

This is a reproduction of the dagger Berkman used. The original dagger, most likely a heavily tooled and sharpened file, is currently housed in the Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, PA.

This project was a part of a collaborative exhibition with Claire & Tesar Freeman: Commission for Treasonous Strategies. A slideshow of the exhibition can be seen here.