Making Lazy Circles in the Sky

The town of Boise City, Oklahoma has a population of approximately 1,250 people, just a shade lower than the roughly 1,450 who lived there during World War II.  And in the height of the war, Boise City experienced something few other mainland American towns experience: at roughly 1 A.M. local time on July 5, 1943, whistles and, ultimately, explosions woke up the town. Never mind the fact that Boise City, given that it is located in the middle of the country, is one of the least likely places to be hit by the Germans or the Japanese. This was no Independence Day celebration: Boise City was under attack.

As TIME reported, the townsfolk “acted the way most civilians would act who had never been bombed before. Most of them ran like hell, in no particular direction.”  This was a slight exaggeration: while most of Boise City’s citizens panicked, some kept their heads.  The man in charge of the light and power for the city, Frank Garrett, ran to the town’s central power station and shut down all the lights, in case other bombers were en route and looking for ground targets.  Others went to collect guns and ammunition.  Soldiers — visiting from an army base in Dalhart, Texas, about 45 miles away — helped evacuate a local soda dispensary.

But no further bombs were coming.  The attack was not the Luftwaffe nor the Japanese Air Force.  It was a B-17 bomber — an American plane — lost on a training flight.  The bomber took off from the same army base in Dalhart armed with a six pack of training bomb — a nerfed one which had much less gun powder than the standard World War II-era warhead.  The pilot circled around looking for his target and, upon seeing the lights below, let his payload go.  Way off course, he mistook the lights emanating from Boise City’s town center as his target.

The bombs struck the town center, damaging a garage, a church, and the sidewalk.  Thankfully, no one was killed.

Bonus fact: Boise City’s founding was similarly strange.  Two developers, J.E. Stanley and A.J. Kline, created brochures describing their new town, one replete with rivers, paved roads lined with trees, and, as the Oklahoma Historical Society’s encyclopedia notes, “dozens of houses and businesses.” The brochures were incredibly successful, attracting nearly 3,000 people to buy lots of land in Boise City.  But, unfortunately for the buyers, the brochures were a work of fiction.  Not only were none of their salient facts actually true, but Stanley and Kline did not actually own the title to the lands they were selling.  The fraudsters were imprisoned for their crimes.

From the Archives: Two items: (1) Bombs Away, another story of when the U.S. accidentally bombed itself (this time with a thermonuclear bomb), and (2) Lookout Air Raids, another time during World War II when the American mainland found itself under attack.

Related: For some reason, you can buy four different Boise City High School yearbooks on Amazon.  But not from 1943, alas.

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