NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For a moment, the sight of a few Christmas trees in the back of the bombed-out building took the workers aback. There they were, still standing at the approach of summer, adorned with festive holiday decorations amid the rubble of the powerful blast months earlier.
It was now early June, nearly half a year after Nashville woke up to a Christmas Day bombing that ripped a hole in the heart of Music City’s historic downtown. A recreational vehicle had been intentionally detonated, killing the bomber, injuring three others and forcing more than 60 businesses to close.
“Frozen in time,” said Steve Prosser, an engineer taking part in the monthslong cleanup effort. On Friday, he stood near the historic Rhea Building not far from where the bomb had exploded. “I’ve never worked on a project like this. No one in Tennessee has.”
Construction crews, engineers and developers have painstakingly worked to clear away the rubble, a necessary first step before revitalization can begin. The work is slow and tedious and means workers haven’t been able to access some of the buildings until just recent weeks.
That’s when the Christmas trees, along with holiday wreaths and other winter decorations, prominently displayed in one of Nashville’s oldest buildings, were discovered. Amid debris piled all around, the holiday decorations remained intact, virtually in pristine condition.
Outside, faux pine Christmas garland strands with red ribbons are still wrapped around the light poles that survived the blast. Together, the decorations serve as reminders of the jarring details surrounding the bombing.
According to the FBI, Anthony Quinn Warner chose the location and timing to maximize the impact of the explosion while still minimizing the likelihood of “undue injury.” The FBI also concluded that the Antioch, Tennessee, man acted alone and set off the bomb to end his own life.
Before the RV blew up, it blared a recorded warning calling for people to evacuate, and then the 1964 song “Downtown” by Petula Clark.
To date, 31 businesses have since reopened after closing because of the blast that took place just off Lower Broadway, a flashy business thoroughfare known for its honky tonks. City officials have slowly allowed more public access to the area as COVID-19 restrictions have eased and some of the buildings farthest from the epicenter were spared crippling structural damage.
Meanwhile, the center of the explosion remains fenced off, and will be for the remainder of the year as more than 30 buildings — many of which were built in the Civil War-era — undergo repairs and rebuilding.
“Six months ago, at this very time, we were staring at television screens trying to wrap our heads around what happened a few hours earlier,” said Betsy Williams, who ran a vacation rental business in the building across the street from where the RV was parked. “It’s been a tough six months.”