MAY 4, 1886
“A FAIRER MORNING than that which smiled across the blue waters of Lake Michigan on the 4th day of May, 1886, never dawned upon the city of Chicago,” wrote the journalist John J. Flinn. “The wounded, crippled, bruised and bleeding anarchists who looked out upon it must have been maddened by the perfect beauty of the new day, the clearness of the sky, the freshness of the atmosphere, and the glorious awakening of Nature from her long sleep, made manifest in every peeping blade of grass and swelling bud.” The sun rose on a quiet city, and to those who attended to business that morning “it seemed as though the excitement occasioned by the eight-hour strikes and the troubles at McCormick’s was about to subside at last.”1
In fact, the bloody rout of strikers at the reaper works did not end the excitement; on May 4 the strikes resumed, and tension began to grow by the hour. That day the Tribune reported acts of rebellion all over the city as ordinary working people behaved in extraordinary ways. A dozen laundry girls employed at the Clifton House Hotel told their foreman they wanted to run things their own way; when he refused, they got together and quit work. Two hundred pupils in a Bridgeport school named for the city’s military hero, General Phil Sheridan, engaged in a miniature riot and demanded a one-hour reduction in the school day. When the principal refused, the boys went out and began “to demolish the windows of the school house” and, in one journalist’s view, to “deport themselves as fullfledged strikers,” until a police patrol restored order in the school yard. Groups of young women from the clothing shops turned their protest for an eight-hour day into a general strike; at one shop strikers removed the belt from an engine and brought everything to a standstill, and then laughed at the owner’s predicament.2
Map of Chicago showing locations of major strikes taking place during the Great Upheaval from April 25 to May 4, 1886
The Tribune’s leg men also saw more worrisome “specks of war” arising from the freight yards and lumberyards. The dreaded freight handlers’ strike seemed about to become a general one, because the railroad managers had rejected their employees’ proposal. Business came to a halt at the Rock Island freight house and several others as well. Office clerks and managers handled freight in some warehouses, but movement was very slow. Even the officials of the imperial Chicago, Burlington & Quincy were “rattled,” the Tribune reported. They fretted even more when union switchmen on the Fort Wayne road left the yards clogged with trains on tracks shared by many other railroads using the busy Union Depot. Some railroad chiefs remained openly concerned about the reliability of the police department, and therefore called for the creation of a law-and-order league that would enlist all the businessmen of Chicago to aid the railroads and to “save the city from ruination.”
Meanwhile, along the South Branch of the Chicago River scores of vessels rode at anchor in the docks and slips, their cargoes untouched, because the lumber shovers had decided to stop work until they received ten hours’ pay for eight hours’ work. The Tribune quoted an angry member of the union who said of the yard owners: “They want to starve us. We told them if we didn’t cull the lumber, they could not sell it, and they said they’d cull it and sell it in spite of us. Well, I tell you, we are not going to starve.” Before the bosses moved their lumber with scab labor, he warned, the strikers might burn it. The worker was promptly arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
Farther south, in Pullman town, union workers sent a committee to the company’s palatial offices on Michigan Avenue to present their demands to Mr. Pullman. The delegation included cabinetmakers, tinners, finishers, carpenters, wood turners, car builders, wheelwrights, upholsterers and even common laborers who demanded a larger wage increase than the others. Suddenly, Pullman’s paternalistic world was turned upside down. His workers had never dared to speak up, but now these “dependent, servile” people had found their voices.3
Pullman refused the committee’s demands, complaining that the company’s profits were not sufficient to allow a wage increase or a reduction in hours. Disappointed and discontented, the committeemen returned by train to the model city, where at 7 p.m. they met with all of Pullman’s 3,000 employees at the company baseball park. After hooting at their employer’s response to their demands, the employees voted en masse to endorse their committee’s strike recommendation.
Following Pullman’s lead, other major employers stiffened their resolve. The Furniture Makers’ Association gained scores of new members over the weekend; they met that Tuesday to declare their unanimous resolve against granting the union shorter hours at higher pay and against dealing with the union in any way. After the strike was defeated, declared the owners, they would take back strikers selectively, one man at a time. Meanwhile, the railroad managers formed a common front to put pressure on a few company executives who were inclined to yield to their workers’ demands. In making their case, the militant managers had reportedly expressed the fear that “Communist blatherskates” would wrest leadership of the freight handlers’ strike from the “cool headed leaders” and might incite the men to violence. The Metal Manufacturers’ Association also decided on all-out resistance to the eight-hour movement. The owners of some machine shops and foundries had already agreed to reduce the workday to eight hours when their employees accepted a two-hour reduction in wages. But on May 4 the association forced those owners to renege on their agreements and take a hard line on any reduction of hours. A. C. Cameron, chair of the mainstream Eight-Hour Committee, despaired because the employers were no longer considering how to settle the eight-hour strike; instead, they were uniting to force their employees back to work.
Besides refusing all concessions to their employees, anxious employers demanded a call-up of the militia to intimidate the strikers and protect strikebreakers. At noon on May 4, Colonel E. B. Knox, commander of the First Infantry Regiment, received a call warning that a mob of 6,000 strikers had formed in the lumber district and was marching downtown. Knox issued a call to arms and, within an hour, the National Guard armory was bustling with military activity. The mob from the “terror district” never arrived downtown because its existence was a fabrication, concocted perhaps by a nervous employer or an imaginative reporter. In any case, the threat of a unified workers’ movement focused on a common demand provoked an extremely well-cordinated response from the most powerful entrepreneurs in the Midwest, their financial backers in the East and their local allies. Businessmen who had been ruthless competitors now joined hands to battle a “common danger”—a mass strike by workers who challenged the laws of political economy and who risked provoking bloody civil strife. So, in Chicago, as in New York, the Great Upheaval marked a crucial moment in what one historian called “the consolidation of the American bourgeoisie.”4
Business leaders were so alarmed by the working-class mobilization of May 1886 that they went far beyond invoking the laws of supply and demand in condemning collective efforts to raise wages and reduce hours. The field of forces had changed so radically that employers now threatened to employ the “whole machinery of government,” including the military, to “enforce the laws of the market.” However, the man in charge of state government in Illinois was not ready to crank up that machinery. A few hours after the National Guard was marshaled in Chicago, Governor Richard Oglesby, an experienced military officer, told the militia commander he had exceeded his authority and that he should disband his regiment until he received further orders. Oglesby was troubled by the vagueness of the Illinois statute applying to the use of state militia. He knew the pressure a governor could endure from agents of “incorporated wealth,” who impatiently demanded the use of militia in cases of threatened violence, as well as from elements of the press, who were ready to “malign, misrepresent and intimidate” public officials who refused to do their bidding. Oglesby’s decision to restrain the militia earned angry rebukes from his Republican backers in Chicago, but he resisted further pressure to call out the troops. The governor believed that Chicago was so explosive that putting militia in the streets might well cause a violent eruption.5
Meanwhile, downtown at the Arbeiter-Zeitung office, the editors put together an afternoon edition of the daily. Spies, still infuriated by the killings he had witnessed on the Black Road the day before, wrote a column denouncing the police as trained “bloodhounds” and admonishing the McCormick strikers for being caught unprepared. Spies had no idea that he was tightening a noose that would later wring his neck when he wrote that the workers at the harvester plant could have defended themselves had they carried guns, as the Internationals had suggested. If the strikers, pitifully armed with stones, had instead been equipped “with good weapons and one single dynamite bomb not one of the murderers would have escaped his well-deserved fate.”6
Unbeknownst to Spies, two young anarchist carpenters, Louis Lingg and William Seliger, were busily making bombs that day at Seliger’s home on the North Side. After he was later arrested and turned state’s evidence, Seliger testified that Lingg had been doing so for several weeks, and that on May 4 both men had stayed home to work diligently at the task with three other comrades. Together, they manufactured thirty or forty explosive devices that afternoon but made no plans for where or when to use them. According to Seliger, Lingg simply told his fellow bomb makers that the infernal devices would be “good fodder” to feed the police when they attacked.7
If Spies had known about the bomb factory, he might have approved of it, because he was convinced that the massacre at McCormick’s was a rehearsal for something worse to come, some awful attack strikers must be prepared to resist in order to defend themselves. Yet the publisher vacillated that day as he issued violent threats on the one hand and made cautionary warnings on the other. After finishing his angry editorial, Spies objected strenuously when he read a militant leaflet prepared to announce the protest meeting at the Haymarket that night. Spies’s compositor, Adolph Fischer, had taken it upon himself to add the words “Working men, arm yourselves and appear in full force,” even though no one at the Grief’s Hall planning meeting had suggested that workers bring guns to the rally. Spies reacted angrily, fearing these words would frighten people and reduce the crowd at the Haymarket, and that the call to arms would heighten the chances of a police assault. He then said he would refuse to speak at the meeting as requested unless Fischer’s bellicose words were removed from the leaflet. The presses were held up and the provocative line was stricken from all but a few hundred of the flyers.8
Flyer announcing the Haymarket meeting on May 4, 1886
Spies rode home to Wicker Park that afternoon to get some rest and eat a supper prepared by his doting mother. “I was very tired and ill humored,” he recalled. His mind must have been spinning as he pondered some awful questions. Where would the next massacre occur—in the freight yards or in the lumberyards, on one of the viaducts or in a Turner hall, the places where unarmed workers had been slain by police in 1877? Would the workers be prepared this time? Would the next attack become the revolutionary moment he dreamed of, or would the people be slaughtered again as they were in Paris when the Commune was obliterated? And yet, maybe the next confrontation would have a different outcome. Maybe his own highly visible activity could somehow, even against long odds, turn an impending tragedy into a history-making victory.
AFTER SPIES ATE SUPPER in Wicker Park, he and his brother Henry set out for the Haymarket on foot. “We walked slowly down Milwaukee Avenue,” he recalled, because it was warm. The revolver he usually carried was a bother, because he had changed clothes and the gun was too large for his pocket. So Spies stopped at a hardware store and left the pistol with the owner, Frank Stauber, the socialist councilman who had been unseated in 1880. Spies told his brother that he did not expect any violence at the market that night because he did not believe that the police would attack “an orderly meeting of citizens.”9
What Spies did not know was that six companies of city police had already gathered half a block away from the Haymarket in the Desplaines Street Station under the command of Captain William Ward, who had been ordered to move all available men from his precinct—100 in all—to reinforce the detail at the station. By early evening a formidable force of 176 patrolmen had assembled.10 Nor would Spies have known that a squad of detectives in plain clothing had been ordered to mix with the crowd when it assembled, or that Inspector Bonfield had insisted on assuming overall command of the force at the Desplaines Street Station, that the police were “arming for war” with Colt .50s and that ammunition was being sent to stations in different sections of the city along with the order “Don’t spare your powder.”11
What Spies did know was that Bonfield’s men had fired pistols at unarmed men on the Black Road. They had abandoned the chief inspector’s policy of using extremely brutal force with clubs in order to avoid the use of bullets. The Chicago Police Department had no official policy on bearing and using firearms, but all officers carried guns in their pants pockets or in specially tailored overcoat pockets and could use them at their discretion.12
As the Spies brothers approached the market district from the north, they walked past George Engel’s toy store and Aurora Turner Hall on Milwaukee Avenue, then headed south on Desplaines Street. The two men arrived late at the site of the demonstration, which they expected to be in progress. It was about 8:15 p.m., but nothing had been done to start the meeting. Groups of men were standing in the Haymarket, smoking, murmuring, waiting for something to happen. August Spies had expected Albert Parsons to kick off the rally, but he was nowhere to be seen. After searching the area for his comrade, Spies returned to the market, and, seeing a smaller gathering than expected on Randolph Street, he moved the group out of the market around the corner onto Desplaines Street. Then he jumped up on a hay wagon sitting in front of an alley by the Crane Brothers’ Foundry and called the meeting to order. Before he began speaking, Spies sent one of his newspaper employees back to the Arbeiter-Zeitung office, where he had heard that Parsons, Fielden and Schwab were attending a meeting with Lucy Parsons and Lizzie Holmes to discuss organizing more women in the clothing shops.
In fact, Albert Parsons did not know he was supposed to speak at the protest rally. He had returned from Cincinnati that morning fatigued from his long train trip but exhilarated by the massive eight-hour demonstrations he had witnessed. After a morning nap, Lucy awakened him to tell him her own exciting news of a mass meeting of “tailor girls” who, she now believed, could be organized to join the eight-hour movement en masse. Parsons then walked downtown to Grief’s Hall to find a room for such a meeting. But since all the halls were occupied with eight-hour strike meetings, he had to settle for the little room in the Arbeiter-Zeitung office. While he was making these arrangements, Parsons was invited to speak at the Haymarket meeting; he declined because he had already made other plans and because, as he later revealed, he did not approve of holding an outdoor rally on May 4 since he feared the police would break it up and, as a result, more violence would ensue.13
Later that afternoon Parsons met two reporters on the West Side who asked him where he would speak that night. During the interview, one of the reporters later testified that “Mrs. Parsons and some children came up just then and Parsons stopped a car and slapped me familiarly on the back, and asked me if I was armed, and I said, ‘No. Have you any dynamite?’ ” Parsons laughed at this, and Lucy said jokingly of her husband: “He is a very dangerous-looking man, isn’t he?” Later that evening, after eating supper, Albert and Lucy left their home at 245 West Indiana with their two children and Lizzie Holmes and made their way downtown to meet with the “tailor girls.”14
Meanwhile, across the river in Haymarket Square, workers had gathered in the dark, waiting for the protest rally to begin. Unable to locate Parsons, Spies returned to the market and began the rally. Nearly spent, he decided to speak briefly and simply in English. The small size of the crowd, far smaller than the rally organizers had expected, deflated him even more. It was already quite dark in the dreary street, which smelled of horse manure and rotting vegetables. A single gaslight on a lamppost had been lit, casting eerie shadows on the factory walls. By day, the market was a jumble of horse carts that streamed in from the German and Dutch truck farms outside the city, bringing in tons of hay and bushels of vegetables.15 By night, this lively market scene disappeared and the district took on an ugly, forbidding aura. It was bounded by huge piles of dirt from railroad construction, a few rows of “pitiful, wretched houses” crowded together like huts, a “horrendous grey-black junk shop” and the large foundry on Desplaines Street owned by the Crane brothers. The only cheerful signs of life in the dark streets came from the gaslight showing through the smoky windows of Zepf’s Hall on Lake Street and the bright electric lights on the marquee of the Lyceum Theater on Randolph Street.16
Spies began by saying that the meeting should be peaceable, that it was called not to raise a disturbance but to protest the killing of strikers and to rally workers to the eight-hour movement. For twenty years, he declared, workingmen had asked in vain for two hours less work a day, only to be betrayed by legislators and treated with contempt by their employers. He then spoke about his role in the battle at McCormick’s, calling the factory’s owner “an infamous liar” for saying that he, Spies, had caused the riot. The men who stormed the reaper works the previous day were not anarchists but “good, honest, law-abiding, church-going citizens,” who had been goaded to madness by the lockout. Spies said that when he first tried to speak at the rally on the Black Road, some workers in the crowd objected that he was a socialist, and that when he tried to restrain the breakaway group, they ignored him and, “like ignorant children, they indulged in bombarding the plant with stones.”
Then Spies caught sight of the man he was looking for making his way happily through the crowd. “I see Mr. Parsons is here,” he said with relief, realizing that his comrade had changed his mind about attending the rally. “He is a much abler speaker in your tongue than I am,” Spies remarked, “therefore I will conclude by introducing him.” 17 Parsons parted company with his family, and then, as Lucy seated herself on a nearby cart with the two children and Lizzie Holmes, he climbed up on the wagon near Crane’s Alley and looked out on a street that was now packed from sidewalk to sidewalk with 3,000 workers.
The speaker began by calling the audience’s attention to the discontent of the working class, not only in Chicago but throughout the world, and he declared that all this distress meant there was “something radically wrong with the existing order.” He referred to his travels to depressed cities and industrial valleys where he met thousands of workers clamoring for redress and relief. He also spoke of “compulsory idleness and starvation wages and how these things drove workingmen to desperation—to commit acts for which they ought not be held responsible.”18
Parsons reminded his listeners of the newspaper editorials inciting violence against strikers and tramps. He quoted Tom Scott, the railroad baron, who said of the striking trainmen in 1877: “Give them a rifle diet and see how they like that bread.” He indicted another robber baron, Jay Gould, who had hired thugs in East St. Louis to fire on unarmed workingmen. At the mention of Gould’s name, someone in the crowd yelled, “Hang him!” Parsons paused and said that this conflict was not about individuals, that it was about changing a system and that socialists did not aim to take the life of a millionaire like Gould but rather to end the causes that created the pauper and the millionaire.
When Parsons resumed, he condemned the police for the outrage at the McCormick plant the previous day as well as the newspaper editor who falsely charged him with inciting trouble at a time when he was out of town. He concluded by saying that all citizens who loved liberty and independence should arm themselves or else they would see their rights trampled underfoot and see themselves shot in the streets like dogs. 19
Mayor Carter Harrison stood on the street smoking his cigar and listening as Parsons spoke. Harrison had decided to attend the meeting because he wanted to make sure the assembly did not lead to another riot like the one at McCormick’s. He thought that if the Haymarket meeting threatened violence, it would be better for the mayor to personally disperse the protesters than to order any policeman to do it. Harrison was a courageous man not afraid to confront public assemblies, as he had demonstrated earlier that day when he rode his white horse through town, visiting places where strikers congregated. Some of them hooted and jeered at him, but he was not physically assaulted. 20
In the midst of Parsons’s oration, Harrison walked a short distance to the Desplaines Street Police Station and told Inspector Bonfield that the speakers were “tame.” He had heard no call for the use of force; he had seen no one in the street with weapons in their hands, and so, the mayor later testified, he told Bonfield that since “nothing had occurred yet or was likely to occur to require interference,” he “thought the chief had better issue orders to his reserves at the other stations to go home.” Bonfield replied that “he thought about the same way.” 21
When Harrison returned to the meeting from the police station, Samuel Fielden was addressing the crowd in a loud voice. Still dressed in his dusty work clothes, the speaker alluded to premonitions of danger everywhere. 22 After listening to Fielden for a few minutes, Mayor Harrison relit his cheroot so that it would illuminate his bearded face—the most familiar visage in Chicago. He wanted the men on the wagon and the men in the audience to see that he was there. He listened to Fielden shouting to the crowd but heard him say nothing to incite violence. Shortly after 10 p.m. Harrison mounted his horse and, with a tip of his black slouch hat to the crowd, trotted off down Randolph Street toward his mansion on Ashland Avenue, relieved that the day had passed without more bloodshed.23
WHILE THE HAYMARKET MEETING continued on the West Side, Louis Lingg and William Seliger busied themselves on the North Side, loading the bombs they had made into a trunk. According to Seliger’s later testimony, they carried the trunk to Neff’s Hall on Clybourn Avenue, where several men appeared and took some of the explosive devices away with them; Lingg and Seliger took some as well. After they left the hall, the two carpenters walked past the Larrabee Street Police Station, where Lingg reportedly said “it would be a beautiful thing if we could walk over and throw one or two bombs in the station.” Then the two young men went to a nearby saloon and had a glass of beer.24
Meanwhile, at the rally, Fielden was bringing his speech to a close with angry words about the workingmen at McCormick’s factory who had been shot down by the police in cold blood. This was a horrible example, he told the crowd, of how the law was framed and executed by their oppressors. “Keep your eye on the law,” he cried. “Throttle it. Kill it. Stop it. Do everything you can to wound it—to impede its progress.” After hearing this, one of Bonfield’s detectives decided to report back to the chief inspector and tell him that the speaker was making incendiary remarks.25
At this point the weather changed. The moonlit sky suddenly darkened, and the crowd was chilled as a black cloud blew over the West Side. A storm seemed to be brewing. Albert Parsons, worried about his children getting cold, suggested adjournment to Zepf’s Hall. Fielden said this was not necessary because he was about to conclude. Parsons left anyway with Lucy, Lizzie, and his children, and some people in the crowd who followed them to Zepf’s Hall on Lake Street, less than a block away. Even Adolph Fischer, who wrote the militant call for the meeting, departed the rally for the warmth of the saloon.
At 10:20 p.m. only about 500 people remained on the dark street listening to Fielden speak as a light drizzle fell. The speaker concluded his remarks to a shivering audience by saying: “The Socialists are not going to declare war; but I tell you war has been declared upon us; and I ask you to get ahold of anything that will help you resist the onslaught of the enemy.” Then Fielden noticed a disturbance to his left at the corner of Randolph Street.
A tremor passed through the crowd as people saw through the dim gaslight an advancing column of blue coats that stretched across the entire width of Desplaines Street. George Brown, a young Yorkshire-born shoemaker, observed what he described as “a great company of police with their revolvers drawn, rushing into the crowd which parted to make way for them.” 26 The column covered the 180 feet from the station to the wagon in what seemed like a few heartbeats. The police commander, Captain William Ward, cried halt to his men and, with Inspector Bonfield at his side, exclaimed, “I command you in the name of the people of the state of Illinois to immediately and peaceably disperse.” Fielden protested, saying, “But we are peaceable.” A tense moment of silence followed, and Ward repeated his command. Then Fielden replied, “All right, we will go,” and moved to climb down to the street.27
At that moment, when all was quiet, scores of heads turned to look into the dark sky, where many people heard a hissing sound and then looked to see a lighted object arching out of the distance toward the front ranks of the police. One man thought it was a lighted cigar, but Lieutenant J. P. Stanton knew better. A veteran of the Union navy who commanded the third division of police, he recognized what he saw passing over his head: he had had enough active service to know what a bombshell looked like. He shouted frantically to his men, “Look out. Boys, for God’s sake, there is a shell.” A few men looked up, but there was no time to react when an orange flash lit the night sky and a terrific detonation resounded in the street. 28
August Spies had just jumped off the hay wagon when he heard the blast, but he could not see what had happened. His first thought was that the police had fired a cannon into the crowd. In the next instant Spies heard a fusillade erupt from police pistols. “Everybody was running, and people fell, struck by bullets, right and left.” As he crossed in front of Crane’s Alley, a number of officers rushed past Spies into the opening, some of them crying out that they had been hurt. “They had evidently been shot by their own comrades, and sought protection in the alley,” Spies observed. Spies and his brother Henry found themselves in the midst of the fleeing patrolmen, ducking to avoid the bullets whistling past them. 29
As gunfire rattled around Desplaines Street and men screamed out in agony, someone slipped up behind August Spies and stuck a six-shooter in his back. Before the assassin could pull the trigger, Henry Spies grabbed the gun. It discharged into his groin, and he fell down. The Spies brothers then became separated in the sea of humanity roiling around in the black street. “I lost my brother in the throng,” Spies wrote, recreating the scene, “and was carried away to the north.” He fell a few times over other men who had dropped to the street, but he made it safely to Zepf’s Hall, where he learned for the first time that the explosion he survived had probably been caused by a bomb.30
Just after he ordered Fielden to disperse the meeting, Captain William Ward heard a cry and turned to see the “bomb or shell thrown from the east side of Desplaines Street about 15 feet from the alley where there were a lot of boxes.” He saw it immediately, attracted by the light thrown off by its sizzling fuse. The grenade exploded almost as soon as it hit the ground, about eight or ten feet from where Ward stood, splintering the wooden blocks that lined the street and filling the night air with acrid smoke. “I think I heard a shot to the east of me,” he recalled, “and then I heard the command of some officer to the police to charge” followed by “a terrific firing from the officers.” After the gunfire abated, Ward hurried back toward the station. It was then that he saw lying on the southwest corner of Desplaines and Randolph, a half block from the bomb’s point of impact, the body of Officer Mathias Degan. He was already near death from his wounds.31
Albert Parsons was holding a schooner of beer, looking out Zepf’s window toward the remnants of the rally, when he saw what appeared to be “a white sheet of light at the place of the meeting, followed by a loud roar and then a hail storm of bullets that punctured the windows and thudded into the door frame.” Within a few seconds, men came rushing into the saloon to escape the hail of lead shot from policemen’s pistols. Parsons, who had been under fire on Civil War battlefields, remained calm, moving about the room telling the others not to be frightened.32 When someone shut the door and cut off the gaslights, many people rose from the floor and moved to the back room. There, Lizzie Holmes recalled, they all waited in an eerie quiet, “shut up in total darkness, ignorant of what had happened or what our danger was.”33
Map of the Haymarket Square area on May 4, 1886
THE MANY ACCOUNTS OF what happened that night in Chicago are in rough agreement up until the moment that Captain Ward gave the order to disperse; then the testimonies offered by witnesses diverge wildly. Some patrolmen thought they heard Fielden say, “We are peaceable,” but others thought that he said, “Here come the bloodhounds. You do your duty and I’ll do mine,” and that he then fired a gun at Captain Ward. Some policemen also told reporters that the bomb came from Crane’s Alley or from behind the speakers’ wagon, not from the east side of the street as Captain Ward had said. The direction of the bomb flight would later become important, because prosecution witnesses charged that Spies had given the bomb to a man who threw it from the alley.34
Most of the officers testified that as soon as the blast erupted they took heavy pistol fire from the crowd along the sidewalks. Inspector Bonfield insisted that this proved the events that night were not a riot but a deliberate, rehearsed conspiracy, because, he argued, the anarchists had planned to open fire on the policemen as soon as the bomb exploded. Captain Ward said he heard gunshots immediately after the explosion, but could not be sure who fired first because the firing was indiscriminate. Otherwise, the officers’ descriptions of the events that night were fairly consistent. 35Their testimony would provide the main basis of press accounts of the bombing, the accounts that would shape public understanding of the tragedy.
The police version of the May 4 events would also serve as the foundation for the legal case state prosecutors would bring against the suspects accused of the bombing. Anarchists and supporters of the International, as well as other observers who were not connected with the unions or the radical movement, would, however, challenge this authoritative narrative of the Haymarket incident on nearly every crucial point. These witnesses did not hear Fielden say the bloodhounds were coming or see him fire a gun at the police. One of them, S. T. Ingram, a nineteen-year-old worker at the Crane Brothers’ Foundry, read the Haymarket circular that day and returned to his workplace that evening to observe the meeting. Standing near the Crane building next to the wagon, he saw the police advance and Fielden jump from the wagon just before the blast echoed in the night air, but he saw no shots fired from the wagon. “After the explosion of the bomb,” he testified, “I stepped back against the wall to keep from getting killed. There was a great deal of shooting going on then; most of it coming from the policemen, from the center of the street.” He said his hearing and eyesight were very good, and he saw no citizen or person dressed in citizens’ clothes use a revolver. “It was a very peaceable meeting.” 36
Two businessmen saw events in a similar way. None of them saw firing from the crowd. Barton Simonson, a salesman, was an especially trustworthy eyewitness because he knew Captain Ward and Inspector Bonfield and other officers as a result of his prominence in charitable efforts to support soup kitchens for the destitute on the West Side. “The firing began from the police, right in the center of the street,” Simonson testified. “I did not see a single shot fired from the crowd on either side of the street.” 37
There was no dispute about what happened after the police started shooting. One reporter described the scene as “wild carnage,” and the Tribune’s observer went much further. “Goaded by madness,” he wrote, “the police were in the condition of mind that permitted no resistance, and in a measure they were as dangerous as any mob of Communists, for they were blinded by passion and unable to distinguish between the peaceful citizen and Nihilist assassin.”38 What remained unreported was the likelihood that, as an anonymous police official later indicated, a very large number of the police were wounded by their own revolvers. In the riotous seconds after the concussion, “it was every man for himself” as many patrolmen, trapped in tight formation, “emptied their revolvers, mainly into each other.”39
When the firing ceased on Desplaines Street, the stunned group huddled at the back of Zepf’s Hall waited quietly in the dark for several minutes before they risked venturing out into the night. Lizzie Holmes, Albert and Lucy Parsons and their children headed north over the Desplaines Street viaduct, where they met Thomas Brown of the American Group, who told Parsons that he was a marked man. Since everyone knew him and knew his influence, it would be better if Albert fled the city. An urgent discussion ensued on the viaduct. At first, Parsons refused to flee the scene and leave his family members and friends to face the consequences without him. No one recorded Lucy’s words to her husband that night, but her close friend Lizzie said she was able to convince Albert to run for his life. He had no money to buy a train ticket, so Brown gave him $5. And then, there on the viaduct, they decided to separate. Brown would go one way, Lucy, Lizzie and the children another, while Albert headed for the Northwestern Railroad Depot and a train that would take him to Geneva, Illinois, where William Holmes would be waiting to receive him. Before he turned to leave, Parsons looked at his wife and said in a sad voice, “Kiss me, Lucy. We do not know when we will meet again.”40
At about the same time, Chicago Police Superintendent Frederick Ebersold was retiring for the night in his South Side home. He was terribly fatigued by his long hours at headquarters dispatching patrols throughout the strike-torn city and mobilizing divisions for the Haymarket protest. He had left his office at about 10 p.m. after hearing from Inspector Bonfield that no trouble had occurred at the Haymarket and that the policemen held in reserve at various stations could be dismissed. When the telephone rang at his home, Ebersold knew it meant serious trouble had occurred. He threw on his clothes and rushed his horse carriage uptown to the Desplaines Street Station. When he arrived, he told a reporter, “the building was illuminated from top to bottom, officers were carrying wounded men on litters, surgeons and police were working or praying.” Ebersold, a combat veteran of the Union army and a survivor of the ghastly slaughter at Shiloh, had seen the gory aftermath of several Civil War battles. The scene of scores of wounded officers stretched on the Desplaines Street Station floor vividly recalled those pictures of battlefield carnage.41
Police officers told the superintendent that an unknown number of anarchists had been shot and killed, but the next day only one civilian death was reported in the Tribune. Carl Kiester, a laborer who lived near Albert and Lucy Parsons on West Indiana Street, had died after being shot just below the heart. Kiester was later described by the coroner as a “Bohemian Socialist.” Nineteen other “Citizens or Anarchists” were listed as wounded, according to the paper. Six of them, reportedly in dangerous condition, gave names that suggested the national diversity of the Haymarket rally crowd: William Murphy, John Lepland, Joseph Koutchke, Robert Schultz, Peter Ley and Mathias Lewis, a shoemaker shot through the back. A few days later, police identified a comatose patient in Cook County Hospital as a man named Krueger, who lay with a bullet in his brain and with no hope whatever for a recovery. This was “Big Krueger,” a militant in the IWPA. At least thirty more people at the rally and in the neighborhood were wounded by police gunfire, including Henry Spies, who took a bullet for his brother, and Sam Fielden, who was shot in the leg as he ran up Randolph Street toward downtown.42
In the next days, the deaths of three civilians were recorded by the coroner, though more may have died in the hail of police gunfire without having their deaths and burials recorded by the city. In any case, these deaths seemed of no account to the press. What mattered to the public was that in the same span of time six more patrolmen followed Mathias Degan to the grave—seven brave men in all, men who marched with their fellow officers into the Haymarket that night faithfully performing their duties with no inkling of the fate that awaited them.43