Chapter Twelve

The Strangest Frenzy

MAY 5, 1886–MAY 27, 1886

AFTER HE LEFT the back room of Zepf’s Hall, August Spies hurried up Milwaukee Avenue to his home in Wicker Park. When he returned that evening, his mother and sister told him that his brother Henry was alive and had received treatment for his wound. Spies’s relief could hardly have displaced the anxiety he must have felt; in the previous thirty-two hours he had witnessed the shootings at McCormick’s, found himself blamed for the bloodshed the next morning and then, the next night, had survived a bomb explosion, an assassination attempt and a hail of police gunfire in the Haymarket.

Spies left no account of how he slept that night or how he felt on the morning after the tragedy, but his actions were normal. He took the horsecar down Milwaukee Avenue and went to work at the Arbeiter-Zeitung as usual. There he joined Schwab in the urgent task of putting out the day’s special edition on the sensational Haymarket events. Lizzie Holmes and Lucy Parsons also arrived at the newspaper building that morning after spending the night with Albert, Jr., and Lulu in a comrade’s flat; they planned to compose a special edition of the Alarm, to denounce the police who had broken up a peaceful meeting and gunned down innocent workers. None of them had yet read the morning dailies with their accounts of police casualties and the “hellish deeds” in the Haymarket.

NOW IT IS BLOOD! proclaimed a typical headline. A BOMB THROWN INTO RANKS INAUGURATES THE WORK OF DEATH. Headlines screamed murder and zeroed in on the “Bloody Monsters” who committed it. City editors all adopted Inspector Bonfield’s theory that the bombing was the work of an anarchist conspiracy rather than an act of an individual. Wilbur Storey’s Democratic Chicago Times cried out for an immediate and remorseless repression. “Let us whip these slavic wolves back to the European dens from which they issue, or in some way exterminate them.”1

The owners of the Knights of Labor newspaper condemned the anarchists as harshly as the business press did. Like their leader, Terence Powderly, who immediately denounced the outrage on behalf of “honest labor,” these men lashed out at the “band of cowardly murderers, cut-throats and robbers, known as anarchists, who sneak through the country like midnight assassins, stirring up the passions of ignorant foreigners, unfurling the red flag of anarchy and causing riot and bloodshed.” Even though Albert Parsons was a founding member of the Knights, the two owners of the order’s Chicago newspaper declared that he and his comrades “should be summarily dealt with,” because they were “entitled to no more consideration than wild beasts.”2

One report from the Board of Trade captured the mood of the city’s businessmen: a broker said that if some in the financial quarter moved to hang the anarchists from lampposts, 500 men on the trading floor “would lend willing hands in the work.” Even a highly regarded Chicago attorney said he believed that the nature of the crime was itself “a waiver of trial and a plea of guilty.”3

Public antipathy toward the anarchists was naturally heightened by sympathy for the stricken police officers. When two more patrolmen, John Barrett and George Mueller, died on May 6, the Tribune headline tolled like a bell: TWO MORE DEAD HEROES.Once despised by city elites and characterized as shakedown artists and bagmen, as the lackeys of saloonkeepers and “bummer” politicians from the Irish wards, the police were suddenly regarded as brave warriors who marched in “gallant platoons” to the Haymarket, never expecting resistance or the explosion of a bomb that devastated their ranks.5

However, the dead policemen were not buried with military honors. In fact, Mathias Degan, a widower and the first to die, was given a modest funeral at his humble residence on South Canal Street and was buried with only a few friends and police department representatives in attendance. John Barrett, age twenty-five, who had learned the trade of an iron molder before joining the force, was also put to rest in a funeral service conducted in a small room of his third-floor flat. The only police officers who attended the service were six patrolmen from the Desplaines Street Station who would serve as Barrett’s pallbearers. The third deceased patrolman, twenty-eight-year-old George Mueller, who came to Chicago to work as a teamster, was not buried in the city but in his hometown of Oswego, New York. Mueller, said the Tribune, was one of the men “most horribly torn by the destructive bomb” thrown by the anarchists; he expired after suffering “such torture from his injuries that death came as a release to him.”6


Patrolman Mathias J. Degan

Unaware of the hurricane developing outside the Arbeiter-Zeitung office, the anarchists seemed unprepared for what happened next. As Spies and Schwab composed copy for their afternoon newspaper, a police detail arrived to arrest them. August Spies’s youngest brother, Christian, a furniture worker who happened to be in the building, was also taken to jail. The police detective who led the raid later admitted that he searched the editors and their premises without a warrant.7

When Spies and Schwab arrived at the Central Police Station, they were confronted by Police Superintendent Frederick Ebersold, who was at his wit’s end. He had placed 350 men at McCormick’s disposal to keep the peace on the Black Road, but the result was a riot that left civilians dead. He had commanded Bonfield to assemble a large squad at Desplaines Street to keep order there, and now three policemen were dead and others lay dying at Cook County Hospital. He leapt at Schwab and at Spies, who recalled the scene this way: “ ‘You dirty Dutch sons of bitches, you dirty hounds, you rascals, we will choke you, we will kill you,’ ” Ebersold screamed, “forgetting in his rage that he was himself a German.” Then the officers “jumped upon us, tore us from one end to the other, went through our pockets,” Spies wrote. They took his money and everything he had, but he remained silent, fearing far worse abuse.8

After their German comrades were taken away from the Arbeiter-Zeitung office, Lucy Parsons and Lizzie Holmes nervously resumed work on the Alarm. In a short time, another detail of police burst up the stairs to their office and confronted the two women. When one of them grabbed Lizzie, she resisted. When Lucy protested, an officer pushed Lucy and called her “a black bitch.” The police then marched the two anarchist women to the city jail for questioning. After the interrogation the officers released Lucy, hoping they could follow her to Albert, now the target of an intense dragnet. When she did not lead them to her husband, she was arrested and questioned two more times. The second time she was apprehended, the police arrested her in front of her children, who were staying in a friend’s flat near Grief’s Hall. They ransacked the place while Lucy kept up a running stream of protest. It was the beginning of a forty-year ordeal of episodic jailings for Mrs. Albert Parsons, whose activities would become an obsession with the Chicago Police Department.9

As soon as Albert Parsons and William Holmes learned of these arrests, they knew the Holmes house in Geneva would soon be searched. So Parsons disguised himself by shaving off his long mustache and washing out the shoe black that he normally used to dye his gray hair. He took off the waistcoat, shirt collar and necktie he always wore and dressed like a tramping worker before leaving on foot for the little city of Elgin, where he would catch a train to Waukesha, Wisconsin, and there take refuge in the home of a socialist comrade. Parsons decided to travel unarmed, hoping to avoid a shoot-out if lawmen tracked him down.10

When the police arrested Lucy and Lizzie, they also hauled off the entire staff of the Arbeiter-Zeitung. All twenty-two workers, including the compositor Adolph Fischer and several young printer’s devils, were marched two by two to the police station past people on the streets who shouted angry words at them. Some cried out that the printers should be hanged immediately. The pressmen were charged with murder and held incommunicado for the night. Meanwhile, the police returned to systematically search the Arbeiter-Zeitung office, where they found 100 copies of the call for the Haymarket meeting, and in the room adjoining Spies’s office they seized some material they believed was to be made into bombs.11

Oscar Neebe, assistant manager of the anarchist newspaper, went home that night distressed by the arrests that closed down the radical presses on a day when thousands of readers awaited news about the Haymarket affair. In the morning he was confronted by Captain Michael Schaack, who arrived at his house with a police detail. The officers found one Springfield rifle, one Colt .38-caliber pistol with five chambers fired out, one sword, a belt with a Lehr und Wehr Verein buckle and leaflets announcing the protest meeting at the Haymarket. On this basis, Schaack would go before a grand jury to ask that Neebe be indicted for conspiracy to commit murder. 12

Captain Schaack, a close ally of Inspector Bonfield, knew the anarchists well. He commanded a police station on Chicago Avenue, where he kept up a steady surveillance on the radicals who lived and congregated in his district; he had promised to keep the Gold Coast a “safe haven” for the rich families who lived uncomfortably close to the immigrant masses down below Division Street. Described as “posturing, defiant, self-assured,” a man full of “bluster and bravado,” Schaack eagerly organized an anarchist-roundup that would soon make him the best-known police detective in America.13

The next day, May 6, Samuel Fielden awoke and found his leg wound superficial. His wife put a new bandage on it, and he felt strong enough to walk around the block. After doing this he came home and waited for the police. When they arrived, the officers ransacked Fielden’s house without presenting a search warrant, but they discovered nothing incriminating. At the station, Fielden recalled, he was confronted by Superintendent Ebersold, who demanded to see his wound. When the prisoner pulled up his pants leg and Ebersold saw the wound from the bullet, he said, “Damn your soul, it ought to have gone here,” as he pointed his finger at Fielden’s forehead. 14

Fielden was arraigned with Spies and Schwab, and then all three prisoners gave interviews to the press in which they explained their actions at the square the night before. The men “cast furtive glances downward,” according to one reporter, because they “had undoubtedly heard the threats of lynching.” Schwab, who was described as looking fifty years old and “thin almost to the point of emaciation,” said he left the Haymarket before the rally and knew nothing of the bombing. “His eyes were covered with heavy, puffy lids,” and he shielded them behind a pair of steel-framed spectacles. “His hair is black and tumbled, and his weedy, black beard falls down upon his breast and covers his upper lip. His hands are big and bony, and his thin body and legs are lost in his clothes.


Newspaper artists’ drawings of Samuel Fielden (left) and Michael Schwab from police photos

His hands and legs writhe and intertwine, and his general appearance is that of a fanatic, half-insane.”15

Fielden, who also protested his innocence, was depicted as being dressed in well-worn clothing of the poorest quality, wearing a “blue hickory shirt that gave him the appearance of a country man.” He was heavyset and muscular, with swarthy features well covered with a thick growth of black hair and a beard. All these features seemed “repulsive” to one reporter, and Fielden’s “low brow and catlike eyes” did not improve his appearance. When eight-hour leader George Schilling spoke up for Fielden, calling him “an old pupil” who had now gotten himself into very “deep water,” the Tribune took this to mean that Schilling, “heretofore looked upon as a labor reformer acting for the benefit of working men,” had actually been “a teacher in the school of anarchy.” The conclusion was a harsh one: “The time has come . . . not only for suppressing the Spieses, Parsonses, and the Fieldens, but the Schillings also.”16

In his interview August Spies called the bombing an impulsive and outrageous act, not a prearranged one. He said he knew nothing of the explosives the police said they took from his office; he thought they had been “placed there by the police in order to make a case” against him. He admitted that he kept two metal casings in his desk to show reporters but said they were “perfectly harmless.”17

These expressions of innocence meant nothing to the coroner’s jury when it convened that day. The inquest into Officer Degan’s demise concluded not only that his death had been “caused by a piece of bomb, thrown by an unknown person,” but that the perpetrator was “aided, abetted, and encouraged” by Spies, Schwab, Parsons and Fielden. An editorial in the Tribune that same day set the terms of prosecution in even more ominous specificity. It retold the story of Tuesday night’s violence as a “murderous Communist conspiracy” and then explained that Illinois’ criminal code regarding accessories to murder was broad enough to allow indictments against any offenders whose “seditious utterances” were followed by the commission of a crime. If it could be shown that anarchist leaders “advised and encouraged” the crime perpetrated on Desplaines Street, then, under state law, they would be subject to death on the gallows. 18

While the searches, arrests and interrogations continued, the police kept busy raiding other places where militant workers and anarchists congregated. They closed Grief’s and Zepf’s halls on Lake Street because they were “headquarters of the foreign-speaking population which flaunts and marches under the red flag.” The streets in the Haymarket district were usually crammed with farmers, workers and shoppers, but on May 6 all were deserted. The red flags that had flown from hundreds of buildings on the West Side during the previous week of tumult had all but disappeared.

Yet one spot in the district was filled with people that morning. Crowds of men and women were attracted to the scene of the tragedy. They stood in front of Crane’s Alley talking in little groups and pointing at the houses and buildings in the area damaged by the shooting. On Desplaines Street as far north as Zepf’s Hall, they could see shattered windows and doors pockmarked with bullets. Dr. James Taylor, a member of the International who had attended the rally, joined the curious bands of citizens on the street. He returned to look at a tall telegraph pole he had seen riddled by police bullets the night of the riot. Now he was surprised to see that the pole had been removed by someone who left telegraph wires strung along the street. 19

Meanwhile, in Chicago’s working-class neighborhoods, rumors flew as bloodied rallygoers returned home and sought treatment from local druggists and doctors. These witnesses carried with them lurid accounts of events in the Haymarket the night before, tales that caused excitement all over Pilsen. The next morning a crowd threw stones through the windows of a store owned by a man who had allowed police to use his telephone to report disturbances. When 500 strikers from the lumberyards gathered in another spot, three patrol wagons with 50 officers hurried to the area and found the street clogged with people. Brandishing their revolvers, the patrolmen forced the sullen crowd to disperse and then walked resolutely up the board sidewalks of Halsted Street, breaking up any and all gatherings. Bohemian women “acted like tigresses,” and the police were “compelled at times to forget the sex of their assailants.” The next day it was reported that the “backbone of Socialism” in the Bohemian district had been broken by the “bold front presented by the policemen and the readiness they showed in the use of revolvers.”20

On May 7, the Tribune reassured readers that the socialists had been cowed by the aggressive measures of the authorities. No demonstrations of any note took place anywhere in the city. The area around the Haymarket was quiet, and so was the district along the Black Road that bordered the Bohemian district. Two days later the war was over in Chicago, according to the New York Times. “There is hardly an Anarchist in the city who does not tremble for fear of a domiciliary visit from the police. Search warrants are no longer necessary, and suspicious houses are being ransacked at all hours of the day and night.” For nearly two more months Chicagoans would experience what a visiting economist, Richard Ely, called a “period of police terrorism”—a time when all civil liberties were suppressed in the name of public safety.21

However, reports of police action from the war zone did little to calm excited residents. People in suburban towns, unprotected by large armed police forces, feared acts of violence committed by marauding gangs from Chicago. In the city itself, where the police controlled the streets, middle-class residents were also petrified. Gun sales soared. High anxiety prevailed day after day throughout the month.22

Just when the last anarchist seemed to have been arrested, more were flushed out of their dens by detectives under the energetic direction of Captain Schaack. Almost every day detectives uncovered some dynamite plot or cache of weapons that they said indicated a dangerous anarchist conspiracy was still afoot. It was easy to persuade the terror-stricken population of the existence of a gigantic revolutionary conspiracy, recalled Chicago journalist Brand Whitlock. No rumor of a deadly plot seemed too fantastic to be believed by a hysterical public. It all produced, said Whitlock, “one of the strangest frenzies of fear that ever distracted a whole community.” 23


Drawings from police photos of Bohemian workers arrested after disturbances in Pilsen, May 5, 1886

THE FEAR THAT GRIPPED Chicago that May did not arise simply from sensational police activities and newspaper stories. It fed on a fever of worry that had plagued the city ever since the Great Fire of 1871. The bomb, or something like it, had been forecast for years, but when it actually exploded, the fears it ignited were far worse than those produced by the holocaust fifteen years before. People’s imaginations ran wild. Chicago was a city where citizens had been more fearful of the “dangerous classes” than in any other place; to them, the police, for all their corrupt qualities, represented the only means of preventing another inferno from which there would be no recovery.24 If these trained law officers could be struck down by the black hand of anarchy, how could anyone be safe? There was simply no telling how many other bomb throwers had hidden themselves away in Chicago’s “terror district.”

On the Sunday after the explosion, an influential Protestant preacher, Professor David Swing, asked his huge congregation: “If men can pass their lives among us . . . and never be touched by one ray of religious, social or political truth, what can we say of America and what of Chicago?” Was their pride in the great Republic justified? “We need a careful definition of what freedom is,” Swing continued. “If it means the license to proclaim the gospel of disorder, to preach destruction, and scatter the seeds of anarchy . . . the sooner we exchange the Republic for an iron-handed monarchy the better it will be for all of us.” 25

If Christian Chicagoans believed social order to be ordained by God, then disorder had to be the work of the devil and his agents, who lived on the dark side of life in this city of smoke. After all, there was no darker city in America than Chicago, even in the daytime. The anarchists often met at night, plotting conspiracies in saloon cellars and drilling their militia in basement rooms. The protest rally at the Haymarket took place at night. The bomb was thrown from an alley as dark clouds rolled in from the lake, and its explosion snuffed out the one gas lamp on the street so that the bomber, a creature of the night, could slip away unseen.26

The night of terror in the Haymarket challenged commentators to find words that could capture the horror of the event and the evil of the men who caused it. The urge to describe, label and signify went far beyond the white-hot editorials in Chicago papers. Every editor in the country had his say. Western newspapermen said frontier justice should be applied to the lawless city and the anarchists should be treated like horse thieves. Indeed, the citizens of Chicago, declared a Denver editor, could be excused if they formed vigilante committees and hanged “every man who was known to have advocated the throwing of dynamite bombs and the overturning of the law.”27

Many editorialists relied on animal metaphors to describe the anarchists, whom they branded “ungrateful hyenas,” “incendiary vermin” and “slavic wolves.”28 Some commentators conceded that the anarchists were human but were from the “lowest stratum,” as the Washington Post put it. Following this kind of reasoning, the alien incendiaries were often compared to other hated groups like the menacing Apache Indians. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat applied an old frontier adage about “savage” tribes to the new menace. “There are no good anarchists except dead anarchists,” it proclaimed.29

Other editorialists examined the particular European origins of the bomb throwers, and explained that the anarchists came from what the Tribune called “the worst elements of the Socialistic, atheistic, alcoholic European classes.” The “enemy forces” that had invaded the city were the “scum and offal” of Europe, its “human and inhuman rubbish.” “These aliens, driven out of Germany and Bohemia for treasonable teachings by Bismarck and the Emperor of Austria, have swarmed over into this country of extreme toleration and have flagrantly abused its hospitality,” the paper declared. “After warming these frozen vipers on its breast and permitting them to become citizens,” America had been bitten by these “serpents” who had been “warmed in the sunshine of toleration.” Thus, the Tribune concluded, all the death in the Haymarket resulted from the city’s ill-conceived toleration of the anarchists.30

Standing up in the middle of this reactionary storm was Mayor Carter Harrison, whom the press and the business community held partially responsible for the attack on the police because he allowed the anarchists to speak and assemble freely. The mayor temporarily banned all assemblies that might be dangerous and ordered the closing of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, but he also told reporters it was wrong for the newspapers to criticize elected officials while the city remained in a crisis caused by the eight-hour strikes. He also rejected the assumption that excessive free speech caused the tragedy. “If we had stopped them from speaking,” he explained, “the same thing would have happened.” Spies, Parsons and Fielden had aroused the anxiety of the crowd by warning of the array of policemen and soldiers surrounding them with loaded guns, but they had said nothing inflammatory, nothing to incite violence. Harrison chose not to make the anarchists into martyrs by suppressing them and violating cherished principles. “Free speech is a jewel and the American people know it,” he said.31

As he watched the nation’s first red scare grip his city in the following days, the mayor told a neighbor what he did that Tuesday night on Desplaines Street, how he had listened to the speeches and heard nothing provocative and how he told Bonfield that the meeting was peaceful and that the crowd was dispersing. Harrison thought the bomb thrower was probably a lone lunatic and that the bombing was not a prelude to an insurrection or the result of an anarchist plot. He knew the anarchists were men who liked to hear themselves talk and who often talked like “damn fools,” but, the mayor told his friend, they were not dynamite plotters.32

Now in his fourth term, Carter Harrison had been a brilliantly effective mayor. He had won the affection of Chicago’s many ethnic tribes by proclaiming fictive kinship with their elders, marching in their parades, honoring their traditions and rewarding immigrant supporters with jobs and favors. After he was first elected in 1879, Harrison brought Chicagoans together in the aftermath of the hard and bitter years when the fear of unemployment, strikes, lockouts and bloody riots pushed citizens into deep trenches full of animosity. Moreover, the mayor held the city together during the mid-1880s, when tensions between workers and bosses reached a breaking point—a time when his popularity was so wide it extended to all classes, races and nationalities.33 But now, on May 5, 1886, he saw his beloved city breaking apart again.

No one uttered in public the views Mayor Harrison shared with his neighbor in private because no one expressed any doubt that an anarchist conspiracy had caused the deaths in the Haymarket. At first, the only editorial voice suggesting that the police were in some way responsible for the tragedy came from far away in New York City. There, the editor of a small but influential labor publication, John Swinton’s Paper, pointed out that “[i]f the armed squad of policemen had not marched menacingly on the assemblage, if they had refrained from any attempt to break up the meeting as long as it was free from tumult, there is no reason to doubt that the diatribes of the speakers would have ended in silence and peace about the usual hour of ten o’clock.”34

In John Swinton’s view, the Chicago police had provoked the violence as a way of stopping the drive for an eight-hour day and the powerful strike movement that propelled it. The bomb, he wrote, was a “god send to the enemies of the labor movement,” who would use it, he added provocatively, “as an explosive against all the objects working people are bent on accomplishing.” 35

As Swinton feared, during the next days responsibility for the crime of May 4 was extended beyond the “dynamite orators” to include thousands of eight-hour men who remained on strike. Some commentators blamed the whole movement for the bloodshed. Every drop, one editorial charged, could be “attributed to the malign influences, teachings, resolutions . . . of the Knights of Labor.” The Tribune asked: “Why should the dynamite knights be allowed to exercise the rights of free citizens?” And then it warned that the strikers were deliberately injuring themselves and their employers by their “injudicious attempt to make Chicago an exception to the laws of political economy in a mistaken effort to improve their own condition.” Protesters should return to work and reject the advice of miscreants who would lead them to common ruin.36

INSTEAD OF FOLLOWING the Tribune’s directions, thousands of workers stayed on strike on May 5; and the next day others joined them. By then, however, employers had been thoroughly mobilized, the police had been deployed all over the city and change was in the air as the eight-hour strike movement became a struggle mainly of skilled craft workers.37

The unskilled strikers were the workers most intimidated by the effects of Haymarket. For instance, the freight handlers, their backs to the wall, vowed to disown the socialists and keep the peace after being warned by Bonfield himself “to stay off the streets and to avoid every appearance of evil.” Meanwhile, they were losing ground, as more and more business was being done at freight houses by strikebreakers without serious opposition from the union men.38

The Jewish tailors, latecomers to the labor movement, were utterly unprepared for the reaction that hit them on May 5. A small group of Yiddish-speaking workers, oblivious to the events that took place in the Haymarket the night before, marched from the West Side to downtown factories where manufacturers had hired nonunion laborers to perform their work. The strikers hoped, against great odds, to invade the open shops and pull out the workers inside, but when 600 of them crossed the Van Buren Street Bridge, they were surrounded by scores of policemen with billy clubs, who chased them back over the river and beat them as they ran for their lives. Limping back to their hall on DeKoven Street and nursing their wounds, the tailors conversed intensely in Yiddish, trying to find an explanation for what had happened. It was only then that one of the men who could read German told them what he had learned from a newspaper about Tuesday’s Haymarket bombing: that the police were hunting the men who threw the bomb; and that one of them was the same August Spies who had lectured to them about the eight-hour strike. “After May 5th picketing became absolutely impossible,” wrote Abraham Bisno, one of the Russian tailors the police beat on Van Buren Street. It was as though the city were under martial law.39

A prominent socialist summarized the situation for the Tribune on May 5. “A large number of trades that have compact organizations—the aristocracy of labor—will get ten hours’ pay for eight hours’ work,” but, he added, an army of 50,000 male and female wage workers were in danger of losing out, and being left with ten and twelve hours for a day’s work and wages of 50 cents to $1.50 a day. The anarchists were organizing with these people, he explained, encouraging them to make a stand. But now with the International’s leadership behind bars, with Albert Parsons in hiding and with Lucy Parsons in and out of jail, they had no one to give them heart. 40

By May 15 the eight-hour strikes had waned, and workers were returning to their jobs in Chicago and at Pullman town. The freight handlers and iron molders, whose strikes were most menacing, had been defeated. Employers in the planing mills, who had conceded eight hours to their workers before May 2, now reneged on their agreement and returned to the ten-hour day. Master carpenters, plumbers, steamfitters and foundry workers all returned as ten-hour men, though some found that they had been replaced by nonunion hands. By May 18, the most tenacious group of strikers in the city, the lumber shovers, was all but defeated. When they too returned to work a few days later, the Tribune declared the eight-hour movement practically dead.41


Lucy Parsons in a drawing from a police photo after one of her arrests in May 1886

Yet, even as the Great Upheaval subsided, the red scare gathered force. Every day the newspapers carried some sensational news. A bomb factory had been found at a house on Sedgwick Street, and the owner, William Seliger, had confessed to making explosive devices there with Louis Lingg. But Lingg, who was alleged to be the bomb thrower, was in hiding. Then, on May 14, came the thrilling news that Lingg had been captured after a furious fight with two policemen. After being subdued and disarmed (he had a knife strapped to his wrist), Lingg was hustled to the Chicago Avenue Station to be interrogated by Captain Schaack.42

While newspaper readers waited to learn more about Louis Lingg’s interrogation, they were jolted by another report: an anarchist named Rudolph Schnaubelt was now being sought as the perpetrator after the police had mistakenly released him following his arrest on May 7. The suspect was identified as a large man, a machinist by trade, who was known to be an anarchist militant and who was seen standing near the speakers’ wagon on the night of May 4. After he was arrested, Schnaubelt told detectives he had left the scene before the bomb exploded; when several witnesses corroborated his story, the suspect was released and promptly fled the city. The police and the press now agreed that Schnaubelt’s flight made him the obvious suspect in the bombing.43

On May 18, Schaack’s detectives entered George Engel’s toy store on Milwaukee Avenue and took the shopkeeper in for questioning. Engel had been interrogated on May 6 but released as a result of an intervention by the coroner, a fellow German, who said he knew the shopkeeper well and that he was a “quiet and well behaved citizen.” But twelve days later Engel was spirited away by the police, leaving his wife and daughter to believe that he had simply disappeared. In fact, Schaack was holding him incommunicado while his men gave Engel the third degree, hoping he would implicate his comrades in the bombing. Even though he was put in the sweatbox (a small, pitch-dark wooden container) for hours, the prisoner refused to tell the police what they wanted to hear. On the eighth day of his confinement, Engel’s daughter finally managed to find her father and to persuade his jailers to allow him to see visitors.44

Even though most of the police work had concluded for the grand jury hearings, Schaack kept the pot boiling. He also told the jury that he had unearthed a gigantic plot to burn and sack a certain portion of the city and had the evidence to prove it. He needed only a few more days to complete the chain of evidence.45

Meanwhile, many rumors as to the whereabouts of Albert Parsons appeared in the dailies. The most-wanted fugitive was sighted in St. Louis, in Pittsburgh, in San Francisco and in Dallas, where he was reportedly recognized by people who knew him when he was a newspaperman. It was also rumored that he had either started out for Mexico on the Texas & Pacific Railway or was “hiding out among the negroes.”46

Cartoons and drawings of the Haymarket events and the wicked-looking anarchists proliferated in the press that May. The most influential image appeared in Harper’s Weekly on May 15 in an enormous two-page drawing of the bombing scene that would become, and remain until this day, the single most important visual representation of the incident. The artist’s view is from street level just north of the speakers’ wagon, where a white-haired figure, presumably Fielden, is gesturing at the police with one hand raised in the air. To the right in the rear, the flash of an exploding bomb illuminates policemen falling and writhing in agony. Nearby two policemen fire their pistols at the crowd, while in the foreground, a man in a bowler hat shoots at the officers as his comrades flee for their lives. Thure de Thulstrup’s famous drawing elided a series of events that occurred over a few minutes’ time into one dramatic moment of simultaneous action in which the violence seems clearly to have resulted from the speaker’s effort to incite the crowd. This indelible image reflected and magnified a popular perception that the city streets had finally become domestic battlefields in a growing class war.47

During these wild days a grand jury listened as witnesses were called to testify that an anarchist plot had existed to annihilate the police at the Haymarket. On May 27 the jury returned murder indictments against ten anarchists, despite the objections of one troublemaker among them who argued that, before they indicted the men for conspiring to commit murder, they ought to know who threw the bomb.48

By this time, ten labor meeting halls, seventeen saloons and several newspaper offices had been raided; numerous houses had been searched, often without warrants; and 200 arrests had been made. Some prisoners were held without benefit of counsel, and some were pressured for hours in Schaack’s sweatbox. Scores of witnesses were questioned, including forty-five people who were promised financial support in return for their testimonies. The state’s attorney, Julius Sprague Grinnell, had gathered a mountain of evidence against the eight defendants who would finally stand trial for what was generally regarded as the worst crime committed in the United States since the assassination of Lincoln.49 Grinnell wanted the trial to begin immediately, but the defense lawyers objected given the enormity of the task before them—one that seemed almost hopeless at this point, when many newspaper editors and city leaders demanded the speedy trial and execution of the men they held responsible for the shocking deaths of six policemen.50


Thure de Thulstrup’s imaginative depiction of events at the Haymarket, covering two pages of Harper’s Weekly, May 15, 1886

Wilbur Storey’s Chicago Times insisted that all the indicted anarchists in custody should be tried and hanged for murder, along with every leader of the Central Labor Union. Furthermore, justice also demanded the arrest, trial and execution of Albert Parsons and “the negro woman who passes as the wife of the assassin Parsons.” Finally, the paper insisted that every organization, society or combination calling itself socialist or anarchist should be “absolutely and permanently suppressed.” 51 Even a respected law journal expressed the opinion that “the long-haired, wild-eyed, bad smelling, atheistic reckless foreign wretches” who thought they could “level society and its distinctions with a few bombs” ought to be crushed like snakes. According to the Albany Law Journal, the anarchists’ evil deeds almost justified resorting to “the vigilance committee and lynch law.” At the least, Illinois courts should treat all these godless fiends as murderers and extirpate them from the face of the earth.52 It was in this climate that the trial of the Chicago anarchists opened in the Cook County Courthouse on June 21, 1886.

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