Chapter Sixteen

The Judgment of History

NOVEMBER 12, 1887–NOVEMBER 11, 1899

SOON AFTER THE EXECUTION order arrived in Chicago, comrades of the condemned men began preparing for a funeral march and burial to take place on Sunday, November 13. Family members and friends planned simple wakes on Saturday for the deceased anarchists at three locations along Milwaukee Avenue; they were unprepared for the public response that came on that morning. At eight o’clock hundreds of people lined up along the street in front of the flat Lucy Parsons had rented on Milwaukee Avenue. All day people filed through the little living room to gaze on Albert Parsons’s colorless face with the faint smile the undertaker had put on his lips. At times Lucy burst out of her room, weeping uncontrollably and clinging to Lizzie Holmes for support. By the time William Holmes finally closed the Parsonses’ door at 11:30 p.m., 10,000 people had filed through the parlor to pay their last respects. 1

A similar scene unfolded upstairs in the toy shop on Milwaukee Avenue where George Engel’s body lay in a parlor next to Louis Lingg’s corpse, with its poorly repaired face. During the day and evening 6,000 people viewed the remains. Even larger crowds pressed into Aurora Turner Hall, where August Spies lay in state surrounded by an edgy-looking honor guard of German trade unionists and militiamen.

The next morning, a clear, cold Sunday, elaborate funeral plans were put in motion, but within the strict limits set by Mayor John A. Roche, who prohibited speeches, songs and banners or “any demonstration of a public character.” The bands accompanying the funeral march could play only dirges.

The procession began at the home of August Spies’s mother. His coffin was loaded onto a carriage, which then proceeded down Milwaukee Avenue, stopping at the homes of the other anarchists, where other carriages were loaded with their remains. Then the cortege, carrying five red-draped coffins, rolled away to the sound of several brass bands playing somber tunes; the carriages were followed by a long line of 6,000 people who moved slowly down Milwaukee Avenue to the measured beat of muffled drums.

Along the parade route the streets and sidewalks were thronged with thousands of men, women and children; others looked out of windows or stood on barrels. Some of them wore red and black ribbons as an expression of sympathy. The funeral procession grew even larger as it left the immigrant North Side and headed downtown to the railroad depot, where mourners would board a long funeral train bound for Waldheim Cemetery, a nondenominational graveyard in the German town of Forest Park. Along the way even thicker crowds, estimated at 200,000 overall, packed the sidewalks to observe the cortege.2

After the procession turned off Milwaukee Avenue and headed down Desplaines Street, it passed within a block of the deadly spot where so many had fallen on May 4 of the previous year; it then proceeded east on Lake Street past Zepf’s Hall and Grief’s Hall, where portraits of the dead anarchists draped in mourning hung on the walls. At this point one of the bands broke the mayor’s rule and burst into the melody of “Annie Laurie” in Parsons’s honor. Another band struck up “La Marseillaise” as it passed Grief’s Hall. More than two decades later, the reporter Charles Edward Russell vividly recalled the somber scenes of that Sunday funeral procession. The black hearses, the marching thousands and the miles and miles of streets packed with silent mourners—all left him with the impression that death had finally conferred amnesty on the anarchists. 3

Chicagoans had never witnessed such a massive public funeral. The crowds exceeded even those that had gathered to march behind Lincoln’s coffin on May 1, 1865. Then, however, Chicago’s citizens had walked together in common front, unified in their grief. Now, on November 13, 1887, one class of people grieved while another gave thanks for the moral judgment rendered on the gallows, as Chicagoans divided into separate spheres of sentiment determined largely by where they lived and worked and by how well they spoke English.

The sun was low by the time the procession wended its way into Waldheim Cemetery. After the five caskets had been lowered into the ground, Captain William Black offered a traditional eulogy—one that would be fondly remembered by the dead men’s sympathizers and bitterly denounced by their prosecutors. “They were called Anarchists,” said Black. “They were painted and presented to the world as men loving violence, riot and bloodshed for their own sake. Nothing could be further from the truth. They were men who loved peace, men of gentle instincts, men of gracious tenderness of heart, loved by those who knew them, trusted by those who came to know the loyalty and purity of their lives.” They had lived for a revolution that would create a new society based on cooperation instead of coercion. Black said he did not know if such a society was possible in America, but he did know that through the ages poets, philosophers and Christian believers had lived for the day when righteousness would reign on the earth, and when sin and selfishness would come to an end.4

AS THE NEWS of the executions spread around the world in the weekend newspapers, those who had followed the trial reacted with extreme emotions, even though they had suspected for weeks that the anarchists would die. The defendants had gained widespread admiration in the eyes of European workers and radical intellectuals by maintaining their innocence and refusing to renounce their beliefs, even to save their lives. Their highly publicized hangings seemed to many Europeans to be nothing more than a ferocious attempt by the state to silence the strongest voices of dissent in America.5

In cities all over the United States and in other nations, workers expressed their rage at what seemed to them a historic atrocity. At a gathering of laborers in Havana, speakers condemned the executioners, and organizers collected $955 to aid the anarchists’ family members. In Barcelona, artisans and sailors met in their little centros and lit candles around the images of los mártiri.In Boston a large crowd gathered in New Era Hall to hear a mournful address by the secretary of the Knights of Labor, the esteemed George McNeill, who had helped found the first eight-hour movement in 1863. The white-haired philosopher of labor reform told his depressed followers that the hanging of the anarchists in Chicago was the act of desperate, unthinking men and that it would not remedy the evil of social inequity or wash out the stain of anarchy from the nation’s political fabric. In Newark, New Jersey, Reverend Hugh O. Pentecost, one of the few clergymen to speak out against the execution, told his congregation that it was “one of the most unjust and cruel acts ever perpetrated by organized government—immoral and illegal.”And in Rochester, New York, a young Russian clothing worker named Emma Goldman nearly became deranged when she heard news of “the terrible thing everyone feared, yet hoped would not happen.” She had learned about the Knights of Labor, the eight-hour day and the Haymarket anarchists from other Russian Jews during her first year in America, 1886. After sewing garments in a factory for ten hours a day, she devoured every word on anarchism she could find and closely followed news of the Haymarket defendants during and after the trial. 8

Devastated by the news at first, the seventeen-year-old immigrant found that the “martyrs’ ordeal” implanted “something new and wonderful” in her soul, “a determination to dedicate myself to the memory of my martyred comrades, to make known to the world their beautiful lives and heroic death.” From then on, she would honor November 11, 1887, as the day of her “spiritual birth.” After she plunged into the anarchist and labor movements in the next years, Emma Goldman met hundreds of other people whose lives were also changed by the executions on Black Friday.9For example, there was Abraham Bisno, a cloak maker living in Chicago’s Russian-Jewish colony, who knew nothing about the anarchists until he and his fellow strikers were beaten by the police on May 5, the day of the first arrests. In the next days and months he frequently discussed the case with other workers, while studying all the evidence he could find and learning in the process to lecture on social questions and to lead in organizing unions among his people.10

Mary Harris Jones, another Chicago resident, also followed the trial closely and attended the funeral. The widowed dressmaker heard the anarchists speak at Knights of Labor assemblies and at lakefront rallies, where she listened to what Parsons and Spies, “those teachers of the new order, had to say to workers.” And though she was opposed to their violent message, Jones was deeply affected by their execution and by their immense funeral procession with thousands of wage earners marching behind their hearses, not because they were anarchists but because they were regarded as soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the workers’ struggle. Many years later, after Mother Jones gained renown, she recalled that time in Chicago. “Those were the days of sacrifice for the cause of labor,” she wrote. “Those were the days of the martyrs and the saints.”11

Far away, in a mining camp at Rebel Creek, Nevada, high in the mountains, young Bill Haywood read about the hangings in a Knights of Labor paper. He called it a turning point in his life, a moment when he became entranced with the lives and speeches of Albert Parsons and August Spies. In the years that followed, no one did more to translate the words of Parsons and Spies into action than William D. Haywood did when he became the founder and notorious leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, a twentieth-century manifestation of the “Chicago idea.” 12

While some young workers like Emma Goldman and Bill Haywood were inspired by the Haymarket martyrs, most trade union leaders, even those who had fought to win clemency for the anarchists, were utterly dismayed by how much damage the anarchist case had caused. Samuel Gompers said the bomb thrown in the Haymarket not only killed policemen, it killed the eight-hour movement and struck at the foundations of the new house of labor he was constructing as head of the new American Federation of Labor. A decade later Gompers and his followers found ways to revive unionism and re-create a more moderate eight-hour campaign, but for Terence Powderly and the Knights of Labor there would be no recovery. Indeed, for visionary workers and labor reformers inspired by the Knights and the Great Upheaval, Haymarket was an unmitigated disaster; it sounded a death knell for the great hopes they shared in the spring of 1886 when they imagined their movement to be on the brink of achieving a new cooperative social order that would replace the wage system.13

A few American intellectuals were radicalized by the events and found themselves pulled closer to the labor movement, though the process was a painful one. H. C. Adams, a young economics professor at Cornell University, was one of the few academics who criticized the Chicago trial. The professor denounced the anarchists as vile madmen who had no understanding of how democracy worked, but he also insisted that even their incendiary speeches needed protection. If freedom of expression was denied to dissenters, he reasoned, even law-abiding protesters might turn to violence. Adams did not stop at this: he even charged that industrialists were using the anarchist hysteria to stigmatize the socially constructive proposals made by the Knights of Labor. The New York newspapers printed sensational accounts of Adams’s remarks, and a Cornell benefactor, the wealthy lumber king Henry Sage, demanded the professor’s ouster. The university trustees met in secret and agreed that the offensive professor Adams had to go. In the aftermath of Haymarket, even defense of the First Amendment seemed threatening. Dr. Adams took his medicine and decided economists had better not speak out against social injustice.14

Adams’s case was one of several indicating that the Haymarket bomb marked a decisive event in the history of American free speech. After the Civil War, freedom of expression was denied to black citizens in the South, but other Americans were often able to express extreme opinions in speeches and writings without interference. This had been the case in Chicago, where Mayor Harrison had allowed the anarchists to make violent speeches on a regular basis. While some latitude prevailed for free speech during the Gilded Age, no one seriously examined the philosophical and political principles that underlay constitutional guarantees of liberty. As a result, legal precedent and tradition counted for little when the Haymarket affair precipitated a sharp turn against toleration for citizens expressing extreme opinions and for those, like Professor H. C. Adams, who defended their right to do so.15

Henry Demarest Lloyd was one of the only prominent journalists to denounce the prosecution of the Haymarket case, and he paid a price for it. Disinherited by his father-in-law, Tribune co-owner William Bross, shut out of the paper for good and ostracized by his friends, Lloyd did not begin writing and speaking again until 1890, when he turned his formidable talents to producing a series of moral attacks on the “cannibals of competition, tyrants of monopoly, devourers of men, women and children,” culminating in the publication of his Wealth Against Commonwealth, an exposé of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, the first influential muckraking effort of the progressive era.16

Lloyd’s ostracism came at a repressive time in Chicago life. As a result of the red scare, the trial and the hangings, said the Illinois writer Edgar Lee Masters, the city’s spiritual and civic life was “fouled” as “Hate and Fear and Revenge stalked about.” Outspoken journalists and public figures like Lloyd had been silenced; the editors of the big newspapers who celebrated the anarchists’ executions had won, but they too were fearful, and walked around the city with armed guards.17

Only a few clergymen, like Hugh Pentecost in Newark, responded to the events of 1886 and 1887 by criticizing the use of capital punishment and by urging acts of Christian charity and moral reform to address the social evils that bred anarchism. The Great Upheaval of 1886, the bombing and the red scare that followed traumatized many clergymen and churchgoers, especially native Protestants, who saw these events not as a crisis that called for moral reform, but as the opening scene in a doomsday scenario for the American city. The Haymarket affair exacerbated the hostility to organized labor that already existed in Protestant churches, while it also helped to push many middle-class people and their ministers out of the cities and into streetcar suburbs, where they could escape the lava of a social volcano that seemed ready to blow again at any time.18

UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES, Chicago’s dissenting voices remained quiet, and public discourse was dominated by those who celebrated the executions of the anarchists and venerated the memory of the police who died in the bombing and the shooting. A lavish history of the Chicago police appeared in 1887, supported by contributions from scores of businesses. The book, written in a vivid style by a Daily News reporter, John J. Flinn, featured heroic sketches of Inspector Bonfield, Captain Schaack and their brave men, along with a narrative of the strikes and riots that culminated in the Haymarket bombing, when the department “attracted the attention of all Christendom.”19 George McLean’s The Rise and Fall of Anarchy, published in 1888, another handsome volume with lifelike drawings of all the Haymarket participants, offered a comprehensive account of events leading to the bombing and of the trial and executions that followed. The author left no doubt about the moral of the story. After saluting the courageous policemen who fell in defense of American freedom, McLean turned his pen to the “hideous cruel monsters” responsible for their “cold blooded massacre”—an act of treachery unparalleled in history. 20

A year later came the publication of Captain Michael Schaack’s enormous book Anarchy and Anarchists: A History of the Red Terror and the Social Revolution in America and Europe. Composed largely by two professional writers, the volume offered a sweeping history of revolutionary activity in Europe beginning with the French Revolution, all of which is seen as prologue to the events in Chicago. The title page, faced by a heroic portrait of Schaack, is followed by extensive documentation of the “Haymarket conspiracy” and sensational reports of Schaack’s undercover men, along with vivid police photos of bombs, fuses, guns, cartoon-like drawings of anarchists and a moving group portrait of the slain policemen. The seven official “Haymarket martyrs” were pictured with an eighth officer who was thought to have died later of wounds he sustained on May 4, 1886. Although the funerals of the dead patrolmen were barely noticed in the press at the time, Schaack’s book reminded Americans that these men were “as worthy as the heroes of a hundred military battles.”21

Soon after the riot, Joseph Medill, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, started a fund drive to erect a statue in the Haymarket to honor the fallen police officers. Donations came slowly at first, but eventually businessmen’s clubs raised enough funds to pay for a statue—a bronze figure of a policeman holding his right hand high. The model was Officer Thomas Birmingham, a statuesque Irish patrolman who had marched into the square that night. The monument was dedicated in somber ceremonies on Memorial Day of 1889, when speakers likened the slain officers to the Civil War heroes who defended the nation against the southern rebels.22

The police statue in Haymarket Square symbolized more than heroic sacrifice, however. The bronzed officer mounted on its stone base also stood for a victory of the forces of law and order, not simply over anarchists who used public spaces so freely and spoke so defiantly of government, but also over the larger forces of disorder generated by the pitch and roll of an immigrant sea that had flooded urban America. A rough-and-tumble democracy had flourished in many cities since the age of Jackson, and had brought immigrant workingmen, and even some workingwomen, into the streets on various ceremonious and sometimes riotous occasions. Now, after the Great Upheaval and the Haymarket affair, the courts and the police would severely restrict urban workers’ use of public spaces as arenas for self-expression and organization. 23


Police statue in Haymarket Square, 1892

Yet, for all the accolades Chicago’s policemen received, they still seemed inadequate to the task of defending the city against what business elites feared would be the next mass insurgency. Marshall Field convinced members of the elite Commercial Club that they needed a U.S. Army fort close to the city, instead of a thousand miles away. While the anarchists awaited their fate in the jailhouse, the club raised money to buy 632 acres of land just thirty miles north of the city; its leaders then persuaded the secretary of the army to construct such a fort on this site. In addition, Field and his associates hired the famous architects Daniel H. Burnham and John W. Root to design and build a massive armory in the city to guard their neighborhoods and businesses. Within a few years the imposing First Regiment Armory at 16th Street and Michigan Avenue rose like a stone monster with a huge open mouth, poised between the downtown business district and the insurgent Southwest Side.24

While initiatives by the forces of law and order reassured an anxious bourgeoisie, they also heated up feelings of resentment that bubbled under the surface of plebeian life in Chicago. Labor leaders worried about the construction of military armories and criticized the use of militiamen to break strikes; some even urged their members not to join the National Guard. A gnawing fear spread among trade unionists that the nation’s armed forces would be used to protect employers’ interests, not to defend workers’ liberties. 25

Simmering working-class antipathy to the police also began to reach a boiling point. That sentiment spilled out when Chicago’s Knights of Labor newspaper denounced the newly dedicated police statue in the Haymarket for honoring a police department its editor branded “the most vicious and corrupt the country has ever known.” The paper was referring not only to the police conduct in the Haymarket affair, but to a scandal that broke in 1889 when Captain Schaack was removed from the Chicago police force as a result of wrongdoing. The case also involved Inspector John Bonfield and two other commanders of the divisions that marched into the Haymarket on May 4. The Chicago Times revealed that the officers had been taking money from saloonkeepers and prostitutes, and had been selling items taken from arrested citizens, including some jewelry Louis Lingg had left to his sweetheart. When Bonfield reacted by arresting the Times’s editors and attempting to shut down the newspaper, the public outcry was enormous. As a result, the mayor was compelled to remove the heroes of Haymarket Square from the police force. A short time later, former superintendent Ebersold revealed that Schaack had “tried to keep things stirred up” in May of 1886 and “wanted to find bombs everywhere.” He even sent out men to organize fake anarchist groups to keep the pot boiling. It is not clear how Schaack’s demise affected the sales of his sensational book, Anarchy and Anarchists, but he retained many admirers in Chicago, including one editor who called his firing a triumph for the anarchists.26

Even though working-class demonstrators lost much of the freedom they had enjoyed to gather in streets and public places after 1886, freedom of the press was suspended only for a brief time. Issues of the anarchist Alarm reappeared during the trial, and the Arbeiter-Zeitung resumed publication, although the German daily never regained the mass circulation it had achieved in August Spies’s day. In addition, anarchists produced and disseminated printed works memorializing the martyrs, including The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs and The Famous Speeches of the Eight Haymarket Anarchists, first published in 1886. The following year, Lucy Parsons issued a collection of Albert’s prison writings on anarchism, and then in 1889 she edited The Life of Albert R. Parsons, which became a sacred text for the party of remembrance and a conversion experience for many readers unfamiliar with the case. Introduced by George Schilling, the volume was filled with Parsons’s speeches and articles, an autobiographical essay and ephemera, most memorably the letters he wrote to his children just before his death and to Schilling recalling his thrilling days as a militant in the battle for black equality in bloody Texas.27 The Life of Albert R. Parsons, along with the anarchists’ autobiographies, typified the sort of personal narratives that had exerted a hold on the popular mind throughout the nineteenth century. Such heartfelt stories of tramps and beggars, former slaves and former prisoners and other lost souls, offered truthful, “unvarnished” accounts that presented compelling alternatives to official accounts and descriptions of reality.28

This literature was reproduced and translated to keep the anarchists’ memory alive in the minds of workers around the world, but it was also aimed at countering, indeed subverting, the official accounts of the Haymarket story that enjoyed much wider circulation. In these texts the condemned men appeared as martyrs who died for freedom and democracy, while their state prosecutors are seen as relying not upon truth and virtue, but upon deception and intimidation. 29 The autobiographies and speeches of the Chicago anarchists were translated into several languages and reprinted numerous times over the next few decades, when they were interpreted by many readers here and in other lands as stories that confirmed their suspicions that the United States was not a truly free country.30

Lucy Parsons and the small company of anarchists who kept this literature in circulation did not, however, rely on the printed word alone. Lucy, for one, took to the road as often as she could in her own relentless and exhausting campaign to exonerate the anarchists and to venerate the life of her husband. She even embarked on a trip after she lost her daughter, Lulu, who died of lymphoma and whose body was placed in an unmarked grave near her father’s tomb. She pressed on with her work even though she was criticized by socialists, excoriated by the mainstream press and harassed by the police, especially in Chicago, where the authorities seemed obsessed with the activities of this “determined negress.”31

A pariah in her own land, Lucy was treated as a celebrity when she traveled to the British Isles on a speaking tour in 1888. “The heroic widow” of Albert Parsons was described by one English socialist as a “woman of American Indian origin, of striking beauty.” Having invented a purely native identity for herself, she spoke to a London meeting as “a genuine American,” one whose ancestors were indigenous people waiting to repel the invaders when they arrived from Spain. Lucy’s violent speeches alienated some socialists, but her tour excited others and created an upsurge of support for anarchism in England.32

WILLIAM MORRIS’S SOCIALIST LEAGUE had prepared the way for the famous Mrs. Parsons by distributing a pamphlet on the anarchist case and printing an edition of The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs. In his London publication Commonweal, Morris had previously reported on the entire trial and appeal process, which he described as a travesty of justice. When news of the executions reached England, he wrote that the Haymarket case exhibited “the spirit of cold cruelty, heartless and careless at once, which is one of the most noticeable characteristics of American commercialism.” By contrast, the editors of the London Times had praised the Chicago police and their use of armed force on the streets and suggested British police might well follow their example, and then cheered the death sentence when it was announced.33

On November 13, 1887, two days after Black Friday, the London city police had attacked a peaceful demonstration of the unemployed in Trafalgar Square with extreme brutality. Two hundred people were treated in the hospital and three of them died. Working-class London was outraged. The trauma of London’s “Bloody Sunday,” following so closely on Chicago’s Black Friday, galvanized British radicals and reformers and gave rise to a British anarchist movement.34

The news of Haymarket exerted its greatest influence on Spanish workers, who had organized a powerful federation with anarchist leaders in the early 1880s. When their open trade unions were destroyed, anarchists formed hundreds of resistance societies that existed side by side with workers’ circles, café clubs and choirs; the Spanish anarchists also supported newspapers that published talented writers and presented an enormous volume of information in accessible forms like serials and novellas. As a result, the story of the Chicago anarchists became so well known that the first anniversary of the executions in 1888 was widely observed by workers and radical intellectuals all over Spain, usually at evening festivities. Halls were transformed into shrines to the martyrs of Chicago as their retratos (portraits) were hung along with those of anarchist fathers like Mikhail Bakunin. Indeed, as the anarchist Peter Kropotkin reported, there was not a city in Spain worth mentioning where “the bloody anniversary” was not commemorated by enthusiastic crowds of workers.35

When Samuel Gompers appealed to Governor Oglesby to commute the sentences of the anarchists on death row, he predicted that executing them would cause thousands and thousands of workingmen all over the world to look upon the anarchists as martyrs. This is precisely what happened as workers created a ritualized memory of their heroes. When Gompers visited European cities in 1895, he noticed that in nearly every union hall there were pictures of Parsons, Lingg, Spies and the others, with the inscription: LABOR’S MARTYRS TO AMERICAN CAPITALISM. On later visits, he saw that the same pictures were still there.36

The memory of the Haymarket victims was further perpetuated when it became associated with the celebration of May Day as the International Workers’ Day beginning in 1890. In cities all over Europe, the icons of the Chicago martyrs appeared in the First of May processions along with red flags and crimson flowers: in Barcelona, for example, where a militant strike for an eight-hour workday swept the city, and in Italian towns and cities from Piemonte to Calabria, where socialists and anarchists celebrated Primo Maggio with marches, festivals and strikes. Rank-and-file workers quickly transformed May Day into a potent ritual event to demonstrate for the eight-hour day, to assert a new working-class presence in society and, particularly in the Latin world, to commemorate the lives of the Chicago martyrs.37

Events took a different turn in Chicago on May Day 1890, when trade union members paraded in a dignified way that pleased the Tribune. There was no general strike like the one that paralyzed the city in 1886. By contrast, union carpenters struck for eight hours on their own four years later and then led other workers in an orderly march through the downtown. The marchers were mostly British, American, Scandinavian, Canadian and German craftsmen. There were no Bohemian lumber shovers or Russian clothing workers in the line of march, and no one carried red flags or black-bordered images of dead anarchists.38

THE RESPECTABLE DEMONSTRATION the Chicago carpenters led on May 1, 1890, indicated to the Tribune’s editor that the city had entered a new era of peace and quiet. To Jane Addams, who had recently arrived in the city to open her Hull House settlement for the West Side poor, it seemed clear that the repressive measures imposed after Haymarket were being lifted. But, she recalled, the riot and all that followed had had a “profound influence on the social outlook of thousands of people,” especially of the city’s reform community. Led by the financier Lyman Gage, the labor activist George Schilling and other liberal-minded individuals, citizens participated in regular public discussions of social problems in which, Addams recalled, “every shade of opinion was freely expressed.” It seemed to her that many citizens of Chicago had decided that “the only cure for anarchy was free speech and open discussion of the ills of which opponents of government complained.”39

During the early 1890s, as the eight-hour campaign resumed, the voice of labor made itself heard again in industrial America, especially in Chicago, where trade unionists of various political persuasions joined middle-class reformers in creating a new form of urban liberalism. What disappeared was the energetic working-class radicalism that had erupted during the Great Upheaval of 1886, along with the massive national labor movement the Knights of Labor had begun to mobilize. In the aftermath of Haymarket, the International Working People’s Association was obliterated, while the Knights were scapegoated from the outside, divided on the inside and all but destroyed by aggressive employers’ associations and court injunctions. And yet the ethic of cooperation and the practice of solidarity endured in the 1890s. New industrial unions of coal miners, hard-rock metal miners and railway laborers appeared and carried on the tradition of broad-based unionism in the nation’s largest industries. Meanwhile, the contest for the political soul of the labor movement resumed. Socialists like George Schilling and his comrades offered a spirited challenge to the brand of unionism espoused by American Federation of Labor officials like Sam Gompers, who avoided visionary thinking and focused on immediate economic and political goals. Indeed, within the emerging labor movement, a majority of union leaders, whatever their partisan views, agreed that society “as presently constituted” was “corrupt and vicious” and required “complete reconstruction.” 40

Many of these activists believed unions on the shop floor were an embodiment of direct democracy and that the larger house of labor was a structure prefiguring a new kind of cooperative republic governed by the people, not ruled by the elite. The trade union was, said Gompers, “the germ of the future state which all will hail with glad acclaim.” Albert Parsons and August Spies had died, but elements of their “Chicago idea” survived them.41

As the labor movement revived itself during the early 1890s, concern mounted in labor circles over the fate of the surviving carriers of the Chicago idea, the three Haymarket convicts languishing in Joliet Prison. George Schilling, Henry Lloyd and others active in the original Amnesty Association even held out hope that the last of the anarchists, Fielden, Schwab and Neebe, might be pardoned. In a revealing letter written to Lucy Parsons, Schilling warned against her continuing use of violent rhetoric that would roil the calming waters of Chicago politics. When Lucy wrote to him about a particularly violent speech she delivered to an enthusiastic group of Italian workers, Schilling replied, “The open espousal of physical force—especially when advocated by foreigners— as a remedy for social maladjustments can only lead to greater despotism. ” When the public was terrorized, policemen like Bonfield and “hangmen” like Judge Gary mounted their saddles and rode in like “saviors of society.” Fear was not “the mother of progress” but of reaction, he added. Schilling told Lucy that her agitation still inspired such fear and could again call forth brutal men who would respond to forceful words with repressive actions. And then he added this sermon: “At Waldheim sleep five men—among them your beloved husband—who died in the hope that their execution might accelerate the emancipation of the world. Blessed be their memories and may future generations do full justice to their courage and motives, but I do not believe that the time will ever come when the judgment of an enlightened world will say that their methods were wise or correct. They worshipped at the shrine of force; wrote it and preached it; until finally they were overpowered by their own Gods and slain in their own temple.” 42

In the fall of 1892, Schilling and other reformers turned from talk to action when they helped elect John P. Altgeld governor of Illinois. Born in Germany and raised on an Ohio farm, Altgeld suffered a rough life on the road until he began a successful career as a Chicago lawyer in 1875. His law practice soon became lucrative, as did his endeavors in real estate. He began to participate in Democratic Party politics, expressing conventional, if not conservative, views. Yet, after he was elected to a judgeship, he revealed sympathies for the underdog when he advocated for prison reform, condemned police brutality and defended immigrants against the charge that foreigners were more inclined toward crime and disorder than native-born Americans. An unlikely figure for a politician, Altgeld had an oddly shaped head topped with matted hair and was afflicted with a harelip that impeded his heavily accented speech. He was often the subject of ridicule in the Yankee press, but when he campaigned with Schilling in the union halls and immigrant saloons, he seemed enormously attractive to the men in working clothes who embraced Pete Altgeld as one of their own. Despite vitriolic attacks on him by some Chicago newspapers, he won an impressive victory in 1892, in part because of the massive labor vote rung up in city wards by his friend Schilling and other union leaders.43

Labor activists were nearly as excited in the spring of 1893 when Carter Harrison miraculously returned from the oblivion to which he was assigned after Haymarket and won a fifth term as mayor, even after being red-baited with unprecedented severity. Once again the magician of Chicago politics brought his fellow citizens into a circle of civil discourse. Harrison’s surprising election came at a time when American eyes were turned on Chicago, where the World’s Fair opened on May 1, 1893—a day no doubt chosen to signal a new beginning for the city, if not to erase the memory of a troubled time seven years before when the Great Upheaval and the Haymarket crisis tore the city apart. To battle-weary activists like George Schilling, it suddenly seemed like the dark memories of the 1870s and 1880s might be erased by the bright lights that lit the grand buildings of the World’s Columbian Exposition.

The fair was a colossal success, revealing to millions of Americans what Henry Demarest Lloyd called the possibilities of “social beauty, utility and harmony of which they have not been able even to dream.” Carter Harrison, the mayor who had been driven from office for allowing free speech to anarchists, became the exposition’s dominant personality, the embodiment of Chicago’s tolerant soul and progressive spirit.44

The Haymarket case assumed a surprisingly prominent place in all this excitement. After John Peter Altgeld’s inauguration as governor, Schilling, Lloyd and a young Ohio-born attorney named Clarence Darrow mounted a public campaign to pardon Fielden, Schwab and Neebe, on the ground that they had been denied a fair trial. Darrow, who had arrived in Chicago in 1888 and had plunged into Democratic politics on the West Side, became a follower of Henry George’s brand of radicalism and an avid supporter of Pete Altgeld. His sympathy for the underdog and his interest in socialism and anarchism led him to investigate the case of the Haymarket anarchists in Joliet Prison and then to play a leading role in seeking their pardon. It was his first involvement in pleading the cases of notorious troublemakers—the beginning of a long and unparalleled career as “the attorney for the damned.” 45

So, during his first months in office, Altgeld was lobbied assiduously by two formidable advocates: Schilling, who helped engineer his election, and Darrow, a brilliant young legal talent who had become the governor’s acolyte. Altgeld remained unmoved by their pleas until March, when he summoned Schilling to Springfield and asked him to gather, as secretly as possible, affidavits from jurymen, witnesses and victims of police violence whose testimony might be relevant in his review of the Haymarket case.46

In a few weeks, Schilling produced a huge stack of signed statements from citizens who had been beaten and shot by the Chicago police or who had been arrested without warrants and held without charges after the bombing. Among them were affidavits given by men to whom the police had offered their freedom, plus cash, for testifying against the indicted anarchists. Schilling also collected affidavits from members of the jury pool indicating that the special bailiff summoned only men who expressed prejudice toward the defendants. Altgeld now had all the ammunition he needed to fire off a legal salvo that would resound for decades to come.47

During the same month the fair opened in 1893, Lucy Parsons’s effort to raise money for a monument on the martyrs’ grave at Waldheim proceeded to its conclusion thanks to the efforts of the Pioneer Aid and Support Association, a group organized to care for the grave site and assist the families of the Haymarket anarchists. A sculptor, Albert Weinert, created a statue in forged bronze. Inspired by “La Marseillaise,” the monument took the shape of a hooded woman placing a laurel on the head of a dying man. The female figure looks and strides forward assertively as if to protect the fallen worker at her feet. A parade of 1,000 people retraced part of the anarchists’ funeral procession to attend the unveiling on June 25, 1893. The crowd included many visitors, native and foreign, who came to town for the World’s Fair. During the day that followed, the Tribune reported that 8,000 more went out to Waldheim to view the monument.48


Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument, Waldheim Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois

In the year after the fair it was estimated that almost as many people came to see the monument at Waldheim as to see the beautiful Saint-Gaudens statue of Abraham Lincoln in the lakeside park named after him. There was nothing like the Haymarket memorial in any other cemetery, park or city square in America. For the martyrs’ followers, the Waldheim monument became a ritual site for preserving a sacred memory that, without commemorative vigilance, would soon be erased. The memorial provided an even more enduring symbol than Lucy Parsons and her supporters imagined; the haunting statue guarding the graves of the Haymarket anarchists also became a mecca, a kind of shrine for socialists and other pilgrims who came to visit from all over the world. 49

The morning after the monument dedication Governor John Peter Altgeld announced that he was pardoning Fielden, Schwab and Neebe. His bluntly written statement declared that the trial of the Haymarket eight had been unfair and illegal because “a packed jury had been selected to convict,” because “much of the evidence given at the trial was a pure fabrication,” because the defendants were not proven guilty of the crime charged in the indictment, and finally, and most provocatively, because “the trial judge was either so prejudiced against the defendants or else so determined to win the applause of a certain class in the community, that he could not and did not grant a fair trial.” Altgeld went even further, saying he believed the bomb thrower was not acting as a part of a conspiracy but as an individual seeking revenge against a police force that had been beating and shooting unarmed working people since the railroad strike of 1877. 50

This gubernatorial opinion did not, however, bring an end to speculation about the bomb thrower’s identity. City officials and many others, including historians, continued to believe the fugitive anarchist Schnaubelt was the perpetrator, even though the evidence against him was not credible. (Schnaubelt’s odyssey had taken him from Chicago to the back-woods of Canada, where he lived among native people, then to England, where anarchists sheltered him, and finally to Argentina, where he became a successful manufacturer of farm equipment and lived a life of quiet respectability.) On the other hand, many working people, as well as advocates such as Captain Black and Henry Lloyd, continued to believe the bomber was either a Pinkerton agent who knew an attack on law officers would provoke a riot and a reaction against the eight-hour movement, or an off-duty policeman who was actually attempting to hurl his projectile into the crowd or at the speakers’ wagon.51

Many years later the scholar Paul Avrich researched every lead in the case and tentatively concluded that the perpetrator was either a Chicago anarchist known to Dyer Lum or a German ultramilitant from New York. However, Lum, embittered beyond endurance by the fate of his comrades, committed suicide a few months before Altgeld issued his pardon and died without revealing the name of the individual he supposedly knew to be the bomber. The German suspect from New York died without ever being identified, except in a private conversation between two old anarchists.52

In any case, what mattered to Governor Altgeld was not the bomber’s true identity, but the fact that the prosecution never charged anyone with committing the act and instead charged men with murder for allegedly having knowledge of an assassination plot. In giving his reasons for pardoning the Haymarket survivors, the governor vehemently objected to Judge Gary’s ruling that the defendants could be tried for murder without proof that they had direct connection to the perpetrator. “No judge in a civilized country has laid down such a rule,” he wrote. Altgeld concluded by agreeing with those who said Judge Gary had conducted the anarchists’ trial with “malicious ferocity.”53

The Haymarket case, already a prominent event in the minds of Americans and many Europeans, now became even more memorable because of this historic pardon and because of the way in which the governor of Illinois came out of his office and deliberately exposed himself to the thunderstorm of abuse that would follow his decision.

The next day, Darrow recalled, “a flood of vituperation and gall was poured out upon Altgeld’s head.” A United States Supreme Court justice compared the governor to the traitor Jefferson Davis, and Robert Todd Lincoln, an influential figure in the Pullman Company, declared Altgeld’s pardon a disgrace to the state where his martyred father was buried. Newspaper editors far and wide joined the chorus of condemnation. The Tribune’s Joseph Medill, who despised Altgeld, now attacked him for issuing the pardon to pay off his electoral debt to socialist and anarchist voters. The governor “was not merely alien by birth but an alien by temperament and attitude” and an anarchist at heart.54

Altgeld had never shown the slightest degree of sympathy for anarchists, but he had expressed indignation when immigrants were stereotyped as lawless and disorderly. However, the governor’s pardon statement was not motivated mainly by sympathy for fellow Germans but by what Clarence Darrow called his “patriotic love of liberty” and his belief that the methods used to convict the anarchists were a greater menace to the Republic than what they had done. Altgeld feared that when the law was bent to deprive immigrants of their civil liberties, it would later be bent to deprive native sons and daughters of theirs as well.55

Not everyone in Chicago condemned Altgeld, however. Three Chicago newspapers, including the Republican Inter-Ocean, defended his decision to pardon the anarchists. Some members of the city’s legal and business communities who felt ashamed of the miscarriage of justice in 1886 also welcomed the pardon. One of them, a businessman named E. S. Dreyer, had headed the grand jury in the Haymarket case. After the trial he changed his mind about the case and signed the letter requesting clemency. When Governor Altgeld called Dreyer to the capital and asked him to take the pardon papers to Joliet Prison and present them to the three convicts, Dreyer broke down in tears.56


Governor John Peter Altgeld

Arriving at the penitentiary, Dreyer found the anarchists soldiering away at their assigned tasks—Neebe serving food in the commissary, Schwab binding books, as he had done in Germany, and Fielden breaking stone in the sun, working on contract for the same firm that had employed him as a teamster when he was a free man. The three men were amazed by the tone of Altgeld’s tough statement, and, in an outpouring of gratitude, they promised to live obscure lives, so much so that when they made their way back to Chicago, they jumped off their train in the freight yards to avoid the press. 57

The three anarchists made good on their promises. Michael Schwab returned to the Arbeiter-Zeitung, where for two years he wrote articles friendly to the workingman. He then resigned and opened a shoe store, but he failed at this and died of tuberculosis three years later. Schwab asked to be buried at Waldheim with his old comrades. Oscar Neebe, whose first wife had died when he was in the Cook County Jail, married a German widow and quietly tended bar in her saloon near the stockyards until he died in 1916. He was interred next to his former partner August Spies. Sam Fielden inherited a small legacy from an English relative and moved to Colorado, where he lived a solitary, robust life in a log cabin until he died in 1922 at the age of seventy-four.58

Altgeld’s pardon, for all the fury it caused in elite circles, removed a bone that had been sticking in the throats of liberal Chicagoans since the anarchist trial ended and the four bodies swung from the gallows. Now these concerned citizens could look forward more easily to a glorious summer when the Columbian Exposition would forecast the city’s spectacular future of progress, reform and civic enlightenment. Indeed, before the summer ended, the miraculous White City erected on the lake had revealed Chicago’s greatness to the world. The day before the fair closed in the fall of 1893, Mayor Harrison said this and more in a memorable speech predicting that the exposition would inaugurate a wonderful new era for Chicago.

THE EUPHORIC SPELL the fair cast over the city ended that same night, however, when a terrible event marred all the days of glory just past. The mayor was murdered in the living room of his mansion, felled by a bullet from the gun of a deranged office seeker. In death, even Carter Harrison’s enemies extolled his virtues while all Chicago mourned his passing; it even seemed as though the mayor’s legacy as a great unifier might inspire Chicagoans to maintain the civic solidarity and communal joy the fair had evoked. However, this wish would not come true, because in the next few months the city slid into another depression, and during the summer of 1894 its residents suffered another trauma produced by what seemed an unending and distressingly bloody conflict between labor and capital.

The trouble began unexpectedly on May 11 in George Pullman’s model industrial town when 2,000 palace-car workers left their shops to protest drastic reductions in the workforce and a sharp wage cut of one-third for remaining employees. These losses were difficult to accept, because they came at a time when Pullman paid dividends to his stockholders. Furthermore, a piece-rate pay system, designed to boost output, alienated shop workers because they had to work faster and harder to make up for reduced wages and, at the same time, endure personal abuses from hard-driving foremen.

The strikers sought assistance from a new inclusive union of railroad workers whose leaders carried on the Knights’ tradition of organizing all crafts and trades together. Led by Eugene V. Debs, a lanky organizer for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, the American Railway Union revived the spirit of 1886 on the railroads. Debs resisted pressure to call his members out in a sympathy strike, because he knew that Pullman and his corporate allies had formed an association of the twenty-four lines operating in and out of Chicago—perhaps the most powerful group of businessmen ever organized. Nonetheless, when Pullman refused to negotiate with his men, Debs ordered a boycott of trains hauling Pullman sleeping cars. In a few weeks a great sympathy strike had spread far and wide, paralyzing the nation’s railroads west of Chicago, idling 50,000 workers and creating a panic among businessmen.59

Never before had a union exercised this kind of strategic power over the levers of commerce. Unable to break the strike, railroad managers attached U.S. Mail cars to trains carrying Pullman cars, so that when workers refused to haul them federal authorities could intervene. The U.S. attorney general, a railroad lawyer named Richard Olney, persuaded Democratic president Grover Cleveland to send army troops into Chicago to break the strike, because, he insisted, the country was once again on the “ragged edge of anarchy.” In a short time, 15,000 regular army soldiers arrived from nearby Fort Sheridan, a base intended for just this kind of emergency by Marshall Field and his associates when they purchased the land on which it was constructed.

The battles that ensued in Chicago between troopers and strikers were the worst the country had seen since the bloodbath in Pittsburgh that began the great uprising in 1877. Hundreds of Chicago workers were wounded and at least thirty-four were killed before the fierce resistance was put down by army troops. Debs was arrested and later, after he was tried, sentenced to six months in jail for contempt of court because he had defied state authority. While he stood trial, he waited in a Cook County Jail cell next to the one where Albert Parsons had been held on similar charges.60

Debs and his union brothers had been utterly defeated by Pullman and his allies in the federal government. But the victory was a costly one for Chicago’s most famous industrialist, one that cost him his reputation, and, some would say, his life. Pullman had created a model company town outside of Chicago, hoping to avoid its furies; he had resisted the winds of change when they penetrated the walls of his city during the upheaval of 1886 and when they came again eight years later, reaching hurricane force. Still, the violent events of 1894 signaled that the end was near for the great industrialist and his company town. In the aftermath a federal commission condemned Pullman for exploiting his own employees and for refusing to consider their grievances. Weakened by the strike, Pullman died of heart failure three years later in the midst of a legal battle with the state’s attorney general to maintain his corporate charter and his private company houses. Family members commissioned a grand Corinthian column to top his grave, but also ordered that Pullman’s iron-clad casket be buried in reinforced concrete because they feared that angry workers might vandalize his remains.61

The battle of 1894 also transformed Pullman’s adversary, Eugene Debs, who, during his incarceration, decided that Americans were losing many of their precious liberties and that only radical measures could recover them. In fact, in response to the Pullman boycott federal courts had outlawed two of the most effective forms of labor solidarity to emerge from the Great Upheaval: the boycott and the sympathy strike. The following year the Illinois Supreme Court obliterated another vestige of 1886 when it struck down an eight-hour law covering women and children working in industry. These court actions initiated an era of extreme judicial hostility to nearly all forms of union organization and collective labor activity, a time when some union leaders abandoned militant tactics and radical dreams in search of accommodation, while others turned to direct action and violent forms of resistance.62


George M. Pullman in the mid-1890s

Eugene Debs refused to take either course after he was released from prison in November of 1895. Instead, he embraced democratic socialism and took the lead in building a popular movement that he hoped would regain workers’ lost liberties. Debs expressed no sympathy for anarchy in his jailhouse interviews or in the many speeches he delivered after his release from prison. However, when he came to Chicago two years later to found a new socialist group, Debs met with Lucy Parsons and made a pilgrimage to Waldheim, where he visited the graves of the men he regarded as “the first martyrs to the cause of industrial freedom.”63

The Pullman disaster also led some influential Chicagoans to recall the Haymarket tragedy, and to reassess its meaning in light of current events. A year later, as Clarence Darrow pled Eugene Debs’s case before the Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds, an impressive new history of Chicago was published. One of the editors, Joseph Kirkland, a noted writer, carefully reviewed the Haymarket case, which he regarded as a critical moment in the city’s history. Kirkland’s detailed account of the trial reiterated the criticisms of the police, the bailiff, the prosecuting attorneys and the judge that Governor Altgeld had leveled against the same men in his famous pardon. 64

The facts of the Haymarket case, wrote Kirkland, showed that the state had not only been unable to produce the bomber; it had failed to prove the existence of an anarchist conspiracy. Indeed, it was now known that much of the evidence given at the trial was “pure fabrication” and that prominent police officials had bribed some witnesses and even threatened to torture others unless they testified as they were told.65 Kirkland’s account of the Haymarket trial subverted the prosecution’s case and vindicated the defense. George Schilling, William Dean Howells and others involved in the amnesty movement in 1887 had impatiently awaited the judgment of history; now it came, sooner than expected, reversing in almost every respect the legal judgment rendered by the court.

Kirkland closed the case in another way, however, one that gave no comfort to Lucy Parsons and the anarchist party of memory. As the years passed, he explained, the awful Haymarket tragedy had begun to fade from people’s minds, just like “the cloud of Anarchism,” which had once loomed in the sky like “a portentous menace to the peace of society,” and then had passed into “an innocuous vapor.” Now, he observed, the memory of the dead anarchists could only be “revived by their admiring disciples in feeble demonstrations on the anniversary of their execution.” 66

Indeed, every November 11, Lucy Parsons, Lizzie Holmes and other devoted custodians of the anarchists’ memory faithfully gathered for the graveside ceremonies at Waldheim, where they sought to revive the martyrs’ spirit with a passionate, almost religious, fervor. On one of these elegiac occasions, Emma Goldman proclaimed that these “martyrs of liberty” would continue to grow in their graves and “would live with us always unto all eternity.” She also believed their memory would be revived by a resurgent anarchist movement in the next century, when humanity would enter a new time without warring nations, conflicting classes and dominating authorities. And so, in the years after Black Friday, anarchists gathered in little circles on November 11—not simply to mourn their heroes but also to venerate the men whose martyrdom would revive libertarian beliefs and inspire new believers around the world. This memorial day became an occasion for the faithful to express joy about the lives of the martyrs whose deaths mystically ensured the ultimate triumph of anarchism.67

And yet, as the nineteenth century ended with the trumpets of militarism and imperialism blaring in Cuba and the Philippines, and with the engines of corporate capitalism roaring from Pittsburgh to Chicago, even dedicated visionaries like Lizzie Holmes harbored doubts that anarchist beliefs were spreading. She and William had left Chicago for Denver, where their home became a refuge for traveling anarchists like Lucy Parsons and Emma Goldman. On these visits Lizzie and Lucy recalled the “stirring enthusiastic days” in Chicago, the loud rallies, colorful marches, the huge strikes and the desperate fight to save the lives of Albert and the other “Haymarket boys.” Lizzie Holmes and her husband had remained as keenly devoted to their anarchist ideals as they had been “in the days when their faith was young and their hopes were high.” As the November 11 memorial day of the Chicago anarchists approached in 1898, Lizzie wrote that she and William were “still looking longingly toward the east for the dawn of a new day for humanity.” But at the next anniversary ceremony at Waldheim, she confessed that her hopes were fading. “As we clasp hands above their graves today,” she said, “we cannot say the dawn is brighter, that mankind is happier and freer.” As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Lizzie Holmes admitted that the anarchists buried at Waldheim no longer had a known following and that their lives and their ideas no longer held deep meaning for working people. A little more than a decade after the hangings on Black Friday, it appeared that the Haymarket martyrs had become lost in the past, forgotten and misunderstood.68

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