This is the third in a four-part series about the Haymarket bombing in Chicago that I am reposting this week. The 2006 series originally coincided with a (still unproduced) screenplay I had written about the subject. This week OWS has shone a spotlight on May Day, while the FBI has captured five self-described anarchists (who are merely terrorist thugs with no connection to anarchism).
May 4, 1886.
120 years ago tonight - one of the most significant events in American history.
It is the event that inspired the international labor holiday we call May Day.
It is the event that forever altered the labor movement.
It is the event that revealed the brutality of the class divide in America.
120 years ago tonight a bomb exploded in a crowd of Chicago police officers who were trying to silence the speakers at a labor rally.
It's often referred to as the "Haymarket Riot", yet no riot occurred. For years, the city of Chicago treated it as such. Rather than face the truth, the leaders of the city cherry-picked the facts and stuck to their story that the brave and heroic Police Department put down an anarchist rebellion.
That is as far from the truth as one can imagine.
Arguably, the Haymarket Bombing was not the result of any organized movement. Instead it was the result of a series of mistakes and miscommunications.
It begins with the announcement of the meeting itself.
MASS-MEETINGThis is the circular that was widely distributed throughout the city. No specific speakers are mentioned, because none were confirmed. In fact, many of the labor movement's best speakers (including Albert Parsons) were almost no-shows. It also promises nothing but a denouncement of the previous day's violence. There is nothing here that should have alerted the police force, the Mayor, or the business community to a "riot" of any size.
TO-NIGHT, at 7:30 o'clock
HAYMARKET, Randolph St, bet. Desplaines and Halsted
Good speakers will be present to denounce the latest atrocious act of the police, the shooting of our fellow-workmen yesterday afternoon
But there was also this circular - all of which were supposed to have been destroyed after one small print run.
Attention Workingmen - Mass MeetingIt was August Spies, the German-born editor of city's largest German-language newspaper Arbeiter-Zeitung, who testified in his own defense that he ordered this circular destroyed. He stated that a threat of violence would result in a smaller crowd and that it would give the police an excuse to crush them.
To-night at 7:30 o'clock at the Haymarket, Randolph Street betwn Des Plaines and Halsted.
Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force
Unfortunately, Spies was wrong.
Not all of these circulars were destroyed.
In fact, at least one ended up in the hands of the police department. It was because of the threat of armed workingmen appearing in "full force" just one block from a police station that put the police on edge.
Much of May 4th, 1886 was a normal day for Chicago's workers and labor leaders. Albert and Lucy Parsons met again with representatives of the sewing girls - many as young as twelve - who were trying to organize in order to better protect themselves from their abusive bosses. Albert and Lucy were scheduled to speak later that evening at another labor meeting. Others like stone hauler and labor organizer Samuel Fielden chose not to attend the Haymarket rally because if Parsons wasn't going it mustn't be that important. It was only a personal appeal from August Spies that got Parsons and Fielden to change their plans and attend.
It was not a normal day for Police Captain John Bonfield and his men - 200 of whom had assembled one block away at the Desplaines Avenue station. Bonfield and his men waited until 7:30 for the start of the meeting. Prepared to retaliate against the working men who would soon "appear in full force."
Nature tried to conspire against them all. Dark clouds and rain thinned the crowds. 7:30 came and went. By 8:30 the crowds were even more sparse. Parsons and Fielden would finally arrive. But Parsons spoke only briefly before retiring to a nearby saloon to get his wife and children out of the rain. Spies succeeded in exciting the crowd of just a few hundred - far less than the tens of thousands he had hoped for.
By all measures, the Haymarket meeting was a bust. It was so uneventful that Mayor Carter Harrison, who had arrived on horseback to make sure that no violence occurred, left convinced that the event was "tame."
By now Bonfield knew he must act or give up a chance to crush the increasingly irritating labor movement. He gathered his men - 200 strong - and marched them towards the speaker's cart (just adjacent to the Haymarket Square).
He ordered the crowd to disperse.
Samuel Fielden, who was addressing the still-thinning crowd, insisted to Bonfield that -
"We are peaceable!"
But Bonfield only grew more determined to shut down the rally.
And then it happened.
At the trial that followed in July of 1886, numerous witnesses would say it came from the mouth of Crane's alley. None would agree on the description of who threw it. The night, remember, was dark and rainy. Witnesses for the prosecution would say with certainty that they saw the bombthrower (identified by many as Rudolf Schnaubelt who was arrested and inexplicably released). These same witnesses would also freely admit that they accepted payment from the police for their testimony.
The bomb - a small cast iron "shell bomb" about the size of a softball - hurled over the heads of the police and hit one Mathias J. Degan, killing him instantly. In the fog of war, police fired indiscriminately wounding countless workers who would be dragged off by families and friends rather than face arrest. Seven policemen would receive fatal gunshot wounds - not from the workers, but from the pistols of their fellow officers.
By the end of the night, the floors of the police station were puddle with the blood of the dead and injured.
Fearing retaliation come morning, Albert Parsons would flee to Wisconsin to the home of a trusted subscriber of Parson's newspaper The Alarm. Lucy and their children would pray for Albert's safety. August Spies, meanwhile, would prepare the printing press for tomorrow's edition of the Arbeiter-Zeitung.
And the business leaders of the city would go to bed realizing that, while it was not Anarchist blood that was shed at the Haymarket, things had still gone their way.
Now, they had the chance to hang Parsons and Spies.
ORIGINALLY POSTED TO DANNYINLA ON THU MAY 04, 2006 AT 06:02 PM PDT.