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Description of the Events at Haymarket Square, Chicago, May 4, 1886
Digital History ID 1089

Author:   Art Young

Annotation: The political cartoonist Art Young describes the Haymarket Square Massacre and riots.

Document: I need not dwell at length about what happened at Haymarket Square on the night of May 4, 1886; three days after the nationwide strikes for the eight-hour day. The story has been told many times--the mass meeting of some fifteen hundred persons in protest of the wanton killing of workers by police; Mayor Carter Harrison in attendance; Albert Parsons speaking, then leaving with his wife for a beer garden a couple of blocks away; Samuel Fielden mounting the wagon used as a rostrum; rain beginning to fall, and the crowd dwindling; the the mayor departing, and visiting the nearby Desplaines Street police station to report to Capt. John Bonfield disregarding the mayor's words, and in a few minutes leading 125 reserve policemen to the scene and ordering the remaining audience of some two hundred persons to disperse; then from above or behind the wagon a whizzing spark; a tremendous explosion; many policemen falling; their comrades firing into the panic-stricken crowd, killing and wounding. Seven of the police died; how many civilians were killed by police bullets that night was never definitely known and nothing was ever done about it.


Then a hue and cry--widespread police raids; arrests of hundred of men and women known as or suspected to be Anarchists, Socialists, or Communists; announcements of the discovery of various dynamite "plots"; announcements of the finding of bombs and infernal machines; indictment of Albert Parsons and nine others as conspirators responsible for the Haymarket explosion and the deaths.

Newspaper editors and public men generally cried for a quick trial of the defendants and prompt execution of the guilty, and here was every reason to believe from the published reports that the accused deserved to be hanged. Public opinion was formed almost solely by the daily press, and in its columns evidence was steadily piled up against these labor agitators. Parsons had disappeared on the night of the bombing--police all over the country were watching for him; was not his flight confession of guilt? Rudolph Schnaubelt also was gone; he had been arrested twice and questioned briefly, but had been released--and Captain Schaak was incensed at the "stupidity" of the detectives who had let him go.

Like the great mass of the Chicagoans; I was swayed by these detailed reports of the black-heartedness of the defendants. Outstanding business and professional men and prominent members of the clergy denounced the accused, who were now all lumped-together as "Anarchists," and condemned the seven Haymarket killings as the "the most wanton outrage in American history." In the bloody and gruesome descriptions of the tragedy of May 4, the city's people forgot the needless killing of the six workers by the police on May 3. I too saw "evidence" against Parsons in his running away: He had spoken at the mass meeting, and the explosion had come only a few minutes after he left--and then hew had vanished. Innocent men do not run away when a crime has been committed (so my youthful mind naively reasoned then): they stay and face the music.

But when on the opening day of the trial, June 21, Albert Parsons walked into court and announced that he wanted to be tried with his comrades, my sympathies swung a little in the other direction. He had been in seclusion in Waukesha, Wis. working as a carpenter and living in the home of Daniel Hoan, the present and for many years past mayor of Milwaukee. If Parsons were guilty, I reasoned now, he would not have come back; he needn't have come; the police had been unable to find any trace of him.


Shortly after the jury had been selected, I was assigned to make some pictures of scenes in the courtroom. The place was crowded, but I managed to get a seat with the reporters at a table near the defense attorneys. The prosecution was putting in its case, and there were continual objections by the defense to the line of questioning and the frequent side remarks to the jury by Julius S. Grinnell, the state's attorney. Usually these objections were overruled, in a rasping voice, by Judge Joseph E. Gary; it occurred to me then that I'd hate to be tried before such a snarling old judge.

It was common knowledge that it had been difficult to find reputable and competent criminal attorneys in Chicago willing to defend the accused's cause was too unpopular, editorial notice had been plainly served that only a parish and an enemy of society would try to save those men from the gallows. In the face of this warning three courageous members of the bar, who hitherto had handled only civil cases; had agreed to undertake the Anarchists' defense. William P. Black was chief of these; a captain in the Union Army during the Civil War, he was known as a fighter; tall, dark, and handsome, with a pronounced jaw that shook a short beard, he was often the center of all eyes in court. Assisting Black were William A. Foster, said to be capable as a finder of evidence, and Sigismund Zeisler, an earnest and studious young man with, a blond Van Dyke heard, red lips, and wavy hair.

On the other side of this desperate contest was Grinnell, the state's attorney, who was understood to aspire to the governor's chair, and several assistants, whose names got into print much less often than Grinnell's. He had a fresh, healthy face and a big well curled mustache.

Frank S. Osborne, jury foreman, was chief salesman for Marshall Field & Co. and the other eleven "good and true" answered to these descriptions; former railroad-construction contractor, clothing salesman; ex-broker from Boston; school principal; ex-broker from Boston; shipping clerk; traveling paint salesman; bookeeper; stenographer for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway; voucher clerk for the same railroad; hardware merchant; seed salesman.

All the defendants were neatly dressed. They sat in their chairs with dignity, and with the elegant self-assurance of men who expected to be exonerated if they got justice.

There was a breathless tension to the court proceedings, the air electric. Grinnell talked much about "protecting society and government against enemies bent on their destruction." Captain Black was often on his feet with objections.

Back at the Evening Mail office, I redrew my sketches on chalk plates. By this time I had acquired a ready knack for working with this process, though I never liked it. These pictures of the trial attracted considerable attention, both among the Mail staff and outside. Word came to me a little later that Melville Stone, editor of the Daily News, had commented favorably upon that day's work of mine.

Having attended a few sessions of the trial, and in a sense having been for several days a part of that dramatic spectacle, I followed the newspaper reports of the case with much interest. "Evidence" steadily mounted against them. (Of the real quality of that "evidence" , I knew nothing then, nor did I for years afterward.)


Immediately after the verdict the defense gave notice that it would appeal to the higher courts, and with the convicted men locked in their cells in the county jail; the press began devoting its front pages to other affairs. I was to see more of the "class struggle" in the near future without knowing what it meant. Indeed, at that time, when I was twenty years old, I knew hardly anything except that I had a knack for drawing pictures and was pretty good at reciting verses from books of poetry.

The attorneys for the convicted Anarchists were busy preparing to carry their case to the state Supreme Court, and news of the various steps appeared now and then in the press. The city had cooled down; one no longer heard of plots to blow up police stations, or of plans for revolution. A defense committee sought money to cover the expense of the appeal; in the Daily News office we heard that it was having tough going; most people in Chicago accepted the jury's verdict as just, and thought the convicted men ought to be hanged; only a few intrepid persons argued otherwise.

The state Supreme Court unanimously upheld the trial verdict. Discussing the case at great length, it gave many technical reasons for approving the jury's findings. This decision, on Sept. 14, 1887, was of course featured in all the Chicago dailies, with fulsome commendatory editorials.

But the defense would not yet admit defeat. Preparations were immediately begun to carry the fight to the United States Supreme Court, on constitutional grounds. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler was one of the attorneys who presented the argument in Washington late in October. After five days' consideration by the full bench, Chief Justice Waite read in its decision. No cause for reversal, it said.

Either Judge Gary had sentenced the seven men in the county jail to die by hanging there on November 11. This left them only nine days to live. Counsel and members of the defense committee began circulating petitions addressed to Gov. "Dick" Oglesby, urging commutation to life terms in the penitentiary. Many prominent individuals wrote the chief executive to that end and various delegations visited him in behalf of the doomed men. It was apparent now that the sentiment concerning the anarchists had changed a good deal. Appeals in their behalf were signed by notables including Lyman J. Gage, later secretary of the treasury; William Dean Howells, Robert G. Ingersoll, Henry Demarest Lloyd, Gen. Roger A. Pryor, and George Francis Train. And from England protests against the impending execution were cabled by William Morris, Walter Crane, Annie Besant, Sir Walter Besant; and Oscar Wilde. Prior to the highest court's decision sixteen thousand members of working-class organizations in London, on a single day, signed a plea to Oglesby to save the doomed men.


On Wednesday, November 9, two days before the execution date, Butch White, the city editor, assigned me to go to the county jail and make pictures of the prisoners. The jail is in the rear of and adjacent to the criminal courts building in which the trial had been held. Despite the newspaper stories of plans for an attempted rescue of the seven men, no special precautions seemed to be taken by the guards inside. After my newspaper credentials had established my identity at the entrance, I climbed the iron stairs up to the tier where the Anarchists were confined, and was allowed to roam freely there while I drew my sketches. Other visitors were there, and they looked into the cells of the Anarchists curiously, as one might gaze at animals in a zoo.

Parsons sat writing at a table piled with books and papers. He reminded me of a country editor--and he had edited a paper in Waco, Tex., before he came to Chicago. Adolph Fischer, who had been a printer on the Arbeiter Zeitung, looked like an eagle--light-haired, eager, and appearing as hopeful as he had been in court. George Engel, also a German printer, had less the appearance of an intellectual than the others. His eyes seemed dull, as if feeling had gone from him. Michael Schwab, spectacled associate editor and editorial writer, had a sad face. Samuel Fielden, a bearded ex-Methodist preacher born in England, was a familiar speaker in halls, and working-class street meetings, with the voice and intensity of a born orator. August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter Zeitung was strikingly handsome, straightforward in his talk. But it is Louis Lingg that I remember best in thinking back to that visit to the jail; my memory picture of him is clearest because the sun was shining in his cell as I sketched him. Only twenty-two, and blond, he had a look of disdain for all. He sat proudly in his chair, facing me with unblinking eyes. Silent as though he might have been saying: "Go ahead. Do what your masters' want you to do. As for me, nothing matters."

They were all young men, except Fielden who appeared to be in his forties. Even the beard worn by Schwab and Lingg's mustache could not disguise their youthfulness.

And now word came of an explosion in the jail--that Lingg had put a bomb into his mouth and lighted the fuse and was dying. I was chilled with the horror of the story as details kept coming in. Suffering untold agony with his face terribly mutilated, Lingg remained conscious while three physicians worked over him, and loved six hours.

In response to appeals the governor issued a formal statement, commuting the sentences of Fielden and Schwab to life imprisonment, but refusing to interfere with the sentences against the other four.

I was much relieved when I learned that another artist, and not I, had been assigned to witness the execution and sketch the scene. I would have gone, of course, had I been ordered to, however grueling the task. But Butch White gave the assignment to William Schmedtgen, an older man, who had joined the staff after me. I never knew why he was chosen, but figured that White probably thought I was too young.

Next morning I saw Schmedtgen put a revolver in his hip pocket and noted that he was white and trembling. Outside in the streets an ominous quiet prevailed. Business seemed to have come to a halt. Pedestrians were comparatively few, and every face was tense. We who stayed in the office didn't talk much, and when we spoke our voices were subdued. It was like sitting near the bedside of someone who is dying. When a copy boy was heard yelling something to another boy out in the corridor, some of the staff hurried out to shut him up. Reporters worked in relays covering the news in the vicinity of the jail. One by one they came into the office and wrote their individual angles of the story, then returned to the scene of action. Thus we got frequent bulletins on what was happening there. The execution was set for noon, the day being Friday.

Three hundred policemen had formed a cordon around the jail, a block away from it on all sides, keeping the curious crowds on the outside of a line of heavy rope. Only those persons who could satisfy that police that they had bona fide passports could get through. Once a newspaperman got into the jail, the police would not let him out--though he could send copy to his office by messengers who waited at the entrance.

The hanging proceeded efficiently from the viewpoint of the authorities. When the four men had dropped from the scaffold and the doctors had pronounced all of them dead, the tension of months had suddenly gone. All over town that afternoon there were drunken policemen, in and out of the saloons.

My pictures of the executed men and their fellow defendants were used in the Daily News that day. Schmedtgen's sketch of the hanging had been rushed into print. I saw him early that afternoon. He was ghastly pale and said nothing; evidently he didn't want to talk about what he had seen. we were good friends for years afterward, but I never heard him comment on that day's experience.

All the news stories I read then and nearly all the talk I heard about the case then indicated that the executed men were guilty. Stone called them "enemies of government, destroyers." Not for years did I have an opportunity to see and study the other side of the picture. So when, a short time later, I was asked to draw a cover for an anti-Anarchist pamphlet, I readily assented. It's title was Justice Triumphant Over Anarchy, and it upheld the hangings.

If the dead can hear, I ask their pardon now for drawing that cartoon. I was young and was misled by the clamor of many voices raised to justify a dark deed.

Source: New Masses, May 2, 1939.

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