Friday, February 27, 2009

Crane's Alley


If the Haymarket defendants were guilty of plotting the most famous bombing in Chicago history that evening of May 4, 1886, this is where they planned it. Two witnesses took the stand at the Haymarket trial and declared they say August Spies and either Michael Schwab or Adolph Fischer huddled together in this alley discussing the bombing, then passing a lit stick of dynamite to Rudolph Schnaubelt, who threw it into the crowd, starting the chaos.

The first witness, Malvern M. Thompson, was an employee of the Marshall Fields dry goods store. Under questioning by State's Attorney Grinnell on July 27, 1886, Thompson said:
A. Then Spies got up on the wagon and asked for Parsons. Parsons didn't respond. He then got down and the two men walked in the alley; that is, Schwab and Spies.
Q. Walked in what alley?
A. In the alley that I was standing near the corner of at the back of Crane Bros.
Q. Near which the wagon was situated?
A. Yes sir, the wagon was back a little further. And the first word that I heard between them was, "Pistols".
Q. Between who?
A. Between Schwab and Spies. And the next word was, "police". I think I heard, "police" twice, or "pistols" twice; one or the other, I then walked just a little nearer the edge of the alley; and just then Spies said: "Do you think one is enough, or hadn't we better go and get more?" There was no answer to that that I could hear....And then they came on down and Spies -- just before they got up near the wagon they met a third party; and they bunched right together there, south of the alley, and appeared to get right in a huddle; and there was something passed between them; what it was I couldn't say.
Q. Between whom?
A. Between Spies and the third man.
Q. Look at that picture (handing the witness a cabinet picture of Schnaubelt) and see if that resembles the man that you say made the third?
A. (After examining the picture) Yes sir, I think that is the man.
However, testimony from many other witnesses established that Schwab was only at the Haymarket meeting for a few minutes, and during that time, was never anywhere near Spies or Crane's Alley. Moreover, Spies and Schwab, both being recent German immigrants, typically spoke in German with each other, and Thompson did not speak or understand German (he claimed their conversation had been in English). Finally, under cross-examination by the defense, Thompson admitted he had seen the photo of Schnaubelt before the trial.

The second witness to the meeting in Crane's Alley was even more definite. On the following day, July 28, Harry L. Gilmer, a professional painter, testified under questioning by State's Attorney Grinnell:
A I...was looking for a party I expected to find there, and stepped back in the alley.
Q Which alley?
A The alley between Crane Bros building, and the building immediately south of it.
Q What did you see when you stepped in there?
A I stepped in there and was standing, looking around for a few minutes, noticed parties in conversation there.
Q What were those people doing?
A They were standing holding a conversation there. Somebody in front of me out on the edge of the sidewalk there said, "Here comes the police." There was a sort of natural rush looking to see the police come up. There was a man came from the wagon down to the parties that were standing on the south side of the alley. He lit a match and he touched it off, something or another it was not quite as big as that, I think, (indicating). The fuse commenced to fizzle, and he gave it a couple of steps forward and tossed it over into the street.
Q Do you know the man?
A I have seen him. I knew him by sight. I have seen him several times at meetings at one place and another in the city.
Q You don't know his name?
A I do not.
Q Do you know the man-- you say that somebody came from the wagon towards the group?
A Yes, sir.
Q Describe that man-- is it any of the defendants?
A That is the man right there (pointing to Spies).
Q Spies?
A Yes, sir.
Q Did you see any of the other defendants in the alley at that time?
A That man that sits over there was one of the parties (pointing at defendant Fischer).
Q Fischer?
A Fischer.
Under cross-examination, the defense showed that these statements contradicted substantially statements Gilmer had made earlier to the police. Moreover, several character witnesses testified that Gilmer was an inveterate liar, and Gilmer himself admitted that he had received payment by Detective Bonfield, the leader of the police expedition into the Haymarket meeting, which inspired the bomber.

Probably both men were lying about the defendants. Eyewitness testimony put Fischer at Zepf's Hall at the time he was supposedly plotting with Spies, and Spies never left the speakers' wagon before the explosion.

On the other hand, Rudolph Schnaubelt, the supposed bombthrower identified by Thompson in the photo, may very well have been the culprit. After the riot, he immediately left the country. Unlike Spies and Schwab, who were editors and writers by trade (they jointly operated the anarchist daily Arbeiter-Zeitung), and Fischer, who was a printer, Schnaubelt was a machinist who had come to the United States only two years before the bombing, and was already an anarchist when he arrived. His entire family was active in the anarchist and socialist movements, and he had a reputation for wild and militant talk about revolution.

In later years, those close to the center of the anarchist movement claimed to know who the real bombthrower was, and that it was not Schnaubelt, who lived the rest of his life in Argentina. But Schnaubelt is, nevertheless, one of a few likely suspects.

Despite no real evidence that any of the Haymarket defendants, including those who supposedly huddled together in Crane's Alley, had thrown the bomb, or specifically plotted it, they were all convicted and sentenced to death. Carl Sandburg, the famous poet of Chicago, who gave the city its famous sobriquet, the "city of big shoulders," wrote about his experience during the trial, when he was eight years old:
Then came the murder trial of the eight men and we saw in the Chicago paper black-and-white drawings of their faces and they looked exactly like what we expected, hard, mean, slimy faces. We saw pictures of the twelve men on the jury and they looked like what we expected, nice, honest, decent faces. We learned the word for the men on trial, anarchists, and they hated the rich and called policemen "bloodhounds." They were not regular people and they didn't belong to the human race, for they seemed more like slimy animals who prowl, sneak, and kill in the dark. This I believed along with millions of other people reading and talking about the trial. I didn't meet or hear of anyone in our town who didn't so believe then, at that time.
So violent was the rhetoric of the anarchists, and so virulent were the anti-foreign sympathies of most Chicagoans, that a fair trial was an impossibility.

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