Showing posts with label 1870s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1870s. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

August Spies' Home


August Vincent Theodore Spies, father of American anarchism, hanged for his role in the Haymarket riot, lived here in Wicker Park, at 154 Potomac Ave. (now 2132 W. Potomac).

Born the oldest of five children in a middle-class family in Friedewalde, Prussia (now Germany) in 1855, August Spies’ [pronounced Speeze] childhood was a happy one. As a teenager, he attended college in Kassel, training to be a forest ranger like his father. However, Spies’ life changed course in 1872 after the death of his father. Without the family breadwinner, Spies was forced to drop out of school, and he decided to seek his fortune in the United States. He arrived at New York later in 1872, where he apprenticed to an upholsterer for a few months. From New York, he traveled to Chicago, finding work in an umbrella and parasol factory on the west side, near Madison and Halsted.

He was a hard worker and was more entrepreneurial than most of his fellow immigrants, so much so that by 1876, he was able to open his own upholstery shop before his 21st birthday. The shop was a success and Spies was soon earning enough to bring his family from Germany to Chicago, including his three brothers, Christian, Ferdinand, and Henry, plus his mother and sister. The entire family resided at the home on Potomac.

(Pictured: August Spies)

While the American Dream was a reality for August Spies, he was haunted by the terrible conditions in which the poorest Chicagoans, including many immigrants, lived. Sensitive souls of the 1870s were burdened with the knowledge that, throughout the city, multiple families piled into tiny, dilapidated flats in slums overrun with vermin and other pests, and without access to proper cleaning or bathing facilities. Even for those who escaped the worst conditions, hours were long – a typical worker spent 10 hours per day, six days per week on the job – and work was tedious and repetitive (surfing the web and chatting around the water cooler were unheard of in the workplace of 1880). From this hard life, socialism promised better wages, reduced hours, and less division of labor, meaning more variety in tasks on the job.

Spies first heard of socialism about 1875, and began studying the works of Karl Marx and whatever other literature he could get his hands on. He was immediately attracted to the philosophy, and his adherence was strengthened by the injustices he perceived during the nationwide strike of 1877, in which police and private militias dispersed demonstrators through extreme force and brutality. Like other socialists at the time, he felt the primary means by which workers could even the odds against the political power of the wealthy was by arming themselves, and so he joined the burgeoning Luhr-und-Wehr Verein, a group of labor militants who were expected to be the first line of attack during the expected socialist revolution.

During the late 1870s, Spies came to be well-known in Chicago’s radical circles. He was an excellent orator and an even better writer. He never minced words, and was willing to confront and challenge unfriendly audiences. In an address to a meeting of Congregational ministers, who had invited him to speak on the subject of socialism, he mocked the attempts of Christianity to help the poor with its “little prayer book,” and insisted that only socialism could truly improve society. When one of the ministers replied, “So your remedy would be violence?”, Spies responded
Remedy? Well, I should like it better if it could be done without violence; but you, gentlemen, and the class you represent, take care that it cannot be accomplished otherwise….Besides, what does it matter if some thousands, or even tens of thousands, of drones are removed during the coming struggle? These are the very ones who yearly destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of proletarians – a fact which you don’t seem to know.
Spies was growing increasingly radical, even relative to other socialists. The final straw was in 1880 when Spies ran for the office of west side tax collector under the banner of the Socialist Labor Party. After losing the race, he rejected the power of the ballot to change society and turned fully towards anarchism. That same year, he left his work as an upholsterer to become the full-time business manager for the German radical daily publication, the Chicagoer Arbeiter-Zeitung. His influence was immediately felt, as the publication began taking a radical turn from socialism to anarchy. Spies’ radicalism was eventually too much for the publication’s editor, Paul Grauttkau, who remained a moderate socialist and left the paper in 1884, after which time, Spies became editor-in-chief.

Through Spies’ tireless work, often amounting up to 16 hours per day, the Arbeiter-Zeitung’s circulation grew, reaching a peak of 20,000 by 1886. At the time, Chicago’s entire population was only 500,000, most of whom did not speak German, the language in which the newspaper was printed. Chicago also became the center for anarchist activity in the United States, led largely by August Spies. The first national anarchist assembly was held in Chicago in 1881, with Spies as the secretary of the congress. While sparsely attended and largely unsuccessful, that event’s promise was fulfilled in a similar conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1883. Spies was also the secretary of the Pittsburgh Congress, where the delegates championed the “Chicago idea,” namely that anarchists should both promote armed insurrection and support trade unions as an organizing idea of society. Spies was crucial in founding the first American anarchist organization, the International Working People’s Association, and in drafting the Pittsburgh Manifesto, which included the following six aims of anarchism:
1. Destruction of the existing class rule, by all means
2. Establishment of a free society based upon co-operative organization of production
3. Free exchange of equivalent products by and between the productive organizations without commerce and profit-mongery
4. Organization of education on a secular, scientific and equal basis for both sexes
5. Equal rights for all without distinction of sex or race
6. Regulation of all public affairs by free contracts between the autonomous (independent) communes and associations, resting on a federalistic basis
While equal rights and widespread education are understandable and laudable goals, the antagonism of anarchists against profit is both puzzling and self-defeating. Profits, after all, serve as signals for where resources should be directed. When the demand for steel increases, profits of steel producers rise, which incentivizes these firms to increase production and signals others to consider entering the steel industry. These reactions allow the increased demand to be met. Without profit, there is no means by which firms know what to produce, how much to produce, or what production technologies to employ. Instead, these decisions tend to be made politically, with tyranny a frequent result. Nothing could be more crucial for individual autonomy and freedom, those keynotes of anarchism, than profit.

The “International”, as the new party was known, quickly dwarfed the less-radical Socialist Labor Party, largely as a result of August Spies’ persistence and hard work. At its pre-Haymarket height, the International claimed 5,000 members nationwide. The success may have gone to his head. In January, 1886, a Chicago Daily News reporter interviewed the 31-year old anarchist leader. In the interview, Spies indicated that the revolution was nigh. As evidence of the strength of the movement, he even gave the reporter an empty dynamite shell casing, saying “Take it to your boss and tell him we have nine thousand more like it – only loaded” (dynamite was an obsession for many anarchists in those days).

It was a statement that struck fear into Chicagoans and hatred for these violent men who sought the overthrow of the government and their way of life. Spies would live to regret saying it when he sat in jail accused of murder by dynamite after the Haymarket riot.

Throughout the spring of 1886, Spies was particularly active, nearly exhausting himself in support of the movement for an eight-hour workday (see the discussion of that movement here). May 1 was the designated day on which workers would walk off the job unless the demand for reduced hours was met, and many expected May 1, 1886 to be the start of a great conflagration between capital and labor which would dwarf the violence of the 1877 railroad strike. The Chicago Mail editorialized
There are two dangerous ruffians at large in this city; two sneaking cowards who are trying to create trouble. One of them is named [Albert] Parsons [another anarchist leader]. The other is named Spies. Should trouble come they would be the first to skulk away from the scene of danger, the first to attempt to shield their worthless carcasses from harm, the first to shirk responsibility….Parsons and Spies have been engaged for the past six months in perfecting arrangements for precipitating a riot today. They have taken advantage of the excitement attending the eight-hour movement to bring about a series of strikes and to work injury to capital and honest labor in every possible way….Mark them for today. Keep them in view. Hold them personally responsible for any trouble that occurs. Make an example of them if trouble does occur!
Instead, however, May 1 passed with a tense quiet in Chicago, as did May 2. On the afternoon May 3, Spies was invited to speak to a meeting of the lumber-shovers' union on 22nd and Blue Island Ave. During the meeting, violence between striking workers and “scabs” broke out nearby at the McCormick Reaper Works at Blue Island and Western Ave., and a confrontation with police led to the deaths of two workers. Spies witnessed the aftermath of the violence, and enraged, rushed back to his office at the Arbeiter-Zeitung, where he penned a circular that inspired the Haymarket meeting the following day.

At the Haymarket Square rally on the evening of May 4, 1886, Spies was scheduled to speak second. He and his brother left their home in Wicker Park and walked down Milwaukee Ave. towards the Haymarket, at Randolph and Desplaines Streets. When they arrived around 8:15 p.m., they found the meeting, which had been scheduled to begin at 7:30, was missing its initial speaker (Albert Parsons). With the crowd thinning, the weather worsening, and the evening growing later, Spies moved the group around the corner onto Desplaines Street, and stood atop a nearby wagon, addressing the crowd in English. He was followed by two other speakers. Near the end of the third lecture, given by Samuel Fielden, Inspector Jack “Black Jack” Bonfield and the Desplaines St. police arrived on the scene, gave the order to disperse, and at that moment, the fatal bomb was thrown. At trial, two witnesses would claim that, during the subsequent speeches, Spies had met the bombthrower in Crane’s Alley, handing him the famous weapon which he later used to wreck havoc. At the time the bomb was thrown, Spies was climbing down from the wagon, responding to the police order. During the riot, he was very nearly killed, but was saved by his brother Henry, who shoved a rifle barrel aimed at Spies out of the way. Spies managed to escape to Zepf’s saloon, and then found his way home.

After the riot, Spies was the first of the Haymarket defendants to be arrested by police. At 9:00 a.m. on May 5, Captain Bonfield arrived at the offices of the Arbeiter-Zeitung and arrested both August Spies and his brother Christopher, who also worked at the paper. In their search of the offices, the police uncovered a cache of dynamite, supposedly in a closet adjacent to Spies’ office. It was nothing like the 9,000 shells Spies had claimed to control, but its existence convicted him in the public eye. The “red scare” that followed the Haymarket riot, plus the natural dislike and suspicion many Chicagoans felt for German immigrants in their city, led to a show trial and conviction of Spies and his fellow defendants for murder, although Spies was demonstrably not the bomb-thrower, and the testimony that indicated he brought the bomb to the event was contradicted by several other witnesses.

Every day during the period of their appeals after the trial, newspapers reported on the condition of Spies and the other defendants in prison. One humorous take in the Tribune described a fretful Spies:
Two men were pacing up and down the corridor, a guard on either side. They kept their eyes on the ground and said never a word. They were August Spies and his brother, Anarchists by profession and fools by nature. They were pale, and wore that frightened, expectant look that one often sees on the face of a married man riding home on the owl-car.
Another day’s commentary provided an interview with the supposedly forlorn prisoner, in which he seemed to be in good spirits, though apparently without a sufficient quantity of "spirits": "We live like princes here in jail. The only drawback to life in this bastille is that it is impossible to get anything to drink!"

Besides the usual family visitors, Spies had a large number of female attendants. As a single man and a martyr for his cause, he was irresistible to some. Spies was also known to be quite handsome, with bright blue eyes, a light brown moustache, waxed at the tips, and always in peak physical condition. During the trial, the newspapers said the 31-year old Spies appeared no older than 26.

A particularly frequent visitor was an attractive 20-year old scion to a wealthy family, Nina Van Zandt. She had met August Spies a few years earlier, when he kindly published a classified lost-and-found ad in the Arbeiter-Zeitung after Van Zandt’s beloved poodle went missing. They reconnected during the trial, and Nina Van Zandt attended court every day. During Spies’ time in prison, she visited on every occasion possible, but was limited in her access to Spies since she was not an immediate family member.

Spies and Van Zandt, who had fallen deeply in love, decided to remedy that problem by marrying. When word got out of the proposed jailhouse wedding, the city was in an uproar. Van Zandt’s parents strenuously opposed the marriage, but to no avail. Public comment was uniformly negative, and not a little condescending towards the would-be fiancée. Typical was a damning letter in the Tribune, which stated
What is to be thought of a woman who is willing to bear children to a convict and send their innocent little souls into the world bearing the mark of Cain on their brows as their very birthright?
Van Zandt was an instant celebrity. She was even portrayed for tourists as a wax sculpture in several dime museums in the city. When the prison warden objected to the marriage plans, the wedding was performed by proxy, with Henry Spies taking the vows for his brother. Despite the questionable legal status of this marriage, Van Zandt took Spies’ last name (which she kept for the rest of her life), and remained married to him until his execution date.

(Pictured: Nina Van Zandt)

August Spies initially signed his name to a letter requesting clemency from the Governor – a request that likely would have been accepted – but then immediately withdrew his signature, refusing to admit guilt or to shame his fellow anarchists. He was hanged with four other Haymarket defendants, who constituted the core leadership of the anarchist movement, on November 11, 1887. Anarchism in the U.S. was never again so prominent.

Nina Van Zandt remained active in the anarchist movement. She remarried in 1895, then divorced this second husband in 1903. She operated a boarding house on Halsted St., near Adams St., until her death in 1936. In her will, she left most of her small possessions, around $3,000 worth, to the care of her eight dogs and one cat.

August Spies’ Wicker Park home is still standing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

138 Years of Murder in Chicago

Unlike other posts on this site, this one focuses not on a single crime scene or an historical account of one or two individuals, but instead summarizes the facts on over a century of murder in Chicago. One of the main purposes of this blog is to understand Chicago's historic and modern reputation for crime, and comparisons over time can be illuminating.

The figure above shows the city's murder rate, expressed as murders per 100,000 residents, between 1870 and 2008. This gives a long-run summary view of homicide in Chicago over the last 138 years. I focus here on murder because, unlike rape, larceny, and other crimes, the likelihood of unreported victims is less severe with murder. The cops will eventually notice every corpse lying in the street, although it is true that some "accidental" deaths may actually have been murders, and some bodies are never found.
Data from 1931 to the present is drawn from the FBI's annual Crime in the United States, and is based on reports from local police agencies. Figures from 1870 - 1930 are based on Chicago police department data processed by Homicide in Chicago, a project hosted at Northwestern University School of Law. All figures include both murders and non-negligent manslaughter.

Between 1870 and 1920, Chicago's crime rate grew at an essentially steady pace, reaching a peak of 10 per 100,000 in 1919. During this period, Chicago was growing in population and density. High population density is typically associated with greater crime rates for several reasons. First, in small towns, every face is familiar, but in large cities, criminals are less likely to be recognized by witnesses. Realizing a lower likelihood of being caught, criminals commit more crimes. Second, crime pays better in cities, because there are more people to rob -- there's no point in becoming a robber in the first place if you can't hit lots of targets. Finally, and especially relevant to Chicago during this period, big cities attract large communities of poor immigrants with few prospects for legal employment. Criminal, on the other hand, is a profession open to all.

With the onset of national Prohibition in 1919, many of these immigrants gained lucrative employment in the bootlegging field, and for the first few years of the 1920s, at least, murder rates fell by nearly 50%. But as the various parts of Johnny Torrio's syndicate began falling apart in 1924, culminating in the murder of Torrio's north side associate Dion O'Banion, likely at the hand of his south side associates, the Genna brothers, Chicago's "Beer Wars" began, and the murder rate skyrocketed by 250% between 1923 and 1928. Also around the same time, the notoriously-violent Al Capone took over full control of Torrio's organization in 1925.

Even as Prohibition ended in 1931, murder rates remained high throughout the early 1930s, the worst years of the Great Depression, before falling below 5 per 100,000 in 1943. No doubt the massive mobilization of American men out of Chicago and into military companies in army barracks and overseas locations played no small role in the low murder rates of the early 1940s -- men have traditionally constituted the vast majority of both murderers and murder victims.

After WWII, Chicago's murder rate again began to climb as the city continued growing in size until around 1950. The city's demographics also changed during this period, as increasing automobile ownership and better highways allowed families seeking larger homes to commute from the suburbs, while younger cohorts without children remained in the city (most murderers are drawn from the ranks of 17-24 year olds).

Between 1943 and 1965, Chicago's murder rate rose at a roughly constant rate, increasing by 1 per 100,000 about every three years. However, between 1965 and 1970, the murder rate rose much more dramatically, increasing from 11 per 100,000 in 1965 to 24 per 100,000 in 1970.

Why did the murder rate rise so quickly in the late 1960s? Some point to stricter standards for policing and stronger rights for accused criminals during this period, symbolized by the Miranda case in 1966, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the police must inform arrested persons of their rights before interrogating them. Criminals facing a lower probability of punishment rationally commit more crimes.

There is also some evidence that the generation born after World War II had substantially poorer family formation rates, with an increasing share of children growing up in single-parent households. As I've written elsewhere, as these children reached their late teens and early adulthood -- when offense rates are highest -- in the late 1960s, the quantity of violent crime rose proportionately.
Another potential factor in the growth of crime during this era was the changing consumption patterns and legal status of drugs. The use of heroin and psychodelic drugs increased during the 1960s as production and transportation costs fell, and these drugs also become especially popular among enlisted men and counterculture communities. The pharmacological effects of increased drug consumption -- at least among the class of drugs popular during this period -- on violence are debatable. However, increased usage also led to substantially greater levels of enforcement. Federal prohibition on heroin stretches back to the 1910s, but LSD only became illegal in 1966. Arrests for drug crimes, which were exceptionally rare before 1965, skyrocketed afterwards. With prohibition comes incentives for violence between customers, dealers, and suppliers, who can no longer depend on the courts and police to enforce contracts and mitigate violence.

The war on drugs continued through the 1970s and 1980s. Especially prominent as a source of crime is the arrival of crack cocaine in the mid-1980s. Crack was an immediately and immensely popular drug, and its arrival in Chicago kicked off massive and bloody turf wars among rival drug-selling organizations (primarily street gangs) for control of retailing markets in the city.

While crack consumption has not waned much since the 1980s, boundaries between rival sellers have largely been settled. Thus, the end of the "crack epidemic" coincided with big declines in Chicago's murder rate. In the mid-1990s, the murder rate in Chicago (and nationwide) fell dramatically, declining below 50% of its 1992 peak by 2004. Besides the end of the crack epidemic, there are potentially several causes for this remarkable turnaround.

In other cities, such as New York, declines in crime have been attributed to substantial increases in the number of police on the street and to creative policing strategies. Chicago, however, saw little change in the size of its police force, and "broken windows" and other techniques were slow in gaining acceptance at the CPD, although greater efforts towards community engagement, such as the CAPS program, did begin in the early 1990s.

Imprisonment rates also increased during this period, with Illinois holding 27,516 prisoners in 1990 and 45,281 in 2000. With more criminals behind bars, there are fewer on the street committing crime. In addition, an increased likelihood of a lengthy prison sentence likely deters some would-be criminals.

Finally, and most controversially, some researchers have recently pointed to the role of legalized abortion in the evident decline in crime during the 1990s. While some states legalized abortion procedures before 1973, Illinois and most other states saw legalization after the Supreme Court's famous Roe v. Wade decision that year. A large share of women seeking abortions do so because they feel unprepared to raise a child -- and no doubt many of them in fact are poorly prepared for motherhood. After the legalization of abortion, this theory argues, many children, who would have been raised in high-risk environments, were never born. This "missing cohort" would have reached their late teens and early 20s during the early 1990s; thus, the decline in murder rates in the 1990s may be partially due to the fact that many would-be murderers were never born.

The statistical evidence regarding this theory is controversial and, in many places, contradictory. Nevertheless, it is difficult to doubt that at least some of the decline in Chicago's murder rate during the 1990s is due to legalized abortion.

By 2008, Chicago's murder rate was 18.03 per 100,000, roughly the same as it was in 1967. Nevertheless, the city's rate is substantially higher than some other large cities, including New York City (6.3 per 100,000) and Los Angeles (10.0 per 100,000). On the other hand, Chicago is relatively safe compared with Philadelphia (23.0 per 100,000), Detroit (33.8 per 100,000), and Gary, Indiana (73.2 per 100,000).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Lehr-und-Wehr Verein and the Second Amendment


The 1870s were a period of increasingly violent clashes between workers and employers in Chicago and throughout the U.S. The eight-hour workday movement was emboldened by weak economic conditions prevailing throughout most of that decade, and anarchists began publicly advocating resistance against industrialists and strike-breakers. Employers hired armed guards, including Pinkerton detectives, to defend their personal and business interests, and state governments began forming organized militias to put down insurrections. In response, German socialists and anarchists in Chicago formed the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein.

A rough translation of Lehr-und-Wehr Verein is “Education and Resistence Association,” and the group’s state charter, signed by the governor of Illinois in April, 1875, indicated
The Association is formed for the purpose of improving the mental and bodily condition of its members so as to qualify them for the duties of citizens of the Republic. Its members shall therefore obtain in the meetings of the Association a knowledge of our laws and political economy, and shall also be instructed in military and gymnastic exercises.
There were four Lehr-und-Wehr Verein companies in Chicago which met weekly for drill exercises and instruction. Once each month, all four groups converged at Neff’s Hall, a saloon and assembly hall located at 58 Clybourn (now numbered 1265 N. Clybourn Ave.), which is the building pictured above. Their marching uniforms consisted of blue shirts, black hats, and white rucksacks, paired with light-colored linen pants. At socialist picnics, outings, and conventions, they held shooting contests and mock battles, and marched in columns four men wide, carrying a variety of firearms, everything from squirrel pellet guns to .45 caliber rifles and .44 caliber revolvers. Besides support they received directly from socialist political parties, the organization held fundraisers throughout the year, using monies raised to purchase additional armaments.

(Pictured: a Lehr-und-Wehr Verein drill. Image courtesy of Northwestern University Law School).

While socialists and anarchists had long argued that working men needed to arm themselves to enforce their rights, the formal organization of the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein may have been precipitated by the establishment of the Illinois National Guard in 1874. Though privately financed (primarily by wealthy Chicagoans) the Guard was the first organized militia in the state. In March, 1875, one month before the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein was chartered, the first regiment of the Illinois National Guard mustered with arms at a socialist riot in front of city hall.

While the Verein’s state charter was anodyne, its obvious purpose was to protect socialist interests in battles with business interests, police, and the National Guard. In a letter to the Tribune, Hermann Chilz, secretary of the organization wrote explicitly:
The preparations of the workingmen…are simply a necessity in order to protect themselves against future murderous attacks like the one which was made by the police last year against peaceably assembled workingmen.
Likely Chilz is referring to an infamous case during the Great Strike of 1877 in which, during negotiations between Furniture Workers’ Union members and their employers on W. 12th Street, Chicago police broke down the door and began shooting and beating workers as they tried to escape.

Similarly, Chicago’s socialist newspaper the Arbeiter-Zeitung wrote in June, 1875,
Inasmuch as the bourgeoisie of this place are building up a servile militia with its powers directed against the working man, the workingmen, man for man, should join the … organization and willingly give the few dollars necessary to arm and uniform themselves. When the workingmen are on their guard, their just demands will not be answered with bullets.
The sight of armed groups of socialists marching through the streets of the city alarmed many Chicagoans, especially the wealthy, who had more to lose should a general insurrection arise. They perceived the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein as a threat against law and order, and against their life and property. The aforementioned Great Strike of 1877, although it had lasted only a week, showed that collaborative protest by the working classes was possible and could bring the country’s economy to a standstill. During the strike, Marshall Field and other merchants armed their employees and George Pullman organized a “Law and Order League,” which roamed through the city’s neighborhoods armed with rifles. Armed vigilante groups and private and battalions of Civil War veterans also worked to disperse assemblies of striking workers. Labor historian Paul Avrich writes that for business leaders,
…the chief lesson of the strike was the need for a stronger apparatus of repression. Along with press and pulpit, they called for a reorganization of the military forces, so that in the future they might be able to deal more effectively with popular outbursts. The erection of government armories in the centers of American cities dates from this period. State militias were reorganized and strengthened. Special manuals on riot duty and street fighting became prescribed reading for local and federal forces. In Chicago, a Citizens’ Association, spurred by Marshall Field, was established “to fight communists.” The police began to conduct themselves in the matter of an army, drilling regularly in street maneuvers and learning to “handle themselves like soldiers.” [The Haymarket Tragedy, p. 35]
The fear of armed socialist groups is reflected in the following poem, printed in an 1878 weekly version of the Arbeiter-Zeitung:

Our Dear Police
(by Gustav Lyser)

They say our dear Chicago police
Are pretty sore these days,
It seems the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein
Has led their minds astray

It teaches constitutional truths
For all – not just th’ elite,
And that no one the right to assemble
May trample under his feet!

It teacher what is guaranteed,
And read it each man might
To liberty, life, pursuit of happiness
We have a common right!

It teaches how we must defend
‘Gainst tyrrany’s reckless flood;
That freedom much from us demands –
May e’en demand our blood!

That’s why our dear Chicago police
Are pretty sore these days;
For such a Lehr-und-Wehr Verein
Has set their fears ablaze.

As the poem suggests, the issue quickly become a constitutional question. The second amendment to the Constitution reads:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
In the 19th century, the “militia”, as defined in both federal and state code, included all (white male) citizens; hence, one reading of the the second amendment is that it precludes the government from disarming its citizens, who have the right use force to defend their freedom from tyrants or foreign invaders. This is certainly how the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein read the amendment. At the same time, courts of the era also interpreted the Bill of Rights to apply narrowly to the federal government exclusively; thus, the U.S. Congress could make no law infringing the right to bear arms, but the states could.

In May, 1879, Illinois did just that, passing the Militia Bill, sections 5 and 6 of which read:
Sec. 5 It shall not be lawful for any body of men whatever, other than the regular organized volunteer militia of this state, and the troops of the United States, to associate themselves together as a military company or organization, or to drill or parade with arms in any city or town of this state, without the license of the governor thereof, which license may at any time be revoked….Provided, that nothing herein contained shall be construed so as to prevent benevolent or social organizations from wearing swords.

Sec. 6. Whoever offends against the provisions of the preceding section, or belongs to, or parades with, any such unauthorized body of men with arms, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding the sum of ten dollars, ($10,) or by imprisonment in the common jail for a term not exceeding six months, or both.
The statute, with most of the same language (including the amusing bit about wearing swords), is still on the Illinois books today (See Sections 94 and 101 here; 130 years later, the original $10 fine has been increased to “not less than $20 nor more than $100”).

The 1879 Militia law was specifically aimed at armed socialists groups like the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein, the membership of which had grown dramatically since the Great Strike. While no reliable sources exist, the total number of Lehr-und-Wehr Verein members likely exceeded 1,000 at its peak, and may have been as high as 3,000. Verein members saw in the law’s provision for licenses granted by the governor an attempt by the state to monopolize the use of force, and to direct it against groups with little political power, especially workers.

On July 2, 1879, the new law was put to the test when a group of Lehr-und-Wehr Verein, led by their captain, Frank Bielefeldt, marched with arms through Chicago. Bielefeldt was arrested and charged with violation of the militia law. The case was heard in Cook County Criminal Court in late July, and Bielefeldt triumphed. The court held that the right to bear arms was an inherent, inalienable right, independent of any law passed in Illinois or elsewhere, and that arming oneself is “an unconditioned and undeniable right, militia or no militia.”

The Judge in the case also argued that, while the Second Amendment (and other aspects of the Bill of Rights) had not applied to state laws before the Civil War, this was no longer the case after the passage of the 14th amendment in 1868, the text of which reads (in part): “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The right to bear arms being one of the privileges accorded to U.S. citizens by their constitution, the states were thus restricted from abridging that right.

The court further agreed with the socialists that the militia law unnecessarily politicized self-defense, arguing that the statute “empowers the Governor in the granting or withholding of licenses to make odious discriminations based on politics, religion, class interests, nationality, place or similar considerations repugnant to the genius of our institutions and subversive of constitutional equality.”

The case, which was decided 2-1, was a startling victory for the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein, and inspired the conservative Tribune to attribute to the decision epithets including “irrelevant” and “puerile;” nevertheless, its effect was to be short-lived. In the fall of 1878, the Illinois Supreme Court judged in a separate case that the Illinois National Guard, not the public at large, was the state militia; as a consequence, Governor Shelby Cullom announced that the militia law would be sternly enforced against the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein: no one but the militia would be allowed to parade with arms without the Governor's permission. However, since the ultimate question of constitutionality had still not been decided by the courts, the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein prompty offered an opportunity for them to do so.

On September 24, 1879, Hermann Presser, mounted on horseback, led a march in Chicago of 400 Lehr-und-Wehr Verein members carrying firearms. Presser was arrested, convicted in circuit court, and fined the statutory $10. The case was appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which confirmed Presser’s conviction, at which point the case was again appealed the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court took its time, and did not hear oral arguments until 1885. In the mean time, the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein continued to hold meetings and drills, but did not march publicly without permission (in one instance in 1880, the Governor did grant permission to the group for a public display). The growing anarchist movement intertwined with the Verein’s membership, and many of the city’s foremost firebrands, including those advocating revolution, were members. One of the most zealous of the future Haymarket defendants, Adolph Fischer, was a member. The pages of the Arbeiter-Zeitung persistently urged workers to arm themselves, especially with dynamite, to assist in the coming war with the industrialist elite.

At the Supreme Court, former U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull represented Presser, arguing in terms similar to those that had been issued in the earlier Bielefeldt case, a de-politicization of the militia:
“To bear arms,” then in the constitutional sense, means to bear the weapons of civilized warfare, and to become instructed in their use. But this is drilling, officering, organizing; therefore, these are claimed to be part and parcel, of the same impregnable right, and placed by the supreme law of the land, beyond the reach of infringement by the provisions of any military code or, the precarious will, and license of whoever may happen to be Governor.
In January, 1886, the Supreme Court released its ruling in the case of Presser v. Illinois. The constitutionality or lack thereof of the Illinois National Guard, which had played a substantial role in the defense's case, was irrelevant, the justices argued; only sections 5 and 6 of the militia law, under which Presser was convicted, were relevant. Turning the Court’s attention to these sections, the decision affirmed that the Bill of Rights did not apply to state laws:
We think it clear that the sections under consideration, which only forbid bodies of men to associate together as military organizations, or to drill or parade with arms in cities and towns unless authorized by law, do not infringe the right of the people to keep and bear arms. But a conclusive answer to the contention that this amendment prohibits the legislation in question lies in the fact that the amendment is a limitation only upon the power of congress and the national government, and not upon that of the state.

…[T]he right of the people to keep and bear arms is not a right granted by the constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The second amendment declares that it shall not be infringed, but this, as has been seen, means no more than that it shall not be infringed by congress. This is one of the amendments that has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government…
The Court further opined that states need the ability to regulate free assembly and firearm ownership in order “to suppress armed mobs bent on riot and rapine.”

After the ruling in Presser, the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein would never again exercise in public, and the anarchist movement in the United States went into the decline. Just four months later, the Haymarket riot led to the imprisonment (and, for some, death) of most of the city’s anarchist leaders. Coincidentally or not, the judge who presided over the trial of the Haymarket defendants was the one dissenting member of the panel that ruled in favor of the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein in the Bielefeldt case.

A decade after Presser, U.S. courts began developing the doctrine of “incorporation,” essentially the same argument as the Cook County Criminal Court made in the Bielefeldt case – that the 14th amendment implies that the Bill of Rights applies to state laws as well as to the federal government. Over the next hundred years, most of the Bill of Rights was so "incorporated," including the first amendment rights of freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, and the fifth amendment protections against double jeopardy and self-incrimination. Notably, however, the Supreme Court has never ruled that the second amendment applies to the states; hence, Presser v. Illinois is still a standard citation in cases throughout the country upholding local ordinances banning handgun ownership.

That is likely to change soon. The Presser case was recently denigrated as outmoded by Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in its ruling (see p. 48, n23) last summer against the Washington, D.C. handgun ban. That case, however, did not decide the question of whether the second amendment applies to the states since the District of Columbia is not a state. Nevertheless, barring unexpected changes in the Court’s membership, most observers expect a decision in the next few terms will extend “incorporation” to the second amendment. Will we then see a return of the Lehr-und-Wehr Verein?

Neff’s hall, where the Verein once met for their general assembly and military drills, still stands on Clybourn Ave. While the Verein were active, it was commonly used by anarchists to store dynamite and other weapons. It was frequented in particular by Louis Lingg, the most violent of the Haymarket defendents, who committed suicide in jail before his execution. Known as Thueringer Hall in the 1880s, the building was later home to a hosiery shop in the 1950s. Today, it appears to be vacant.

[Several of the quotes in this post (particularly the poem from the Arbeiter-Zeitung and the clippings from the defense brief in Presser) were found in Stephen P. Halbrook's Summer 1999 article in the University of Detroit Mercey Law Review, "The Right of Workers to Assemble and to Bear Arms: Presser v. Illinois, One of the Last Holdouts Against Application of the Bill of Rights to the States".]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Sad Case of Rosetta Jackson

In the evening of June 12, 1874, 17 year-old Miss Rosetta Jackson died in her bed here at 186 S. Jefferson (since renumbered 313 S. Jefferson). The death certificate, prepared by her doctor, Charles Earll, indicated typhoid fever and enteritis as the causes of decease. Her sister and brother-in-law, Lizzie and William Flagg, sent her body to be coffined and taken by train for burial near her family home in Wisconsin.

But something about the case troubled Chicago police officer Thomas Simmons: a sudden, unexpected death of a young, healthy woman, and such a rush to remove her remains. And then there was the involvement of the notorious Dr. Earll. He went to interview Miss Jackson’s landlady, a Mrs. Kate Heiland. The story that spilled out of Mrs. Heiland was one of the most sordid and heartbreaking in Chicago history, one that would fill newspaper headlines throughout that summer of 1874, as two separate juries deliberated on the fates of Mrs. Heiland, Dr. Earll, and the Flaggs. The Rosetta Jackson case, which brought to prominence in Chicago an early instance of an issue that roils America to this day, seems to have been lost to history.

Miss Jackson’s older sister Lizzie had married a barber by the name of William Flagg, and the two inhabited an apartment on W. Lake St., above Mr. Flagg’s barbershop. At age 16, Rosetta left her family home in Mauston, Wisconsin, to live with her sister and brother-in-law in Chicago, exchanging room and board for cleaning and household duties, which were many in the rapidly growing Flagg family.

But all was not right in the home. Mr. Flagg took an increasingly dangerous interest in the pretty young girl, and she seemed flattered by his joking flirtations, as when he would wrap his arm around her waist and laughingly tell the patrons of his barbershop that they’d better not lay a finger on “his girl”. Over time, the neighbors began to whisper and the scent of scandal turned prurient eyes wherever they were seen together. The two were seen sitting together at Western Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church on Sundays, without Mrs. Flagg, and frequently went out together at night.

Mrs. Flagg wasn’t impervious to the accusatory stares of her neighbors, or what she could see with her own eyes. Pregnant with another child at the time, she was especially sensitive to her husband’s apparent dalliance. As she told the police on the day after Rosetta’s death,
I have seen my husband noticeably intimate with my sister. The neighbors noted it too. At one time I caught him kissing Rosetta. I had not the courage to speak to my husband about it, though….I never caught the pair in any more improper behhavior than kissing each other, but I could swear that at the time mentioned there was something irregular, and I believed that they had been doing wrong.
A neighbor, Angeline Pernod, later testified at trial:
Mrs. Flagg, about three of four weeks ago, told me that her husband was out until about 11 o'clock one night, and when he came home put his hat and coat in her room. Then he walked into her sister's (the deceased's) room, and she subsequently saw him kneeling on the floor, and he had his arms over her sister's head. She asked him what he was doing there, and he then got up and walked back to her room. When Mrs. Flagg told me this she said she had not told half of her troubles....There was some talk in the neighborhood about an intimacy between Flagg and his sister-in-law, occasioned by their going to church, and being out at night together.
One day, Mrs. Flagg took the train up to Wisconsin for a family visit, leaving Mr. Flagg and Rosetta alone at home. Immediately upon Mrs. Flagg’s departure, the two went out to a restaurant together – something they had never done before – and upon their return, Flagg closed his barber shop early. The two were not seen again that evening.

Up in Wisconsin, Mrs. Flagg had a dream: her husband was having an affair with her sister. She awoke and could not settle her suspicious intuition. She made an excuse and boarded the night train back to Chicago, arriving in the morning. At her home, she first went to Rosetta’s room. The bed was perfectly made and there was no sign it had been slept in. By contrast, in her own bedroom, she found the bedsheets askew on her husband’s bed, and the unmistakable evidence that two, not one, had slumbered there.

Her worst suspicions confirmed, she confronted Rosetta. Was her sister sleeping with her husband? Rosetta denied everything, as did Mr. Flagg, but the relationship between the sisters was permanently damaged, and a few months later, Rosetta would depart from their home for good.

Around the time of the confrontation with her sister, Rosetta Jackson discovered she was pregnant. Conditions for single mothers in Chicago were perhaps a little better than in the East, but out-of-wedlock childbirth still meant social ruin, poverty, and a practical impossibility in marrying. What would her fellow Methodist church members say? Would her sister and her family ever speak to her again? And what about dear, kind, Mr. Flagg? His reputation, his family life, his business, all could be lost. She just couldn’t have this baby.

She told Flagg of her plight, and he asked if she wanted to move out East to live with another sister in New York. No, she did not want this baby. “For God’s sake,” he later claimed to have told her, “don’t do anything to get rid of it. If you are in a family-way go and have it. I will pay your expenses.”

But a few days later found Mr. Flagg in a brothel a few blocks east of his home on Lake St., where he discussed the problem with Nellie Sinclair, one of the prostitutes working there (Flagg later claimed, to the credulity of no one, that Sinclair was ill and he gave her $2, not for services rendered, but out of charity).

“What do women of your profession do to eliminate a pregnancy?” He asked Sinclair. “I’m in real trouble – you see, I’ve gotten too intimate with a lady friend of mine from Wisconsin. She’s a church member and I have to shield her from disgrace.”

Sinclair recommended two practices common among women of her grade: drinking tea made from the herb tansy and, amazingly, jumping rope. Later, Flagg would claim that he never mentioned any “lady friend from Wisconsin,” and that his query about ending a pregnancy was meant for advice to his wife – he had a large family and did not want any more children. This story, too, was believed by few.

It was likely Rosetta who first broached the subject of approaching Dr. Charles Earll. “Dr.” Earll, who apparently had no medical training whatsoever, kept an office on Halsted St. Around 60 years old with a grey moustache and full beard, Earll was divorced a few years earlier. The Tribune would later claim that during the Civil War, he had operated a “den of infamy” in Kinzie St. Now, however, he presented himself as a physician specializing in obstetrics. During the winter of 1874, around the time Rosetta Jackson discovered her pregnancy, Dr. Earll’s name made the newspapers when he was arrested for performing an abortion, in violation of an 1845 Illinois statute. Though the charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence, Dr. Earll was known to be a man who could help distraught women.

Dr. Earll’s assistant, a W. W. Quinn, later testified in court that in early May, William Flagg came to the office on Halsted in a state of great excitement, twiddling his thumbs furiously as he spoke.

“I’m in a lot of trouble. I’ve seduced a servant girl and my wife is raising hell about it. I need one of Dr. Earll’s prescriptions to destroy pregnancy, and I need a boarding house or some other place for the girl to stay awhile. I can offer $50 if the doctor can help me.”

It is not known if it was then, or later, when Dr. Earll became involved in the case, but by the end of May, Rosetta Jackson was living under an assumed name, “Mrs. Alice Hays,” at Kate Heiland’s home on Jefferson Street. Heiland was a dressmaker by trade, and occupied the home above her shop, along with two teenaged daughters. She took “Mrs. Hays” in as an apprentice and to provide companionship for her girls, charging her minimal rent, some of which was paid by Mr. Flagg.

Almost immediately after Rosetta’s arrival, Mrs. Heiland discovered that her new boarder was four months pregnant by an unknown father, and moreover, that she was obsessed with ending the pregnancy. Alternately reading her Bible feverishly and dosing herself constantly with essence of tansy and other severe drugs, she presented the picture of a woman on the brink of madness. “I’ll get rid of this child or die trying,” she prophesied when Mrs. Heiland tried to dissuade her from the drugs. Mrs. Heiland noticed one of her knitting needles missing and assumed the worst.

Just a few days after her arrival, Rosetta gave birth, with Mrs. Heiland standing in as midwife. At just four months, the child was pitifully small, but alive. The baby raised its hand. At the request of Rosetta, Mrs. Heiland closed the tiny creature in an old cigar box and buried it in her backyard.

During the birth and after, Rosetta was unwell. She had internal injuries and was suffering convulsions (the latter a common pharmacological effect of consuming high levels of tansy). Her personal physician, Dr. Earll, was called for. He prescribed a noxious blend of calomel (a laxative), quinine, and morphine, and Rosetta gave him a note to deliver to Flagg:
Willy: Come and see me as soon as you can. Don’t come at meal-time. Come any time during the day. The carrier [Earll] will tell you where I am.”
Both Flagg and Dr. Earll called at Mrs. Heiland’s home frequently over the next week. At one point, Dr. Earll prescribed sulphide of soda powder, while at another time he recommended brandy and whiskey. Dr. Mayo, he was not.

Finally, on Friday, June 12, Rosetta Jackson died. William Flagg, who was at her death-bed, informed his wife, and the two collected Rosetta’s body and had it shipped off to Wisconsin for burial. Dr. Earll signed a death certificate, which indicated death from typhoid fever and enteritis, mentioning nothing about childbirth, abortion, or drugs.

On Saturday morning, when Officer Simmons arrived at Mrs. Heiland’s home to investigate the sudden passing, Heiland repeated what Earll had written on the death certificate. Officer Simmons decided to press a little harder to see if there might be something more to the story. “Madam, the law says in such cases, the County Coroner must examine the body. Dr. Earll has a reputation with young women. Are you certain there isn’t more you need to tell?”

Heiland, who no doubt felt the weight of her role in the plot heavily, sobbed, then admitted the whole sordid tale – the abortion, the cigar box, the frequent presence of Dr. Earll and Mr. Flagg in her home, the tansy tea and other drugs. Simmons had his men dig up the cigar box and enter its contents as evidence. Then he had Mrs. Heiland arrested and jailed as a material witness for trial, and sent a telegram to recall the body of Rosetta Jackson back to Chicago for examination.

The coroner empaneled a jury to investigate Miss Jackson’s death. On the stand, Mr. Flagg claimed he was not the father of the Rosetta’s child. He threw suspicion, instead, on two of his neighbors, especially a young jeweler, O. W. Young, who he claimed to have seen sitting in his house with Rosetta one night with the lights off (Young later took the stand and claimed he hardly knew Rosetta and had never been with her in the dark). He had known about Rosetta’s pregnancy and had visited her at Heiland’s home in an attempt to help her, but it was Rosetta, Flagg claimed, who had wanted to employ Dr. Earll, who was set on ending the pregnancy.

With a large family and no means of supporting herself without her husband, Mrs. Flagg unsurprisingly rallied to her husband’s defense. She knew of no evidence that there was any intimacy between her sister and her husband. She was emotionally distraught when questioned on the day after her sister’s death, and anything she might have told the police about catching Mr. Flagg kissing Rosetta was untrue. Rosetta left her home not because of a dispute with her sister, but because the workload was too heavy. “Mr. Flagg and I were like mother and father to her.”

After examining the body of Rosetta Jackson, Dr. Henrotin, the county physician, confirmed that she showed evidence of being four months pregnant, of having recently miscarried, and that the lining of her stomach was inflamed, “such as might, and probably would, be produced by irritating medicines.” When asked, he affirmed that her condition was consistent with the effects of tansy, a bottle of which was found in her possession at Mrs. Heiland’s home. The actual causes of death were not those listed on the death certificate by Dr. Earll, but were puerperal fever and metroperitonitis, two conditions associated with childbirth.

For her part, Mrs. Heiland claimed she did not know that burying a fetus in a cigar box in one’s backyard was against the law (to be fair, Illinois was not then a death registration state). She only wanted to protect the woman she knew as Mrs. Hays from disgrace. Though Mrs. Heiland had her suspicions that Flagg was the father of Rosetta’s child, she claimed that, on her death-bed, Rosetta admitted that Flagg was not the father.

Brothel inmate Nellie Sinclair, as well as a variety of other interested parties, also testified. After three days of hearing witnesses, the jury ordered the arrest of Flagg and Dr. Earll, as well as a search of Earll’s office.

Dr. Henrotin, who led the search, testified that the Halsted St. office was in “a frightful state of disorder,” and he was shocked to find six bottles containing fetuses suspended in fluid, between 1 and 6 months old. None of the bottles were labeled, “as is customary when such anatomical curiosities are found in medical museums or in the offices of respectable practitioners.”

Dr. Henrotin also found a vast collection of medical instruments intended for use in obstetrics, including forecepts, hooks, and probes. While such instruments are used both by abortionists and respectable physicians, he admitted, the fact that absolutely no other types of instruments or doctor’s materials except these were found in the office, raised his suspicions.

After a brief deliberation, the coroner’s indicted Dr. Earll for murder, and Flagg and Heiland as accessories before and after the fact, respectively. All three were imprisoned at county jail. The criminal trial of People v. Earll began a month later, on July 29th, and lasted three days. Most of the witnesses from the coroner’s trial repeated their testimony, although Dr. Henrotin claimed that after a more careful examination of Rosetta’s body, there were wounds on her womb consistent with the use of instruments such as those found in Dr. Earll’s office. Mrs. Heiland’s daughter testified that she and Rosetta had gone for a walk before the birth, and had passed by Dr. Earll’s office, where Rosetta went up and spent five minutes in a room alone with the doctor.

After the prosecution rested, Dr. Earll took the stand to defend himself. In a careful, calm voice, he claimed he never saw Rosetta until after she was sick and living at Mrs. Heiland’s, about the first of June, and he knew her only as Mrs. Alice Hays. At that time, Mrs. Heiland told him that Rosetta had miscarried a few days before, and he prescribed drugs to alleviate the pain. He claimed Rosetta had never been to his office and knew nothing of any relationship between her and Mr. Flagg. He continued to insist that the cause of death was typhoid fever and enteritis.

In its closing argument, counsel for the defense argued powerfully that Rosetta Jackson’s death was consistent with her own self-medication, possibly under the advice of Mr. Flagg, and that Dr. Earll’s guilt could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury deliberated all night, and at 2:30 in the morning were still split 6-6. The pressed on and finally, by daybreak, they agreed to convict Dr. Earll on a lesser charge, manslaughter, with a sentence of one year at Joliet penitentiary.

The sentence was passed, and after an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court failed, Dr. Earll served a year at Joliet, emerging in August, 1875. He directly went back to work as an abortionist, and was arrested six times, a rate of once per year, between 1874 and 1880. Each time, he escaped for lack of conclusive evidence. Finally, however, after the death of another patient who had acquired his services, Dr. Earll was again sentenced to Joliet, this time for five years.

At the time of his release from prison in 1885, Dr. Earll was over 70 years old, and there is no further record of his activity. William and Lizzie Flagg later moved out to a larger home in the country to suit their large family. Mrs. Heiland’s home on Jefferson, where Rosetta Jackson boarded and died, is today a parking lot.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

O'Leary Cottage, where the Great Fire Began


On the evening of October 8, 1871, at 9:15 p.m., a fire began in a barn on this site, at 137 De Koven Street (now 558 W. De Koven). By the next morning, the entire city was aflame in one of the most destructive conflagrations in human history, the Great Chicago Fire. The burned district spread over 2,200 acres, leaving nearly 300 dead and 100,000 homeless (roughly 1/3 of the city's population.

Patrick O'Leary, an Irish laborer, had purchased the lot on De Koven St. in 1864 for $500. On it he built a small white frame cottage where Patrick, his wife Catherine, and six children lived, plus a second home closer to the street, which the O'Learys rented out. Next to the cottage, abutting Jefferson St., was a cow barn, which housed five cows, a horse, and a calf. The family also parked their wagon in the barn.

Mrs. O'Leary sold the milk from their cows throughout the neighborhood, a working-class Irish immigrant district sometimes known as "the Patch," (a common name for Irish areas in the city). With her income added to that of her husband's, plus rents from the second home on their lot, they supported a middle-class lifestyle, notably better than most of their neighbors. Much of the rest of the neighborhood was composed of simple wooden shanty houses, plus several factories and warehouses.

The summer of 1871 was an especially dry one in Chicago, with barely any rain. Minor fires had broken out several times, putting a strain on the city's fledgling fire department, which had been formed only a bit more than ten years before, after the big Water Street Fire of 1857.

The day before the Fire, October 7, was a Saturday, and a substantial conflagration just north of the Patch, at Canal and Adams, had destroyed several city blocks, employing all available firefighting equipment and men in the city. On Sunday, many of the city's firefighters took the day to sleep off the exhaustion, and those who didn't tended to the upkeep of the engines and other equipment which had taken damage in the Saturday fire.

In those days before telephones, every fire house had a tower where a man was stationed at all hours to watch the city for blazes. In addition, a fireman always occupied the top of the courthouse at Washington and Clark Streets. If a fire was spotted, an alarm was pulled that signified the area of the fire, and a runner notified the nearest station. On Sunday night, October 8th, the atmosphere above the city was still full of cinder and smoke from the Saturday night fire, so when the courthouse watcher saw a red glow coming from the Southwest side, he perceived the fire as much farther off than it really was, and a call was sent out to Canalport and Halsted Streets, more than a mile beyond the O'Leary barn, where the real fire was ablaze at 9:15 that evening.

Had there not been a major fire the day before, and had the courthouse watcher correctly perceived the area of the fire, the Great Fire never would have been. But the dry conditions and the brisk southwesterly wind that evening quickly moved the flames east toward the Chicago River, where the furniture factories supplied tinder and the coal warehouses lining the riverbank supplied coke. At midnight, fire crossed the River, and the very real prospect of losing the city became apparent. Buildings were blown up with gunpowder in an attempt to create a barrier to save downtown, but to no avail. The business district went under, and by morning, the flames leapt the central branch of the Chicago River, attacking the North side, where the vast majority of the fatalities occurred as residents unsuccessfully attempted to escape over the Chicago Ave. and North Ave. bridges.

The scene throughout the day on Monday was worse than any described by Dante as desperate men ravaged the city under the heat of impending doom, looting anything that could be carted off, killing each other in the streets over pocket change, and drinking dry the bars behind abandoned saloons. Horses, dogs, cows, and vermin, made wild by the heat and smoke, ran through the streets in thundering herds to their demise.

The Chicago Post described the scene a few days later:
The people were mad. Despite the police -- indeed, the police were powerless -- they crowded upon frail coigns of vantage, as fences and high sidewalks propped on wooden piles, which fell beneath their weight, and hurled them, bruised and bleeding, in the dust. They stumbled over broken furniture and fell, and were trampled under foot. Seized with wild and causeless panics, they surged together, backwards and forwards, in the narrow streets, cursing, threatening, imploring, fighting to get free. Liquor flowed like water; for the saloons were broken open and despoiled, and men on all sides were to be seen frenzied with drink...Everywhere dust, smoke, flame, heat, thunder of falling walls, crackle of fire, hissing of water, panting of engines, shouts, braying of trumpets, wind, tumult, and uproar!
Finally, by Monday evening the fire burned itself out against Lincoln Park, having reached as far north as Fullerton Ave. The city police, which had been powerless to stop the endless acts of crime the evening before, were joined by the Illinois militia and U.S. army in patrolling the streets, and finally ended the violence -- although there was really little left to fight over. Chicago remained under martial law for another two weeks, during which time seven arsonists caught attempting to restart fires were executed, and an eighth was stoned on site by a lynch mob.

The extent of obliteration was unparalleled. The first photo below shows Michigan Ave. (note the Water Tower at Michigan and Chicago Ave., visible in the middle of the photo, which still stands today). The second photo shows the intersection of State and Madison Streets, one of the world's busiest corners.


That the Fire started in the O'Leary barn, no one disputes. However, it is the greatest mystery in Chicago history exactly how the Fire started. The traditional theory, and one that gained currency immediately after the Fire (possibly due to jealous and angry neighbors) was that Mrs. O'Leary had gone to the barn to milk a cow for a delivery the next morning. Placing her lantern in the hay while she procured the milk, the bovine kicked over the lantern, setting the dry hay on fire.

While not out of the realm of possibility, the story seems unlikely on several counts. First, as the O'Leary family habitually repeated when asked about the Fire, "Why would anyone milk a cow at 9:15 in the evening?" The cows were typically milked in the late afternoon around 4:30, when no lantern would be needed. Next, several eyewitnesses placed the O'Leary family at home in bed at the time of the Fire, being awakened by the cries of a neighbor. Finally, if Mrs. O'Leary had seen the fire start, why wouldn't she have notified neighbors or pulled a fire alarm in an attempt to save her home and livelihood?

Admitting these weaknesses with the traditional theory, a number of alternative theories have been put forward, though none has any substantial evidence to support it.

The O'Leary family always supported a theory of spontaneous combustion in the dry green hay. Others theorized that neighborhood toughs were accustomed to settling into the barn at night to drink beer and carouse, and that one of them dropped a cinder from a pipe that night. Others argued that perhaps the family renting the front cottage on De Koven from the O'Learys were stealing milk from the barn for a celebration that evening, and knocked over a lantern when they heard someone coming -- but, as a 1948 investigative writer asked, "who ever heard of an Irishman using milk punch as a chaser for beer?"

Another theory, and perhaps the most intriguing, is that the Fire was started by one of the O'Leary neighbors, who was initially feted as a hero. Dennis Sullivan, who lived across the street, was known as "Pegleg" for the wooden prosthesis he wore in place of a lost limb. It was he who first noticed the fire in the barn, shouted "fire! fire! fire!" up and down the street, and knocked on the door of the O'Leary cottage to awaken the family. In the common story of the fire, upon seeing the flames, Pegleg first ran into the barn in an attempt to save the cows and the family wagon. He tripped and broke his wooden leg, then was able to use one of the animals as a crutch to escape the barn, at which point he awakened the O'Learys and the rest of the neighborhood.

In the alternative, but unproved, version of the story, Pegleg was relaxing in the barn, smoking his pipe and enjoying a surreptitious drink when he himself started the fire by accident. He broke his leg attempting to escape from the fire, then awakened the O'Learys and the rest of the neighbors. Sullivan and his relatives denied this claim for years, but the possibility remains.

A Tribune editorial from November 16, 1871, lists the "Mormon" theory, as well as some other rather implausible ones:
Leaving out of account the fact that Chicago, according to the architects, ought to have burned up years ago, and leaving the Fire Commissioners to settle the responsibility of the Fire Department were they may, we still have the O'Leary cow, the man with a pipe who passed through the O'Leary back-yard just before the fire, the Paris Communists, the petroleum in the building stones, the wrath of God, the presence of distilleries in the city, the iniquity of the divorce business, the loyalty of Chicago during the war while the South was being ravaged (this is the Southern rationale of the fire), and various other primal causes of our disaster to fall back upon, -- all of which, taken together, ought to prove sufficient at least.

But, as if this were not so, and more causes still were needed, Elder Lindsley, one of Brigham Young's colonization agents, has informed the public of New York, in a sermon preached last Sunday, that the fire happened because the people of Illinois drove "God's chosen people" (i.e., the Mormons) out of the state some twenty years ago.
Despite the fact that the Fire burned down most of the city, it is ironic that the O'Leary cottage itself survived the flames. Nevertheless, the family had lost a substantial portion of its income with the livestock gone, their reputation in the city was destroyed, and they were constantly harassed by reporters and curiosity-seekers. Several circuses offered to pay Mrs. O'Leary handsomely to travel with them and be displayed, alongside a cow, in the sideshow.

Catherine forced her husband to sell the cottage, and the family moved to what was then the far South side, in the stockyards district, where they lived on Halsted Street until Mr. O'Leary's death in 1894 and his wife's in 1895. Their son, "Big Jim" O'Leary, who was only two years old at the time, had a difficult time living down his family name, and became a major underworld gambling figure between the 1890s and 1920s. The last of the O'Leary children passed in 1936.

The O'Leary cottage at 137 De Koven Street passed through several hands, including those of Max Lipman, who owned the property during another (much smaller) fire in the cottage in 1899, and Sarah Koal, who was injured in 1901 at a theater on Twelfth Street when someone mistakenly yelled "Fire!", causing a stampede. During the latter part of the 1880s and 1890s, the neighborhood, which had never been particularly tony, became a notoriously blighted slum, and most of the old buildings left after the fire simply fell apart. In the 1910s, the cottage was finally razed and replaced with a three-story brick apartment flat.

In 1928, the owner of the building, Angelo Pacelli, sold it to the city for over $30,000, and plans for a memorial were announced. But the Depression intervened, and no memorial was ever built. In 1954, the city committee in charge of urban renewal claimed the property for $6,500 (a sign of just how far the neighborhood had fallen) with plans to rezone it for warehouse use. Mayor Richard J. Daley, however, saw the opportunity for symbolic political effect, and managed to save the property for use by the Chicago Fire Department.

In 1961, the Chicago Fire Academy was built on the site, and an Evanston sculptor, Egon Weiner, was commissioned to build the 30 foot "Pillar of Fire" which sits today on the spot where the O'Leary barn once stood. Describing the religious symbolism of the sculpture, Weiner said:
The three intertwined flames symbolize the Holy Trinity, as does the triangular source of light at the base. Fire itself is a symbol in all religions.

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.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Carrie Watson - Come in, Gentlemen


UPDATE: In a previous post on the house at 441 S. Clark, I accidentally photographed the wrong side of the street. The photo above is correct.

Between 1868 and 1897, Carrie Watson ran one of the world's most famous houses of ill-repute here at 441 S. Clark (since the renumbering in 1909, this is now in the 800 block). Her most famous advertisement was a trained parrot at the door who repeated, "Carrie Watson - come in, gentlemen!".

Carrie Watson (neé Caroline V. Storm) was born in 1850 to a middle-class family in Buffalo, New York. Surveying the sad state of the labor market for women, she decided as a teenager to seek her fortune in sin. She moved to the center of all that was sinful in the world, Chicago, in 1866 and took a job as a prostitute at Lou Harper's Mansion. After two years learning the madame business at Harper's feet, she set out with her solid man, Al Smith, to buy the two-story brick building at 441 S. Clark from Annie Stewart, whose run-ins with the law made her persona non grata in Chicago society.

Watson's house usually had around 25 women, experienced, well-mannered, and well-dressed, along with a variety of diversions for the strictly upper-class gentlemen who frequented the home, including a bowling alley, five parlors, and a billiard room. A three-piece orchestra kept the guests entertained at all hours. The splendor of the house made it famous during the 1893 World's Fair.

One of Watson's long-time employees, a Swede who went by the name Annie Hall, illustrated the wealth of the house. She was in possession of a large diamond star necklace worth over $1,500 -- and of which she was robbed not once, but twice. The first time, in 1890, the star was stolen in an assault and robbery by a famous Nebraska desperado, Patrick Crowe, who tried to pawn the item the next day, but was caught by a policeman. Crowe shot the officer, then ran through the streets of the city, firing indiscriminately into crowds, until he was mobbed and nearly lynched. Crowe served five years at Joliet prison before continuing his career as a jewel thief and train robber.

In 1893, the star was stolen again by a customer, and this time for good. The Tribune reported:
She says that a young man who said his name was Robert N. Weatherill called on her Friday afternoon and that together they made a round of the theaters and other places of amusement. At 1:30 in the morning she says that Weatherill proposed she should go to the Grand Pacific Hotel. She registered and was assigned room 253. At 12:30 the next day, she says, Weatherill entered her room, and, seizing her by the throat, pressed a hankerchief saturated with chloroform to her nostrils until she became insensible. He then robbed her of her jewelry, among which was the celebrated star.
Though most of Carrie Watson's clients were society men, and comported themselves well (or at least as well as one can in a brothel), there were exceptions. In 1886, residents heard two gunshots from an upstairs bedroom. When the police arrived and broke down the door, they found a customer had murdered one of the women, then shot himself and fallen on top of her. In another case in 1888, a delirious drunk jumped out the second-story window, stark naked -- a fact which made it into the next day's papers.

Later in life, Carrie Watson began working with Sig Cohen, and then Christopher Columbus Crabb. In 1897, under pressure from the city, she retired from the business and moved to a farm in Kankakee County, where she died in 1904. Crabb then began underwriting Lizzie Allen, who built the Everleigh Club building on S. Dearborn.

Carrie Watson's brothel was destroyed in the first decade of the 1900s to make way for expanded tracks at Dearborn Station, and since the closing of the Station, the property has been redeveloped for residential purposes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hell's Half-Acre


"Hell's Half-Acre" was a common term for the slum neighborhoods in many cities (including a possibly more famous one in Honolulu which gave its name to a 1954 film noir hit). There were even Hell's Half-Acres in the Chicago suburbs, including one in the Northwest suburb of Niles.

But Chicago's Hell's Half-Acre was the block bounded between State St. and Third Ave. (later known as Plymouth Place, and even later known as Plymouth Court), and south of Polk, down to around Taylor. in the 1870s and 1880s, Hell's Half-Acre was one of the city's toughest blocks, adjacent to Custom House Place, and primarily serving the transient population that arrived at Dearborn Station, around the corner on Polk. "Serving" might not be the right word -- "robbing" was more accurate. It is said that there was not a single building on the block that was not a gambling den, a bordello, a saloon, a brothel, or some combination of these. Police never traveled into the area, except in pairs, so dangerous were the residents.

The name for the block is first noted in the Tribune in 1871, in a report about a group of drunken Swedes who were assaulted in a Hell's Half-Acre saloon by a gang of Know-Nothing nativists who resented the immigrants' revelry.

Another similar (and politically incorrect) report from 1877 described a common practice among the denizens of this depressed area -- seeking sympathy by claiming more children than they really had:
In a certain district on the South Side where the colored people, the Italian padrones, Polish Jews, and the mixed nationalities predominate, the custom of borrowing children is quite extensive as a means of eliciting the sympathy of the visitor. The trick has been quite successful among the Poles and colored people, who have repeatedly passed their offspring up and down the alleys in the rear of State street and Third and Fourth Avenues. It must be said that the Poles are the heaviest dealers in this kind of business. The art of concealment seems to have developed into a profession among these people.
After the city's dismantling of Custom House Place in 1903, Hell's Half-Acre's position as a vice district diminished, but it continued as a slum for another seventy years. The entire block is now filled by The Terraces, a townhome and condominium complex built in 1983.