The sequence of events that ignited the Haymarket bomb consisted of a tragic combination of intention, accident, and surprise. What transformed fearful possibility into appalling actuality was an almost palpable sense among many that violence was inevitable, and, to some, perhaps even desirable. The prosecution's flimsy legal arguments notwithstanding, this made almost everyone even tangentially involved on all sides an unwitting co-conspirator as the drama headed to an explosive climax.

On the afternoon of Monday, May 3, the first working day after the national eight-hour walkout, August Spies was invited to be the German-language speaker at a gathering of the striking Lumber Shovers' Union. As it happened, the meeting was held southwest of the center of the city, very near the main factory of the McCormick Reaper Works, whose union employees had been locked out since February and replaced by scab labor. While Spies was talking, a portion of the crowd broke away to join McCormick strikers in heckling their non-union replacements as they left the plant. Spies advised his listeners to exercise restraint, but a melee broke out. When the police arrived, they answered jeers and stones with clubs and guns, killing two workers.

The sounds of this battle drew many others from the Lumber Shovers' meeting, including Spies, to the scene. What he saw appalled him. "Well, as a matter of course," he recalled at the trial, "my blood was boiling, and I think in that moment I could have done almost anything, seeing men, women and children fired upon, people who were not armed fired upon by policemen." Spies hastily returned to his office, where he poured his outrage into a deliberately inflammatory bilingual broadside exhorting labor to stand up like men to its murderous oppressors. Spies's own title was "Workingmen to Arms!," but, without asking the author, the person who set the text in type added the heading, in full capitals, "REVENGE."

Later that same evening a group of a few dozen of the most radical anarchists, including Engel and Fischer, met in Greif's Hall, which was located at 54 West Lake Street, a short distance east of Zepf's Hall. This was one of a series of gatherings, the prosecution would charge, where the anarchists determined what kind of murderous attacks they would make on the police should class violence break out, and how to communicate with each other. Many of the key facts about why these gatherings took place, who was there, and what actually happened would be disputed, but all concurred that the news of the riot at the McCormick's factory led those who met at Greif's to decide to hold a open-air public protest meeting. The location they selected was the nearby Haymarket, on Randolph Street just west of Desplaines Street, a few blocks west of the river [explain its location if this is somehow not done earlier]. Fischer agreed to arrange to print and distribute handbills advertising the meeting and to find the "Good Speakers" these handbills promised. When he got to the Arbeiter-Zeitung the next morning, the first person he invited to speak was Spies, who had no knowledge of the meeting up to this point.

Spies agreed, and put a notice of the meeting in the Arbeiter Zeitung for that day. But when later that morning he saw the newly-printed posters with the line, "Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force," he said that he would not speak unless this sentence was removed. Fischer was summoned down from his work on an upper floor, and he conceded to Spies's demand. While virtually all the broadsides that were distributed (about 20,000 were printed) did not contain the offensive line, a few of the unedited ones did find their way into circulation-- and became another piece of the state's evidence.

While the rally was called for 7:30, it did not begin until over an hour later. Thinking he would not be the first person on the program, Spies arrived after eight, only to find that no other speakers were present and that the crowd of about two to three thousand, which was far smaller than hoped for, was already starting to disperse. Hoping to salvage the evening, he moved the rally a half block up Desplaines Street, where he found a wagon that he turned into a makeshift podium. He also sent an associate in the movement, Balthasar Rau, to the Arbeiter Zeitung Building, where the American Group was meeting, to see if he could fetch other speakers. Samuel Fielden and Albert Parsons agreed to come, and they and other members of the American Group, including Lucy Parsons and the Parsons' two young children, headed to the Haymarket on foot. When Spies saw them appear, he finished up. Parsons and Fielden joined him on the wagon, and they successively addressed the crowd.

At the trial the accused cited the haphazard nature of the meeting as proof that there had been no bomb plot. They pointed out that although Engel and Fischer had been involved in the planning, the former was at home the entire evening, while the latter left before the bomb was thrown. The three speakers had no role in organizing the rally, and Parsons and Fielden had scarcely heard about it until Rau appeared after it had already begun with his urgent invitation. Michael Schwab, Oscar Neebe, and Louis Lingg, who were nowhere near the Haymarket the entire evening, had no connection at all. On top of this, while Spies, Parsons, Fielden, Schwab, and Neebe had participated in many anarchist activities together, they had serious differences with Fischer and Engel, whom some of them did not know well, while Louis Lingg was virtually a stranger to them.

There is little question, however, that the authorities were extremely concerned that the Haymarket rally might produce serious trouble, planned or otherwise. With the city so much on edge in the wake of May Day and the McCormick violence, with other smaller but still troubling episodes occuring during the day, and with the newspapers fanning public fears, Mayor Carter Harrison decided to attend. As he listened to the speakers, he purposely lit and relit his cigar several times in order to make sure that his presence was known. For his part, Inspector John Bonfield summoned lieutenants based in other areas of the city to assemble with small units of their men in the Desplaines Street Police Station, a half block below Randolph Street. Throughout the evening he kept tabs on the meeting through plainclothes detectives who brought him reports. According to Harrison, who was called to testify at the trial by the defense, Bonfield told him of rumors that the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad freight houses would be blown up since they were filled with scabs, and that the Haymarket rally was just a ruse to distract the police away from a attack on the McCormick works.

But there seemed to be no trouble in the offing. Harrison described the speeches at the Haymarket as "tame" by current standards. The next day's Chicago Tribune, whose reporting of the anarchist's activities was relentlessly hostile, described Spies's rhetoric as "remarkably mild." Convinced that there was no conspiracy, Harrison left the rally while Parsons was speaking and, on the basis of reports that things were quiet in the McCormick's neighborhood, ordered Bonfield to send the reserve police at the other stations home. The mayor then mounted his horse and rode to his own home. By this time Fielden had begun his speech, but a cold wind from the north and the prospect of rain had done much to disperse the crowd. There was some talk of reconvening in Zepf's Hall, and Parsons, Fischer, and several others made the short walk there while Fielden was still speaking, but the general sense was that the meeting was just about over.

It was about half-past ten, with only a few hundred spectators remaining, as Fielden, who had told them he would be brief, proclaimed in what was typical anarchist rhetoric that they should "throttle" and "kill" legal authority or "it will kill you." Whether or not this remark, presumably relayed to Bonfield by one of his detectives, was the specific provocation that caused him to act is unclear, but the Inspector hurriedly assembled his special force of about 175 men on Waldo Place, just south of the station, and then marched them in formation through the dwindling crowd to the speakers' wagon. Once they halted, Bonfield's second-in-command, Captain William Ward, declared, "In the name of the people of the state of Illinois," that the meeting disperse "immediately and peaceably." Fielden, who claimed in his trial testimony that he had less than a minute remaining in his speech, stated also that he responded "in a very conciliatory tone of voice," "Why, Captain, this is a peaceable meeting." When, according to Fielden, Ward angrily repeated his order, he agreed, saying "All right, we will go," and got down from the wagon.

After the fact, individuals at the scene were unclear in their own minds on what exactly happened after Ward repeated his order, but many recalled seeing the "hissing fiend"-a round metal object, not much larger than a baseball, with a fiery fuse-as it coursed through the darkness just above the heads of the crowd on sidewalk on the east side of Desplaines Street and landed in the ranks of the police in front of the wagon. Carter Harrison heard the explosion from inside his substantial house by Union Park, more than half a mile west.

The shrapnel from the bomb ripped through the body of Officer Mathias J. Degan, fatally severing a major artery in his left leg. The state's witnesses maintained that the bombing was instantly succeeded (some said preceded) by gunfire from the crowd, and that the police valiantly held their position and returned fire. But the weight of the testimony and evidence suggests that, understandably terrified by the blast, they initiated the gunplay, firing every which way, including into their own ranks. While several of their number besides Degan appear to have been injured by the bomb, most of the casualties seem to have been caused by bullets. About sixty of the approximately 170 police were hurt in the riot, as well as an unknown number of those attending the rally. Among these were Samuel Fielden and August Spies's brother Henry, who were both hit by gunfire but managed to get away.

Others in the sparse crowd tried to escape as quickly as they could, scattering in all directions as the police used their guns and clubs indiscriminately. Thrown so closely together that it was hard to find space in which to run, some huddled in fear against the buildings along Desplaines Street. In a few moments it was all over. The police gathered their wounded and carried them to an impromptu infirmary in the station house, where they were attended by several physicians called to deal with the emergency . In all seven policemen and at least four workers (there is no accurate count of the latter) were killed in the riot, though several of the officers lingered for several days before they passed away. The death of an eighth officer two years later was attributed to wounds sustained at Haymarket, which unquestionably altered the lives of many of those who survived. Several suffered amputated limbs, while one lost a section of his jaw.

The bomb-talking that had suffused anarchist rhetoric had moved to bomb-throwing. In her 1884 "Word to Tramps," Lucy Parsons, in urging the desperate not to suffer and die alone but to visit dynamite in the midst their oppressors, had told them, "Then let your tragedy be enacted here. Thus send forth your petition and let them read it by the red blare of destruction." The petition had been sent forth, but the tragedy had only just begun.

Continue with Act III: Toils of the Law