|One of the most spectacular moments of intentional theater in all the dramas of Haymarket was the voluntary surrender of Albert Parsons during the afternoon of the opening day of the trial. Attorney Sigmund Zeisler states in his memoir that Parsons communicated with William Black through his wife Lucy Parsons. The fugitive informed Black of his whereabouts in Wisconsin and of his willingness to surrender.
Parsons offered to turn himself in both in order to stand by his comrades and to dramatize his innocence. Although others disagreed, including Black and Zeisler's fellow defense lawyer William Foster, Black himself thought that Parsons's surrender would help the case. "Captain Black was enthusiastically in favor of it," wrote Zeisler.
"He had a strongly developed dramatic instinct. He pictured to us in glowing colors the electrical effect which Parsons' sudden appearance would create in the courtroom and outside. He expressed his conviction that the presumption of guilt which had taken possession of the public mind would instantly change to a presumption of innocence, the benefit of which would extend to the other defendants; that as regards Parsons, it was, under the circumstances, unthinkable that the jury should find him guilty."
Parsons arrived by train from Wisconsin very early on the morning of June 21, the day the trial began. He went to the home of a friend, where Parsons met with his wife, cut his beard, dyed his gray hair (as was his custom before the bombing), and changed his clothes. He took a cab to the courthouse, where Black greeted him on the street.
Before Black could announce Parsons's arrival with the grand effect he desired, however, Grinnell intervened with some theatrics of his own. Alerted to Parsons's presence, Grinnell stole Black's thunder by turning to Judge Gary and saying, "You Honor, I see Albert R. Parsons, indicted for murder, and demand his instant arrest."
Black's response to this preemptive move was to accuse Grinnell of doing precisely what he, Black, was attempting to do, only now he disparaged such tactics. "This man is in my charge," Black told Gary, "and this demand is not only theatrical clap-trap, but an insult to me." Parsons then presented himself for trial with the other accused, whom he embraced as his "comrades." Judge Gary, who kept his composure throughout, ordered the indictment read, to which Parsons pleaded not guilty.
Grinnell certainly succeeded in muting the grand entrance that Black had planned, at least in Zeisler's eyes. Zeisler praised Grinnell's alertness, but he "never lost the feeling that, humanly speaking, [Grinnell's] conduct was heartless and brutal."
Through the rest of the trial, Grinnell would continue to be the superior stage manager before the audience that was the jury and the world. He was aided enormously by Judge Gary, who gave the prosecution broad leeway in making its case, while severely restricting the "performance" of the other side. At one point in the trial he scolded the defense, "Sit down, and don't make scenes."
Black would regret the surrender for the rest of his life. Parsons, who had the most dramatic sensibility of all the participants in the case, would not. He reaffirmed his belief in the correctness of his action several times, including at the end of his eight-hour address to the court before sentencing in October. "When I saw the day fixed for the opening of this trial," he explained, "knowing I was an innocent man, and also feeling that it was my duty to come forward and share whatever fate had in store for my comrades, and also to stand, if need be, on the scaffold, and vindicate the rights of labor, the cause of liberty, and the relief of the oppressed, I returned."
Aware that he now was indeed facing the scaffold, Parsons concluded, "I have nothing, not even now, to regret."