late-nineteenth century witnessed a profusion of mass publications that
could be quickly and inexpensively produced and distributed thanks to high-speed
presses, cheap pulp paper, and an extensive railroad network. Among these
works were "instant histories" on the events of the day, rapidly written
by enterprising newspaper reporters and other professional writers who shamelessly
"borrowed" from other sources, enhancing them with their own imaginations.
The resulting works were a haphazardly uneven but often riveting combination of concrete fact and wild exaggeration, dry description and purple prose. They both reflected and amplified the sensational public response to shocking events.
The Chicago Riot, written by Paul Hull, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News who covered the Haymarket rally in person and testified at the trial, is a good example of such histories. Hull's book legitimately claims, unlike others, that it was prepared by an eyewitness, even if its assertion that the author "is the only man who was a disinterested spectator of that bloody scene" is highly questionable.
The Chicago Riot describes the Haymarket bombing as the work of a "band of ignorant villains and designing demagogues that has bred riot and bloodshed in Chicago." Elsewhere Hull characterizes August Spies as "passionate and emotional, and entirely incompetent to discuss the principles of his creed calmly or logically." Hull also claims that one month before Haymarket a secret underground group called "Brothers of the Strong Arm" blew up a dummy dressed as a policeman with a "pocket torpedo." He adds that at the meeting the night before the rally at Greif's Hall, where the meeting was planned, fifteen to twenty men drew lots (Hull calls these "fatal tickets") that decided who would throw bombs the next evening. As for the officers whose job it was to disperse the riot, they were "the flower of the finest police force in the world."
Near the front of Hull's book is a portrait of Superintendent Ebersold and a poem, titled "The Red Flag," by his fellow journalist F. O. Bennett. The poem concludes,
Haul down the flaunting alien ragó
One can get a sense of the eclecticism that characterized the production and marketing of inexpensive books in this period from the advertisements on the back cover of The Chicago Riot. Hull's book promotes editions of George Eliot's novel Adam Bede, Sir Walter Scott's Waverley, and a volume called Ladies' Etiquette.