Like the bombing the trial, the Haymarket executions were front-page news across the country. The Chicago Historical Society owns several telegrams sent to the sheriff by editors in the days preceding the hangings requesting permission for their reporters to be admitted. This one, sent to Sheriff Matson on November 7 by Joseph Pulitzer, the famous owner of the New York Evening World, asks that Charles Edward Russell and Henry Guy Carleton be admitted. The text reads:

Please admit C. E. Russell to Jail as Correspondent Evening World. Henry Guy Carleton has been sent to write up Execution and preliminaries for the World. Any facilities afforded to either Mr. Russell or Mr. Carleton will be appreciated.

Joseph Pulitzer.

"To the spectacle that on the morning of that 11th of November Chicago presented," Russell later wrote, "there has been surely no parallel in any American city in time of peace." Many of the eyewitnesses, Russell explained, had been forced to appear before dawn for security reasons, and then they were confined for a full five hours until they were admitted to the north corridor and their seats.

In the meantime, the persistent rumors that the jail would be bombed circulated among them. "So great was the nervous tension," Russell recollected, "that two of the reporters, tried and experienced men, turned sick and faint and had to be assisted to the exterior, whence they could not return. In all my experience this was the only occasion on which any reporter flinched from duty, however trying; but it is hard now to understand the tremendous power of the infectional panic that had seized upon the city and had its storm center at that jail."

Since the 1830s, executions in America gradually moved from being outdoor public rituals to private ones restricted to selected representatives of the established order and professional witnesses like Russell, who reported what they saw to the waiting world. The last public execution in Cook County had taken place in 1858. The impetus behind ending such spectacles was a desire for greater dignity and control in the exercise of authority, and concern about the disorder that attended outdoor executions. But, as Russell's description reveals, the dramatic ritual was a spectacle nonetheless, though one that could be directly viewed only by a select few.

"A select few" at this time could mean many more than were in the north corridor at noon on November 11, 1887, and the comportment at other such dramas had hardly been as respectful as it was on this occasion. A crowd estimated as ten times as large watched as three men—known collectively as "the Italian murderers"—were hanged almost exactly two years before the anarchists. At that and other recent executions people smoked, talked, moved about, and even joked.

In this instance, however, admission was much more tightly limited, but also those who did attend evidently remained subdued. One man who lit a cigar was told to put it out, and when the witnesses were asked by a deputy to remove their hats just before the prisoners appeared, they did so, remaining relatively silent until the executions were completed.

The most recent execution in the Cook County Jail had been that of Frank Mulkowski, who had been captured by Captain Schaack and his men and convicted of murdering his lover's stepdaughter. The anarchists were the nineteenth, twentieth, twenty-first, and twenty-second individuals—all men—executed by the county since 1840.