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One of the most bizarre subplots within the dramas of Haymarket was the jailhouse romance of August Spies and Nina Van Zandt, pictured as paired insets in this cover from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper of October 1, 1887. The illustration also gives a good view of "the cage"— the prisoners spoke to visitors through the bars.

Van Zandt was an attractive and well-educated twenty-four-year-old from a comfortably established Chicago family. She was one of the many young middle-class women who witnessed the trial as dramatic theater. The papers frequently commented on Spies's "respectable" grooming, so different from the stereotype of the typical anarchist. "In general appearance," one description of Spies went, "he would pass for a well-paid dry goods clerk or floor-walker." But journalists were completely unprepared for his apparent conquest of Van Zandt, who became smitten by the anarchist. She visited him in prison and helped him edit his autobiography and related papers, which she later dutifully published. Click on the lower image to see the title page of this volume.

When Canute Matson became the Cook County sheriff late in 1886, he tried to bring greater order to the stream of visitors—and to thwart Spies's relationship with Van Zandt—by restricting access for non-family members. In response, Spies and Van Zandt decided to marry. When Matson forbade this to take place in the jail, they were married by proxy on January 29, 1887, with Henry Spies, who had been wounded at the Haymarket meeting, standing in for his brother.

A letter to the Chicago Daily News praised Matson's "manly stand," while the Chicago Tribune called Spies "an unscrupulous libertine who hopes, under a sickly sentimental construction and administration of the law, to get satisfaction for his animal lust." How much "animal lust" he could satisfy is questionable, since the mesh of "the cage" made it virtually impossible for August and Nina to do much more than touch thumbs during her daily visits. "The wires are so close together that kissing can only be indulged in at long range, and not being very satisfactory is not often done," read one of the many accounts of their meetings in the jail.

Reporters interviewed doctors for their opinions on Van Zandt's motives, calling her delusional, weak, and hopelessly romantic. Although her parents supported her actions, another relative supposedly cut Van Zandt off from a large inheritance. In her preface to Spies's autobiography, she attacked those who were supposedly protecting her from the likes of Spies. She claimed that they would not have uttered a protest were she "some obscure, foreign girl" or were her suitor an "old, invalid debauché with great riches."

At the front of the book she edited for Spies, Van Zandt placed a drawing of herself that looks like the figure of "Justice" or "Liberty" in many political cartoons of the time. Attired in a classical gown that bares her shoulder, she gazes idealistically upward, the embodiment of wisdom and virtue. But many working in Spies's behalf became irritated by this courtship, convinced that it would do their cause no good since it would only reinforce the idea that the convicted men were dangerous enemies to respectable society.

For more on the Spies-Van Zandt relationship, see the "From the Archive" section.