of the family visits to prisoners were reported sympathetically in the press.
The press treated the "affecting scenes" (as they were often termed) in
the cage as vignettes in a melodrama, as was Oscar Neebe's brief furlough—under
guard—to bury his wife Meta, who died suddenly in March 1887. On November
5, when she still believed that her husband would be hanged less than a
week later, Samuel Fielden's wife took advantage of a brief security lapse
to embrace him as he was being transferred from one part of the jail to
"'O, Sam, my man! My man!'" she cried, according to one account, which continued: "and holding her babe to her breast threw the other arm about his neck and showered kisses upon his homely face and shaggy, unkempt beard, weeping convulsively the while." No one was hard-hearted enough to separate them, "indeed, the jail officials and seasoned reporters were affected by the strange and touching scene." The story ended, "Whatever Fielden's faults, he has always been a kind husband and father, and the affection existing between him and his wife is very warm."
Other visits with family members were discussed in similar terms. Even Lingg, the most forbidding of the defendants and the only one with no family in America, was described more warmly when he was in the company of his friend Elise Friedel. But the precious moments the prisoners spent with their children received the most favorable treatment.
As this image of Parsons with his daughter illustrates, the jailers sometimes would allow the convicts to have direct physical contact with their children. Parsons, a doting parent, on one occasion anxiously wired his anarchist ally Dyer Lum to check on his daughter Lulu when Lucy Parsons was away on a lecture tour and Albert thought Lulu was ill.
Parsons wrote one of his last letters, a facsimile of which is viewable here by clicking on the insets on the left, to his "Darling, Precious Little Children," Lulu and her older brother Albert Jr. Parsons penned the letter November 9, two days before his death, by which time he had been moved down one level to what he called "Dungeon No. 7." The body of the letter provides another example of Parsons's sentimental-idealistic-romantic sensibility, as does his instruction that it should not be opened until the anniversary of his death. The letter reads:
As I write this word I blot your names with a tear. We never meet again. Oh my children, how deeply, dearly your Papa loves you. We show our love by living for our loved ones, we also prove our love by dying, when necessary, for them. Of my life and the cause of my unnatural and cruel death, you will learn from others. Your Father is a self-offered Sacrifice upon the Altar of Liberty and Happiness. To you I leave the legacy of an honest name and duty done. Preserve it, emulate it. Be true to yourselves, you can not then be false to others. Be industrious, sober and cheerful. Your Mother! Ah, she is the grandest, noblest of women. Love, honor and obey her.
My children, my precious ones, I request you to read this parting message on each recurring anniversary of my Death in remembrance of him who dies not alone for you, but for the children yet unborn. Bless you, my Darlings, Farewell.
Albert R. Parsons
The image of the letter comes from Lucy Parsons's Life of Albert Parsons (1889).