Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc.,1931.
BUFFALO WAS PRESSING FOR MY EXTRADITION, BUT CHICAGO asked for authentic data on the case. I had already been given several hearings in court, and on each occasion the District Attorney from Buffalo had presented much circumstantial evidence to induce the State of Illinois to surrender me. But Illinois demanded direct proofs. There was a hitch somewhere that helped to cause more delays. I thought it likely that Chief of Police O'Neill was behind the matter.
The Chief's attitude towards me had changed the behaviour of every officer in the Harrison Street Police Station. The matron and the two policemen assigned to watch my cell began to lavish attentions on me. The officer on night duty now often appeared with his arms full of parcels, containing fruit, candy, and drinks stronger than grape-juice. "From a friend who keeps a saloon round the corner," he would say, "an admirer of yours." The matron presented me with flowers from the same unknown. One day she brought me the message that he was going to send a grand supper for the coming Sunday. "Who is the man and why should he admire me? " I inquired. "Well, we're all Democrats, and McKinley is a Republican," she replied. You don't mean you're glad McKinley was shot? I exclaimed. Not glad exactly, but not sorry, neither," she said; "we have to pretend, you know, but we're none of us excited about it." "I didn't want McKinley killed," I told her. "We know that," she smiled, "but you're standing up for the boy." I wondered how many more people in America were pretending the same kind of sympathy with the stricken President as my guardians in the station-house.
Even some of the reporters did not seem to be losing sleep over the case. One of them was quite amazed when I assured him that in my professional capacity I would take care of McKinley if I were called upon to nurse him, though my sympathies were with Czolgosz." You're a puzzle, Emma Goldman," he said, "I can't understand you. You sympathize with Czolgosz, yet you would nurse the man he tried to kill." "As a reporter you aren't expected to understand human complexities," I informed him. "Now listen and see if you can get it. The boy in Buffalo is a creature at bay. Millions of people are ready to spring on him and tear him limb from limb. He committed the act for no personal reasons or gain. He did it for what is his ideal: the good of the people. That is why my sympathies are with him. On the other hand," I continued, "William McKinley, suffering and probably near death, is merely a human being to me now. That is why I would nurse him."
"I don't get you, you're beyond me," he reiterated. The next day there appeared these headlines in one of the papers: "EMMA GOLDMAN WANTS TO NURSE PRESIDENT; SYMPATHIES ARE WITH SLAYER." Buffalo failed to produce evidence to justify my extradition. Chicago was getting weary of the game of hide-and-seek. The authorities would not turn me over to Buffalo, yet at the same time they did not feel like letting me go entirely free. By way of compromise I was put under twenty-thousand-dollar bail. The Isaak group had been put under fifteen-thousand-dollar bail. I knew that it would be almost impossible for our people to raise a total of thirty-five thousand dollars within a few days. I insisted on the others being bailed out first. Thereupon I was transferred to the Cook County Jail.
The night before my transfer was Sunday. My saloon-keeper admirer kept his word; he sent over a huge tray filled with numerous goodies: a big turkey, with all the trimmings, including wine and flowers. A note came with it informing me that he was willing to put up five thousand dollars towards my bail. "A strange saloon-keeper!" I remarked to the matron. "Not at all," she replied; "he's the ward heeler and he hates the Republicans worse than the devil." I invited her, my two policemen, and several other officers present to join me in the celebration. They assured me that nothing like it had ever before happened to them --- a prisoner playing host to her keepers. "You mean a dangerous anarchist having as guests the guardians of law and order," I corrected. When everybody had left, I noticed that my day watchman lingered behind. I inquired whether he had been changed to night duty. "No," he replied, "I just wanted to tell you that you are not the first anarchist I've been assigned to watch. I was on duty when Parsons and his comrades were in here."
Peculiar and inexplicable the ways of life, intricate the chain of events! Here I was, the spiritual child of those men, imprisoned in the city that had taken their lives, in the same jail, even under the guardianship of the very man who had kept watch in their silent hours. Tomorrow I should be taken to Cook County Jail, within whose walls Parsons, Spies, Engel, and Fischer had been hanged. Strange, indeed, the complex forces that had bound me to those martyrs through all my socially conscious years! And now events were bringing me nearer and nearer--perhaps to a similar end?
The newspapers had published rumours about mobs ready to attack the Harrison Street Station and planning violence to Emma Goldman before she could be taken to the Cook County Jail. Monday morning, flanked by a heavily armed guard, I was led out of the station-house. There were not a dozen people in sight, mostly curiosity seekers. As usual, the press had deliberately tried to incite a riot.
Ahead of me were two handcuffed prisoners roughly hustled about by the officers. When we reached the patrol wagon, surrounded by more police, their guns ready for action, I found myself close to the two men. Their features could not be distinguished: their heads were bound up in bandages, leaving only their eyes free. As they stepped to the patrol wagon, a policeman hit one of them on the head with his club, at the same time pushing the other prisoner violently into the wagon. They fell over each other, one of them shrieking with pain. I got in next, then turned to the officer. "You brute," I said, "how dare you beat that helpless fellow?" The next thing I knew, I was sent reeling to the floor. He had landed his fist on my jaw, knocking out a tooth and covering my face with blood. Then he pulled me up, shoved me into the seat, and yelled: "Another word from you, you damned anarchist, and I'll break every bone in your body!"
I arrived at the office of the county jail with my waist and skirt covered with blood, my face aching fearfully. No one showed the slightest interest or bothered to ask how I came to be in such a battered condition. They did not even give me water to wash up. For two hours I was kept in a room in the middle of which stood a long table. Finally a woman arrived who informed me that I would have to be searched. "All right, go ahead," I said. "Strip and get on the table," she ordered. I had been repeatedly searched, but I had never before been offered such an insult. "You'll have to kill me first, or get your keepers to put me on the table by force," I declared; "you'll never get me to do it otherwise." She hurried out, and I remained alone. After a long wait another woman came in and led me upstairs, where the matron of the tier took charge of me. She was the first to inquire what was the matter with me. After assigning me to a cell she brought a hot-water bottle and suggested that I lie down and get some rest.
The following afternoon Katherine Leckie visited me. I was taken into a room provided with a double wire screen. It was semi-dark, but as soon as Katherine saw me, she cried: "What on God's earth has happened to you? Your face is all twisted!" No mirror, not even of the smallest size, being allowed in the jail, I was not aware how I looked, though my eyes and lips felt queer to the touch. I told Katherine of my encounter with the policeman's fist. She left swearing vengeance and promising to return after seeing Chief O'Neill. Towards evening she came back to let me know that the Chief had assured her the officer would be punished if I would identify him among the guards of the transport. I refused. I had hardly looked at the man's face and I was not sure I could recognize him. Moreover, I told Katherine, much to her disappointment, that the dismissal of the officer would not restore my tooth; neither would it do away with police brutality. "It is the system I am fighting, my dear Katherine, not the particular offender," I said. But she was not convinced; she wanted something done to arouse popular indignation against such savagery. "Dismissing wouldn't be enough," she persisted; "he should be tried for assault."
Poor Katherine was not aware that I knew she could do nothing. She was not even in a position to speak through her own paper: her story about the third degree had been suppressed. She promptly replied by resigning; she would no longer be connected with such a cowardly journal, she had told the editor. Yet not a word had she breathed to me of her trouble. I learned the story from a reporter of another Chicago daily.
One evening, while engrossed in a book, I was surprised by several detectives and reporters. "The President has just died," they announced. "How do you feel about it? Aren't you sorry?" "Is it possible," I asked, "that in the entire United States only the President passed away on this day? Surely many others have also died at the same time, perhaps in poverty and destitution, leaving helpless dependents behind. Why do you expect me to feel more regret over McKinley than of the rest?"
The pencils went flying. "My compassion has always been with the living," I continued; "the dead no longer need it. No doubt that is the reason why you all feel so sympathetic to the dead. You know that you'll never be called upon to make good your protestations." "Damned good copy," a young reporter exclaimed, "but I think you're crazy."
I was glad when they left. My thoughts were with the boy in Buffalo, whose fate was now sealed. What tortures of mind and body were still to be his before he would be allowed to breathe his last! How would he meet the supreme moment? There was something strong and determined about his eyes, emphasized by his very sensitive face. I had been struck by his eyes on first seeing him at my lecture in Cleveland. Was the idea of his act already with him then or had some particular thing happened since that compelled his deed? What could it have been? "I did it for the people," he had said. I paced my cell trying to analyse the probable motives that had decided the youth in his purpose.
Suddenly a thought flitted through my mind-that notice by Isaak in Free Society! --- the charge of "spy" against Nieman because he had "asked suspicious questions and tried to get into the anarchist ranks." I had written Isaak at the time, demanding proofs for the outrageous accusation. As a result of my protest Free Society had contained a retraction to the effect that a mistake had been made. It had relieved me and I had given the matter no further thought. Now the whole situation appeared in a new light, clear and terrible. Czolgosz must have read the charge; it must have hurt him to the quick to be so cruelly misjudged by the very people to whom he had come for inspiration. I recalled his eagerness to secure the right kind of books. It was apparent that he had sought in anarchism a solution of the wrongs he saw everywhere about him. No doubt it was that which had induced him to call on me and later on the Isaaks. Instead of finding help the poor youth saw himself attacked. Was it that experience, fearfully wounding his spirit, that had led to his act? There must also have been other causes, but perhaps his great urge had been to prove that he was sincere, that he felt with the oppressed, that he was no spy.
But why had he chosen the President rather than some more direct representative of the system of economic oppression and misery? Was it because he saw in McKinley the willing tool of Wall Street and of the new American imperialism that flowered under his administration? One of its first steps had been the annexation of the Philippines, an act of treachery to the people whom America had pledged to set free during the Spanish War. McKinley also typified a hostile and reactionary attitude to labour: he had repeatedly sided with the masters by sending troops into strike regions. All these circumstances, I felt, must have exerted a decisive influence upon the impressionable Leon's beautiful face, pale and haunted, before me.
Again I was taken to court for a hearing and again the Buffalo failed to produce evidence to connect me with Czolgosz's act. The Buffalo representative and the Chicago judge sitting on the case kept up a verbal fight for two hours, at the end of which Buffalo was robbed of its prey. I was set free.
Ever since my arrest the press of the country had been continually denouncing me as the instigator of Czolgosz's act, but after my discharge the newspapers published only a few lines in an inconspicuous corner to the effect that "after a month's detention Emma Goldman was found not to have been in complicity with the assassin of President McKinley."
Upon my release I was met by Max, Hippolyte, and other friends, with whom I went to the Isaak home. The charges against the comrades arrested in the Chicago raids had also been dismissed. Everyone was in high spirits over my escape from what they had all believed to be a fatal situation. "We can be grateful to whatever gods watch over you, Emma," said Isaak, "that you were arrested here and not in New York." "The gods in this case must have been Chief of Police O'Neill," I said laughingly. "Chief O'Neill!" my friends exclaimed; "what did he have to do with it?" I told them about my interview with him and his promise of help. Jonathan Crane, a journalist friend of ours present, broke out into uproarious laughter. "You are more naïve than I should have expected, Emma Goldman," he said; "it wasn't you O'Neill cared a damn about! it was his own schemes. Being Tribune, I happen to know the inside story of the feud in the police department." Crane then related the efforts of Chief O'Neill to put several captains in the penitentiary for perjury and bribery. Nothing could have come more opportunely for those blackguards than the cry of anarchy," he explained; "they seized upon it as the police did in 1887; it was their chance to pose as saviours of the country and incidentally to whitewash themselves. But it wasn't to O'Neill's interest to let those birds pose as heroes and get back into the department. That's why he worked for you. He's a shrewd Irishman. Just the same, we may be glad that the quarrel brought us back our Emma."
I asked my friends their opinion as to how the idea of connecting my name with Czolgosz had originated. "I refuse to believe that the boy made any kind of a confession or involved me in any way," I stated; "I cannot think that he was capable of inventing something which he must have known might mean my death. I'm convinced that no one with such a frank face could be so craven. It must have come from some other source."
"It did!" Hippolyte declared emphatically. "The whole dastardly story was started by a Daily News reporter who used to hang round here pretending to sympathize with our ideas. Late in the afternoon of September 6 he came to the house. He wanted to know all about a certain Czolgosz or Nieman. Had we associated with him? Was he an anarchist? And so forth. Well, you know what I think of reporters --- I wouldn't give him any information. But unfortunately Isaak did."
"What was there to hide?" Isaak interrupted. "Everybody about here knew that we had met the man through Emma, and that he used to visit us. Besides, how was I to know that the reporter was going to fabricate such a lying story?"
I urged the Chicago comrades to consider what could be done for the boy in the Buffalo jail. We could not save his life, but we could at least try to explain his act to the world and we should attempt to communicate with him, so that he might feel that he was not forsaken by us. Max doubted the possibility of reaching Czolgosz. He had received a note from a comrade in Buffalo informing him that no one was permitted to see Leon. I suggested that we secure an attorney. Without legal aid Czolgosz would be gagged and railroaded, as Sasha had been. Isaak advised that a lawyer be engaged in the State of New York, and I decided to leave immediately for the East. My friends argued that it would be folly to do so; I should surely be arrested the moment I reached the city, and turned over to Buffalo, my fate sealed. But it was unthinkable to me to leave Czolgosz to his doom without making an effort in his behalf. No considerations of personal safety should influence us in the matter, I told my friends, adding that I would remain in Chicago for the public meeting that must be organized to explain our attitude to Czolgosz and his Attentat.
On the evening of the meeting one could not get within a block of Brand's Hall, where it was to be held. Strong detachments of police were dispersing the people by force. We tried to hire another hall, but the police had terrorized the hall-keepers. Our efforts to hold a meeting being frustrated, I resolved to state my position in Free Society. "Leon Czolgosz and other men of his type," I wrote in my article, of my article, entitled: "The Tragedy of Buffalo," "far from being depraved creatures of low instincts are in reality supersensitive beings unable to bear up under too great social stress. They are driven to some violent expression, even at the sacrifice of their own lives, because they cannot supinely witness the misery and suffering of their fellows. The blame for such acts must be laid at the door of those who are responsible for the injustice and inhumanity which dominate the world." After pointing out the social causes for such acts as that of Czolgosz, I concluded: "As I write, my thoughts wander to the young man with the girlish face about to be put to death, pacing his cell, followed by cruel eyes:
Who watch him when he tries to weep
And when he tries to pray
Who watch him lest himself should rob
The prison of its prey.
My heart goes out to him in deep sympathy, as it goes out to all the victims of oppression and misery, to the martyrs past and future that die, the forerunners of a better and nobler life." I turned the article over to Isaak, who promised to have it set up at once.
The police and the press were continuing their hunt for anarchists throughout the country. Meetings were broken up and innocent people arrested. In various places persons suspected of being anarchists were subjected to violence. In Pittsburgh our good friend Harry Gordon was dragged out into the street and nearly lynched. A rope already around his neck, he was saved at the last moment by some bystanders who were touched by the pleading of Mrs. Gordon and her two children. In New York the office of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme was attacked by a mob, the furniture demolished, and the type destroyed. In no case did the police interfere with the doings of the patriotic ruffians. Johann Most was arrested for an article in the Freiheit reproducing an essay on political violence by Karl Heinzen, the famous '48 revolutionist, then dead many years. Most was out on bail awaiting his trial. The German comrades in Chicago arranged an affair to raise funds for his defence and invited me to speak. Our feud of 1892 was a matter of the past to me. Most was again in the clutches of the police, in danger of being sent to Blackwell's Island, and I gladly consented to do all I could for him.
Returning to the Isaak home after the meeting, I found the proofs of my article. Looking them over, I was surprised by a paragraph that changed the entire meaning of my statement. It was, I was sure, no other than Isaak, the editor, who was responsible for the change. I confronted him, demanding an explanation. He readily admitted that he had written the little paragraph, "to tone down the article," he explained, "in order to save Free Society." "And incidentally your skin!" I retorted hotly. "For years you've been denouncing people as cowards who could not meet a dangerous situation. Now that you yourself are face to face with one, you draw in your horns. At least you should have asked my permission to make the change."
It required a long discussion to alter Isaak's attitude. He saw that my view was sustained by the rest of the group --- his son Abe, Hippolyte, and several others --- whereupon he declared that he renounced all responsibility in the matter. My article finally appeared in its original form. Nothing happened to Free Society. But my faith in Isaak was shaken.
On my way back to New York I stopped off in Rochester. Arriving in the evening, I walked to Helena's place in order to avoid recognition. A policeman was stationed at the house, but he did not know me. Everyone gasped when I made my appearance. "How did you get by?" Helena cried; "didn't you see the officer at the door?" "Indeed I saw him, but he evidently didn't see me," I laughed. "Don't you folks worry about any policeman; better give me a bath," I cried lightly. My nonchalance dispelled the family's nervous tension. Everybody laughed and Helena clung to me in unchanged love.
All through my incarceration my family had been very devoted to me. They had sent me telegrams and letters, offering money for my defence and any other help I might need. Not a word had they written about the persecution they had been subjected to on my account. They had been pestered to distraction by reporters and kept under surveillance by the authorities. My father had been ostracized by his neighbours and had lost many customers at his little furniture store. At the same time he had also been excommunicated from the synagogue. My sister Lena, though in poor health, had also been given no peace. She had been terrorized by the police ordering Stella to appear at headquarters, where they had kept the child the whole day, plying her with questions about her aunt Emma Goldman. Stella had bravely refused to answer, defiantly proclaiming her pride and faith Tante Emma. Her courage, combined with her youth and beauty, had won general admiration, Helena said.
Even more cruel had been the teachers and pupils of the public school. "Your aunt Emma Goldman is a murderess," they had taunted our children. School was turned into a hideous nightmare for them. My nephews Saxe and Harry had suffered most. Harry's grief over the violent death of his hero was more real than with most of the adults in the country. He deeply felt the disgrace that his own mother's sister should be charged with responsibility for it. Worse yet, his schoolmates denounced him as an anarchist and criminal. The persecution aggravated his misery and completely alienated him from me. Saxe's unhappiness, on the other hand, resulted from his strong feeling of loyalty to me. His mother and Aunt Helena loved Emma and they had told him she was innocent. They must know better than his schoolmates. Their boisterous aggressiveness had always repelled him; now more than ever he avoided them. My unexpected appearance and outwitting the officer on guard must have quickened Saxe's imagination and increased his admiration for me. His flushed face and shining eyes were eloquent of his emotion. His hovering near me all evening said more than his quivering lips could tell.
It was balm to my bruised spirit to find such a haven of love and peace in the circle of my family. Even my sister Lena, who had often in the past disapproved of my life, now showed warmest affection. Brother Herman and his gentle wife lavished attentions upon me. The imminent danger I had faced, which still threatened me, had served to establish a bond between my family and me stronger than we had ever felt before. I wanted to prolong my happy stay in Rochester to recuperate from the ordeal of Chicago. But the thought of Czolgosz tormented me. I knew that in New York I could make some effort in his behalf.
At the Grand Central Station I was met by Yegor and the two chums who had spent that wonderful month with us in Rochester. Yegor looked distressed; he had tried hard to find a place for me, but had failed. No one would rent even a furnished room to Emma Goldman. Our friends who happened to have a vacant room would not run the risk of my staying with them for fear of being evicted. One of the boys offered to let me have his room for a few nights. "No need to worry," I comforted Yegor; "I am taken care of for the present, and in the meantime I will find an apartment."
After a long search for a flat I realized that my brother had not been exaggerating. No one would have me. I went to see a young prostitute I had once nursed. "Sure, kid, stay right here!" she welcomed me. "I'm tickled to death to have you. I'll bunk with a girlfriend for a while."
The encouraging telegram I had received in Chicago from Ed had been followed by a number of letters assuring me that I could count on him for whatever I might need: money, help and advice, and, above all, his friendship. It was good to know that Ed remained so staunch. When we met upon my return to New York, he offered me the use of his apartment while he and his family would be staying with friends. "You won't find much changed in my place," he remarked; "all your things are intact in the room that is my sanctum, where I often dream of our life together." I thanked him, but I could not accept his generous proposal. He was too tactful to press the matter, except to inform me that his firm owed me several hundred dollars in commissions.
"I need the money badly," I confided to Ed, "to send somebody to Buffalo to see Czolgosz. Possibly something can be done for him. We also ought to organize a mass meeting at once." He stared at me in bewilderment. "My dear," he said, shaking his head, "you are evidently not aware of the panic in the city. No hall in New York can be had and no one except yourself would be willing to speak for Czolgosz." "But no one is expected to eulogize his act!" I argued; "surely there must be a few people in the radical ranks who are capable of sympathy for a doomed human being." "Capable perhaps," he said doubtfully, "but not brave enough to voice it at this time." "You may be right," I admitted, "but I intend to make sure of it."
A trusted person was dispatched to Buffalo, but he soon returned without having been able to visit Czolgosz. He reported that no one was permitted to see him. A sympathetic guard had disclosed to our messenger that Leon had repeatedly been beaten into unconsciousness. His physical appearance was such that no outsider was admitted, and for the same reason he could not be taken to court. My friend further reported that, notwithstanding all the torture, Czolgosz had made no confession whatever and had involved no one in his act. A note had been sent in to Leon through the friendly guard.
I learned that an effort had been made in Buffalo to secure an attorney for Czolgosz, but no one would accept his defence. That made me even more determined to raise my voice in behalf of the poor unfortunate, denied and forsaken by everyone. Before long, however, I became convinced that Ed had been right. No one among the English-speaking radical groups could be induced to participate in a meeting to discuss the act of Leon Czolgosz. Many were willing to protest against my arrest, to condemn the third degree and the treatment I had received. But they would have nothing to do with the Buffalo case. Czolgosz was not an anarchist, his deed had done the movement an irreparable injury, our American comrades insisted. Most of the Jewish anarchists, even, expressed similar views. Yanofsky, editor of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, went still further. He kept up a campaign against Czolgosz, also denouncing me as an irresponsible person and declaring that he would never again speak from the same platform with me. The only ones who had not lost their heads were of the Latin groups, the Italian, Spanish, and French anarchists. Their publications had reprinted my article on Czolgosz that had a appeared in Free Society. They wrote sympathetically of Leon, interpreting his act as a direct result of the increasing imperialism and reaction in this country. The Latin comrades were anxious to help with anything I might suggest, and it was a great comfort to know that at least some anarchists had preserved their judgment and courage in the madhouse of fury and cowardice. Unfortunately the foreign groups could not reach the American public.
In desperation I clung to the hope that by perseverance and appeals I should be able to rally some public-spirited Americans to express ordinary human sympathy for Leon Czolgosz, even if they felt that they must repudiate his act. Every day brought more disappointment and heart-ache. I was compelled to face the fact that I had been fighting against an epidemic of abject fear that could not be overcome.
The tragedy in Buffalo was nearing its end. Leon Czolgosz, still ill from the maltreatment he had endured, his face disfigured and head bandaged, was supported in court by two policemen. In its all-embracing justice and mercy the Buffalo court had assigned two lawyers to his defence. What if they did declare publicly that they were sorry to have to plead the case of such a depraved criminal as the assassin of "our beloved" President! They would do their duty just the same! They would see to it that the rights of the defendant were protected in court.
The last act was staged in Auburn Prison. It was early dawn, October 29, 1901. The condemned man sat strapped to the electric chair. The executioner stood with his hand on the switch, awaiting the signal. A warden, impelled by Christian mercy, makes a last effort to save the sinner's soul, to induce him to confess. Tenderly he says: "Leon, my boy, why do you shield that bad woman, Emma Goldman? She is not your friend. She had denounced you as a loafer, too lazy to work. She said you had always begged money from her. Emma Goldman had betrayed you, Leon. Why should you shield her?"
Breathless silence, seconds of endless time. It fills the death chamber, creeps into the hearts of the spectators. At last a muffled sound, an almost unaudible voice from under the black mask.
"It doesn't matter what Emma Goldman has said about me. She had nothing to do with my act. I did it alone. I did it for the American people."
A silence more terrible than the first. A sizzling sound --- the smell of burnt flesh --- a final agonized twitch of life.
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