Monday, October 08, 2007

The Real Reason Most Newspapers Lock Up Their Archives

I've been picking around the New York Times' newly liberated archives, and it's interesting what one comes across.

I did a search of "Haymarket" and "Chicago," with a date limit of 1886 to see how the Haymarket Square Riot was covered in real time. The first was this:
CHICAGO, May 7.--The war is over, unless indications are out of joint. The Anarchist has sought his hole and is burrowing as deeply as fear and the police will allow him. His braggadocio is a thing of the past, and when he comes within sight of a blue coat he no longer looks ferocious and shakes his fist; he has an attack of ague and slinks out of sight like a whipped hound. The police enjoy the situation. They feel the public is on their side, and handle their clubs with a vim they lacked a week ago. Woe to the Anarchist who forms the nucleus of a crowd. He is shown no mercy.

Sounds familiar. Anarchists, communists, terrorists ... there's always a boogeyman lurking under our beds, isn't there?

But I really liked this one, "The Plot of the Anarchists":
CHICAGO, May 22. --Police Captain Schaack, who has made himself rather ridiculous in the eyes of most people by the profound mystery with which he has surrounded his investigations into the bomb throwing on the night of May 4, has told to the Grand Jury a story which, if true, justifies his course and will cover him with glory.

The obsequious press is nothing new. I mean, they stop just short of calling the man incompetent, but if his latest tall-tale proves true, then he'll be a genius! Why shouldn't we trust him this time?
He says he can prove that a plot had been perfected which was spoiled by the premature explosion of the bomb, having in view destruction such as has not even been suggested. It was planned that on the night of May 4 a number of large fires should be started in the northwestern part of the city, and so thoroughly should the work be done that the presence of a large body of police would be required in that quarter. Then when attention was concentrated on the fires, men detailed for that purpose should visit each station house and throw bombs into each building. At the same time a concerted attack would be made on the police at the Haymarket meeting. The plot was frustrated by the explosion of the bomb before the appointed time.

Why, those wacky terrorists. Er, I mean, anarchists. They come up with huge, elaborate plans that require a clockwork precision to pull off, which is supposed to scare the bejeesus out of us, because it proves how crafty they are, but they always turn into the gang who couldn't shoot straight at a crucial moment, which is okay because the police/FBI/CIA knew about them all along and would never let anything happen to us. Except when they do. Which wasn't their fault, and besides nobody could have seen THAT coming...

But this was the part that made me feel a kind of inverse nostalgia (what DO you call it when you read something written in the past and feel an immediate connection to something in the present?):
He also says that the man who actually threw the bomb is not in custody, but that he could connect every man now under arrest in the county jail with the plot.

And because of that, nothing bad ever happened again in the city of Chicago.