August 29, 2008

Nine to Five

Haymarket souvenir medallion
The news that Governor Oglesby would not commute the sentences of Parsons, Spies, Engel, and Fischer was received by the four men with composure. They had long been prepared for the worst. A deputy sheriff who was with Parsons on the night of November 10 reported that he was in good spirits, indeed "very cheerful and hopeful." Parsons, in a garrulous mood, talked almost incessantly for several hours. He spoke about socialism and anarchism, about Haymarket, about his wife and children. It was not until he reached the last subject that he manifested any regret, and "the more he talked about it, the more sorrowful he became." He said that Lucy was "a brave woman, a true wife, and a good mother."

After the lights had been turned out and the prisoners settled down for the night, the silence of death row was broken by Parson's voice, reciting Whittier's poem "The Reformer":
Whether on the gallows high,
Or in the battle van,
The noblest place for man to die
Is where he dies for man.
Later in the night, Parsons broke the silence once again, this time with the melancholy strains of "Annie Laurie" ("And for bonnie Annie Laurie, I'd lay me doon and dee"). In Parson's clear tenor voice, verse after verse of the Scottish ballad rang through the gloomy corridor, while other inmates listened "as if to the death-song of a dying hero." Deputy Hawkins suggested that Parsons ought to get some sleep. "How can a fellow go to sleep with the music made by putting up the gallows?" Parsons joked. The sound of sawing and hammering could be heard late into the night as the scaffold was erected in the north corridor. By two o'clock, however, Parsons was sleeping "as soundly as he ever did in his life."

—Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy

Happy Labor Day.

1 comment:

rootlesscosmo said...

A song by an uncle of Brendan Behan's, to the tune of "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching" includes the following:

God save Ireland cry the heroes
God save Ireland cry we all
Whether on the scaffold high
Or the battlefield we die
Sure no matter where for Ireland dear we fall.