Justin Wadland

The Anarchists Must Go

In the Wake of a President’s Assassination, a Community Newspaper With a Circulation of Seven Hundred and a Section Focused Largely on Steamer Schedules and Tomato Yields Found Itself Defending the Right to Free Speech While an Angry Mob Formed a Raiding Party

Discussed: The Mother of Progress, Principles of Anarchism, Beef-Necked Moralists, A Patrician Upbringing, Fred Nobody, Home News, The Craze to Kill, Abner Pope’s Beard, Motor Trouble, A Defense of Free Love, The Dictum of the Wise, Gaff Hooks, Alienists, Fortitude

The day that Nobody shot the president dawned like any other September day in Home, Washington. In the waning glow of the late-summer sun, tomatoes hung heavy on the vines. “Ours are the pride of the Sound. If you doubt it, come and sample them,” residents bragged in Discontent: Mother of Progress, the colony’s newspaper. But as always happens at this time of year, as if beckoned by the September light, the spiders had emerged, too. Their webs could be found everywhere, stitching together house beams, windowpanes, fence posts, the fronds of sword ferns, and even the bent vines of the tomato plants.

In September 1901, eighty-two residents were spread across the east-facing slope above Joe’s Bay, living upon land that just five years before had been thick with towering Douglas firs. When the three original families first arrived, in 1896, they sought to establish a refuge from the clamor and strife of industrial America. But unlike the half dozen or so other utopian experiments that dotted the shores of Puget Sound in the late nineteenth century, this one rejected socialist models and instead embraced principles of anarchism. The founders called their settlement Home, and its reputation as a rare abode for individual freedom and liberty, spread by word of mouth and colony newspapers, attracted anarchists, freethinkers, and other radicals from across the country.

One early resident, James Adams, who had lived in Home for several years, was basking in a recent opportunity to describe Home to the general populace. The Tacoma Evening News had published his letter explaining the philosophy at the heart of the colony:

We are neither Anarchists nor free lovers in the accepted definition of these terms by beef-necked moralists. As Anarchists, we believe that if nature’s laws are diligently studied, and strictly observed, that is all that is necessary to insure man’s salvation now, and for all time to come. As freelovers, we believe that individualism means that we have the inalienable, constitutional and individual right to love whom we may, to love as long or short a period as we can, to change that lover every day if we please; and with that neither God, devil, angel, man or woman has any right to interfere.

This argument might seem odd, coming as it did from a white-bearded septuagenarian who had been happily married to his wife for almost fifty years, but like many in Home, Adams believed in and advocated for the idea of absolute freedom.

After relocating from Boston to Home that summer, James Ferdinand Morton Jr. had taken over as the editor of Discontent. In his thirties, with a full head of wavy red hair, a moustache, and a broad chin, Morton had graduated from Harvard and was the grandson of the composer of the song “America.” Having rejected his patrician upbringing, he converted to anarchism and became known as a lecturer who could hold forth on any number of issues, but his days were now mostly occupied by pulling together copy, keeping up with submissions, and writing his weekly column, “Off and On.” The printer, Charles L. Govan, cranked out hundreds of issues each week, sending them to both coasts and even to Yokohama, Japan. In the newspaper office—a structure that had been enlarged but still resembled a shed—a recently acquired mailing machine printed out the addresses, and a small, affable collection of neighbors gathered each week to wrap the papers and affix the labels. The papers then went to Mattie Penhallow, the postmistress of Home, and were bundled with the outgoing mail.

Perhaps these swollen mail bags stood on the shore as the daily steamer from Tacoma pulled into Joe’s Bay bearing news of the wounded President McKinley. In the days before radio and highways, the water surrounding the Key Peninsula formed a barrier across which everything but clouds and birds traveled at the speed of prow. As one of the local boys rowed the bags out to the float and greeted the ship, someone returning from Tacoma, one of the shipmen, or even the steamer captain, Ed Lorenz, must have told him that President McKinley had been shot, that he was wounded but still alive, and that the assassin called himself an anarchist.

Outsiders would later claim that Home rejoiced, but as word spread from house to house, the hillside was quiet that night. Many of Home’s residents, Morton among them, feared that the assassination would “inaugurate an era of persecution against all who are unsatisfied with existing conditions.”

On the other side of the country, President McKinley had been standing on a dais in the Temple of Music, rotund and stolid as a boulder, greeting the throngs at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. A man who called himself Nobody waited in line, his right hand covered with a clean white handkerchief. The Secret Service agents thought he was a nobody, too—just another pale-faced worker in his Sunday best, waiting to press his palm into the hand of the president of the United States. They were eyeing the tall, muscular black man standing behind him.

McKinley raised his hand toward the next person in line. Nobody approached, his lifted hand still covered in a handkerchief, and squeezed the trigger of the .32-caliber pistol hidden beneath. Twice he fired, hitting the president first in the chest and then the stomach. Before Nobody could fire another shot, James B. Parker, the black man just behind him, knocked the gun to the floor. “A hoarse cry welled up from a thousand throats, and a thousand men charged forward to lay hands upon the perpetrator of the dastardly crime,” described the New York Times. For a few frantic moments, hands grabbed at Nobody’s arms, chest, and legs, yanking him away from the president. A pair of hands even found Nobody’s throat and began to squeeze. But Nobody was so determined to see what he’d done that he twisted out of the chokehold to look upon the bloodied McKinley, slumped on the dais. This audacious gaze so enraged a Secret Service agent that he broke it with his fist.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Justin Wadland works as a librarian and lives in Tacoma, Washington. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Pacific Lutheran University. His book about the anarchist colony at Home will be published by Oregon State University Press in 2014.

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