On May 7, a shootout took place at 13th and K between police and the IWW. Each side told a different story. The facts: one officer wounded, another’s head cut by an axe; Joseph Mikolasek of the IWW shot twice. He died 19 days later.
Emma Goldman — “Red Emma,” the nationally-known anarchist — was in Los Angeles when Mikolasek died. She had organized a feeding station at IWW headquarters for the “destitute boys who had escaped their tormenters [in San Diego] and had reached us alive.”
No local funeral parlor would bury Mikolasek, so Goldman had his body shipped to Los Angeles. At a memorial attended by hundreds of mourners, she said that Mikolasek had been “obscure and unknown in life, but he grew to country-wide stature in his death.”
Moved by the scores of bruises, blood-drenched clothes, and broken bones that kept trailing into the feeding station, Goldman decided to give a lecture in San Diego: her topic, Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, about a man like Mikolasek who stands his ground against an entire community.
Goldman announced her plan in cables to police chief Keno Wilson and mayor James Wadham. She’d given talks in San Diego before. But this time, both urged her to stay away. Of what followed, Goldman wrote: “No dramatist could have imagined a more inflammatory scenario.”
Goldman called her manager-lover, Dr. Ben Reitman, “Hobo.” An eccentric from Chicago, he wore long black hair and clothes that, said Goldman, “were successful fugitives from soap and water.” His shabby look was a deliberate comment, he said, on “bushwa” morality. While conceding that he helped Goldman in many ways, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn dubbed Reitman a “half-loaf liberal” and “an insufferable buffoon.”
On May 14, when their train pulled into the California Southern depot, a large crowd awaited the “Red Queen” and the “Hobo King.” (“It did not occur to me,” Goldman wrote, “that the reception was for us.”) Cars blocked the tracks. Under fancy hats, women dressed for a night on the town shouted, “Give us the anarchist!” “We’ll strip her naked!” “We’ll tear out her guts!”
E.E. Kirk, the original Wobbly lawyer, and his wife had promised to meet Goldman at the station. Peering through the window at raised fists and flickering flags, Goldman couldn’t spot the Kirks.
“Let’s go to the hotel,” said Reitman, pointing to the U.S. Grant’s bright-red, double-decked autobus parked off to the side. Since no one had considered that they might take a shuttle, Goldman and Reitman snuck on unobserved. The inside was stuffy, so they climbed to the upper deck, where the Kirks sat in the open air.
“There’s that Goldman woman! Up there!”
Hundreds mobbed the bus. They pounded doors and tried to scale the sides. They wanted to hurl “the most dangerous woman in America” to the ground.
Fearing for his life, the driver floored the gas pedal. He blitzed nine blocks up Broadway to the U.S. Grant.
At the hotel, bystanders watched a puzzling sight. The bus skidded to a stop before the handsome carriage entrance, where police had formed a protective gauntlet. But instead of elegant VIPs, a scruffy, working-class couple fled through the lines of bluecoats and into the swank structure that had been completed less than two years earlier at a cost of $1.9 million.
Soon after, honking horns and whistles streamed up Broadway. A parade of pedestrians, over two blocks long, followed. They waved flags, sang songs, and punctuated sentences with “Goldman,” “anarchist,” or “red.”
The original Free Speech protest began a block away, in January, at Fifth and E. By nightfall, four months later, at least a thousand San Diegans swarmed in front of the U.S. Grant and became the city’s largest anti–free speech mass meeting. They resented Goldman’s presence — and wanted blood.
The harried couple had just settled into their rooms on the third floor when James H. Holmes, hotel manager, ran in: vigilantes had checked the register; they knew where the anarchists were staying. Holmes wanted to transfer them to a top-floor suite. Once there, they couldn’t leave, he added, even for meals. “Vigilantes’re in an ugly mood.”
Goldman and Reitman watched the mob swell through the sixth floor’s celebrated windows. Horns tooted, voices sang patriotic songs or howled and jeered at the “anarchist murderess.”
A rap on the door: Holmes and two others. The mayor and chief of police wanted Goldman downstairs.
“Ben sensed danger,” she wrote, “and insisted that I ask them to send the visitors up. It seemed timid to me. It was evening, and we were in the principal hotel of the city. What could happen to us?”
Holmes escorted the couple into a room off the lobby. Seven men stood in a semi-circle. Chief Wilson entered. With his blue officer’s cap he loomed even taller than his six-foot-three-inch frame.
“Please come with me,” he said to Goldman. “The mayor and other officials are next door.”
When Reitman rose, Wilson said, “You aren’t wanted, Doctor. Wait here.”
Goldman entered a room, facing Broadway, filled with official-looking men. Through partially drawn blinds, she saw demonstrators under electric streetlights. They chanted, “Emma, Emma, in a dilemma!”
“Hear that mob?” asked a grim-faced man. “They mean business.”
He could have been the mayor or police commissioner John Sehon. Goldman wasn’t sure. Don’t let the fancy clothes down there fool you, he said — many, if not most, were vigilantes. “They want to get you and Reitman out of the hotel. We cannot guarantee anything.”
Goldman stared, dumbfounded.
“If you consent to leave,” the man added, “we will get you safely out of town.”
“That’s very nice,” said Goldman, “but why don’t you disperse the crowd? Use the same measures you have against the free-speech fighters?”
Goldman raised her voice: “Your ordinance makes it a crime to gather in the business districts. Hundreds of IWWs, anarchists, socialists, and trade-union men have been clubbed, arrested, and some even killed for this offense. Yet you allow the vigilante mob to congregate in the busiest part of the town and obstruct traffic. All you have to do is disperse these law-breakers!”
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