“We can’t,” the man replied. “These people are in a dangerous mood — and your presence makes things worse.”
“Very well, then, let me speak to them.” Goldman started toward a window. “I’ve faced infuriated men before and could always pacify them!”
Two men blocked her path. The man in charge said no.
“I’ve never accepted protection from the police,” Goldman blurted, “and do not intend to now. I charge all of you men here of being in league with the vigilantes!”
Someone said that if anything happened, “I [Goldman] should have only myself to blame.”
With that, she went to Reitman’s room. But the door was locked. A gentle rap. No reply. She pounded hard. Nothing. “The noise I made brought a hotel clerk. He unlocked the door, but no one was there.”
She ran back to the lobby, just as Chief Wilson emerged from the other room.
“Where’s Reitman?” Goldman asked. “What have you done with him?”
“How should I know?”
“If any harm comes to him, you’ll pay if I have to do it with my own hands!”
No one claimed to know where Reitman had gone. Goldman returned to her room and paced. She couldn’t telephone anyone. That would “endanger their safety.”
“I felt helpless. Time dragged on, and at midnight I dozed off from sheer fatigue.” She dreamed of Reitman, “bound and gagged, his hands groping for me. I struggled to reach him and woke up with a scream, bathed in sweat.”
Raps on the door: the house detective and another man. Reitman was safe, the detective said. Vigilantes had put him on a train for Los Angeles, unhurt.
Goldman didn’t believe a word, but the second man looked honest, and he was nodding in agreement.
Holmes entered. He pleaded with Goldman to leave. She couldn’t give her lecture and Reitman was gone. She had no reason to stay.
“I was only endangering his position,” she said. “He hoped I would not take undue advantage because I was a woman. If I remained, the vigilantes would drive me out of town, anyhow.”
Two bellhops escorted her to a taxi on a side street. She rode down deserted Broadway to the depot. As she boarded the “Owl Train” at 2:45 a.m., horns, blaring like fire alarms, headed her way: “The fearful sound I had first heard at the station.” Someone must have tipped off the vigilantes.
“Hurry!” It was a man’s voice. “Get in quick!”
Two men helped her into a Pullman car. They lowered the blinds and locked the door. Outside, heavy shoes and boots pounded the platform, then came a riot of rumbles on the thick wooden planks. “There was mad yelling and cursing — hideous and terrifying moments till at last the train pulled out.”
As the train headed north, it stopped at several stations. No Reitman. And he wasn’t at the Los Angeles depot. When she reached her apartment, Goldman realized that “the U.S. Grant Hotel men had lied to get me out of town!”
Within minutes after Goldman left for the other room, the seven men with Reitman drew revolvers from their overcoats and pointed toward the door. “Utter a sound,” one said, “we’ll kill you.”
Two grabbed his arms, a third the front of his coat, another the back. They led him down the corridor to the kitchen, took the kitchen elevator to the basement and the freight elevator up to the Third Street sidewalk. There, a car awaited.
The car slowly drove east down Broadway. When the crowd recognized Reitman in the back seat, “they set up a howl.”
A second car followed behind, “containing several persons who looked like businessmen.”
As soon as they left the central district, said Reitman, “these Christian gentlemen…kicked, pounded, bit me and subjected me to every cruel, diabolical, malicious torture that a God-fearing respectable businessman is capable of conceiving.”
“We could tear your guts out,” one boasted through alcohol-tinted breath, “but we promised the chief of police to not kill you.”
About 20 miles from town — possibly near Rancho Peñasquitos — the cars stopped but kept their headlights on. Fourteen men formed a ring around their prey. “Undress,” one said. When Reitman refused, they tore off his clothes and “kicked and beat me until I was almost insensible.”
As the others whooped and hooted, someone — Reitman said it was a “doctor” — lit a cigar and burned “IWW across my buttocks.”
They poured a can of tar over his head and “feathered” him with sagebrush.
“One attempted to push a cane into my rectum,” said Reitman. Someone urinated on him, and “another twisted my testicles.”
Though he could barely move, they ordered him to kiss the American flag and sing the “Star Spangled Banner” — “with feeling.”
“When they tired of the fun, they gave me my underwear, for fear we should meet any women.” They also returned his vest — “in order that I might carry my money, railroad ticket, and watch” — but “the rest of my clothes they stole from me in highway fashion.”
Then the vigilantes formed two lines and ordered Reitman to run a gauntlet. As he hobbled along, “each one gave me a blow or a kick. Then they let me go.”
At 10:00 a.m. the next morning, Goldman received a long-distance call. An unfamiliar voice told her that Reitman was on a train for Los Angeles. His “friends should bring a stretcher to the station.”
“Is he alive?” Goldman shouted. “Are you telling the truth? Is he alive?”
Goldman and several others waited at the station for hours. When the train arrived, “Ben lay in a rear car, all huddled up. He was in blue overalls, his face deathly pale, a terrified look in his eyes…and his hair was sticky with tar.”
He couldn’t speak. “Only his eyes tried to convey what he had passed through.”
The New York Times said Reitman exaggerated his story (“he got a mild coating of cold pine tar with a few leaves in it, but no beating”) and San Diego’s civic leaders denied that the “patriotic ceremony” ever happened. But Reitman was never the same. The assault, wrote Goldman, “consumed him with terror” and “became almost a hallucination.” ■
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