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.
The Secret Service took Nobody to the Buffalo police headquarters. A police blockade held back the crowd outside howling for a lynching. Nobody sat calmly on a cot inside his cell and spoke with a detective. He first gave his name as Fred Nieman (none of the officers present knew German, or knew that his last name, in German, meant “Nobody”), and said that his home was in Detroit. “I am an Anarchist and I did my duty,” Nobody said.
As I sit before a computer in the Microform and Newspaper Collections of Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington, the pages of Discontent blur into a gray mass. I want to see the issue published on September 18, 1901, when the residents of Home began to respond to McKinley’s assassination. I requested this reel of microfilm from another library, hoping that it would fill in the blanks of the incomplete reel I’ve been using, on which the issues jump from September 11 to November 13. This two-month hole creates a maddening gap, an impassable washout just as the terrain gets interesting. One moment, I’m reading something that seems frozen in the amber of the languorous time before the assassination—James Adams’s article praising the fertility of Puget Sound and cataloging the bounteous crops and orchards of Home’s neighbors—and the next, Discontent and Adams himself are thick into the consequences of the assassination.
What happened in Home between those issues? For now, the only sources I have are the Tacoma newspapers, with all their biases, and the writings of historian Charles LeWarne, who managed to get his hands on a complete run of Discontent (and to whose scholarship the information on Home here owes a debt). LeWarne writes that the community responded with considerable apprehension, and includes the quote from Morton that predicts that the assassination would lead to persecution. But I have questions only the September 18 issue of Discontent can answer. What else did Morton express? Were there other responses? And what was happening in “Home News”? This section has become my favorite, giving glimpses of the colonists’ daily life and offering the consolation that ordinary life continued amid the torrent of larger historical events. Who was coming and going from Home? What about the progress on Abner Pope’s house or the slashing of Gertie Vose’s two acres? How many pounds of tomatoes were harvested? On the computer screen, the pages trundle past, describing July and August of 1901 in Home. Then comes September, and the coverage drops off at the exact same place. September 18, then November 13. I roll back and forth just to make sure, beginning to feel as if I’ve been slowly and carefully unwrapping a mummy, only to find that the body disappeared long ago.
Nobody finally gave his real name: Leon Czolgosz. The Tacoma newspapers published his confession on the front pages, in black borders:
I never had much luck at anything and this preyed upon me. It made me morose and envious, but what started the craze to kill was a lecture I heard some little time ago by Emma Goldman. She was in Cleveland, and I and other Anarchists went to hear her. She set me on fire. Her doctrine that all rulers should be exterminated was what set me to thinking so that my head nearly split with the pain. Miss Goldman’s words went through me, and when I left the lecture I had made up my mind that I would have to do something heroic for the cause I loved.
During interrogation after interrogation, Czolgosz insisted that he alone had planned and executed the diabolical act, but the newspapers and investigators could not reckon that this man, whose name few could even pronounce, had acted on his own. Many officials held the firm conviction that he was but an actor in an anarchist plot, and the police rounded up known anarchists around the country, many with names that also challenged the American tongue: Hippolyte Havel, Enrico Travaglio, Clemens Pfuetzner, Alfred Schneider.
Once in custody, some of the Chicago anarchists admitted that they had met Czolgosz. The previous summer, the young, clean-cut man had crashed several of their gatherings, awkwardly calling people he barely knew “comrade” and asking if he could attend “secret meetings.” He told them that he had heard Goldman speak in Cleveland and traveled to Chicago to learn more, but his fervent, clueless intensity troubled the anarchists he met. The editor of the anarchist newspaper Free Society, Abraham Isaak, believed this strange loner was a government spy and published a warning about him just five days before the assassination: “His demeanor is of the usual sort, pretending to be greatly interested in the cause, asking for names, or soliciting aid for acts of contemplated violence.”
Unfortunately, the week after the shooting, these kinds of subtle details did not register in the maelstrom of news coverage. Opposite headlines about the president’s health ran headlines about the hunt for Emma Goldman and the anarchist conspiracy. On September 10, the queen of the anarchists dominated the front page. The Evening News described her arrest in Chicago beneath the banner headline what would you do with emma? Police had finally found her, disguised as a Swedish woman named Lena Larson, in a Chicago home. Once the lawmen had her in custody, they gave her the third degree, knocking a tooth loose and shining bright lights into her eyes, trying to get her to admit to a conspiracy. But she remained defiant. “Am I accountable because some crack-brained person puts a wrong construction on my words?” Goldman asked her inquisitors. When she asserted that she had never advocated violence, that she did not know the assassin, that he had acted alone, her words were treated as lies. It was noted that she could pronounce Czolgosz’s name with the greatest of ease.
Meanwhile, the opinion pages of Tacoma newspapers were calling anarchists snakes, serpents, adders, vipers, mongrels, and vermin. What had allowed this vile brood to infest the land?, they asked, and answered: the very liberty granted each citizen by the Constitution of the United States. While McKinley lay convalescing, some proposed extreme solutions. “Freedom of speech has run mad. It is without limitations. Any fool may blurt his treason and inspire murder without fear of punishment. The man who advocates the assassination of a president merits hanging from the same scaffold with the man who makes the attempt,” declared the Daily Ledger in an op-ed titled exterminate the anarchists.
On the Sunday after the shooting, priests and ministers in Tacoma pulpits joined the chorus, often echoing the very words of the newspapers. Reverend Hutchison at Immanuel Presbyterian Church preached to his congregation: “Liberty of speech has gone mad when characters like Emma Goldman are allowed to scatter their firebrands of speech among inflammable materials like this wretch in yonder prison. Away with such as these. I would stamp the ism from our soil by driving the vessels that contain it from our shores.”
The Evening News did not forget that an anarchist enclave festered within Pierce County, twenty-six nautical miles from Tacoma. On September 12, the newspaper boasted the headline it is getting warm for anarchists at ‘home.’ In the center of the page, a photograph showed a boat crowded with smiling passengers, the white streak of Abner Pope’s beard visible in front. The accompanying article named names. James Morton, “chief agitator,” was connected to Emma Goldman and Abraham Isaak. Abner Pope described himself as a “pantarchian,” and the Evening News explained: “By this he means a ruler of himself.” Charles Govan and Discontent got a mention, too: “The paper is circulated widely in the United States and in many foreign countries. To be sure, the sheet has only 700 in circulation, but it is radical enough to stir up agitation wherever it goes.”
“That such a contaminating plague spot should have flourished so long—so close at hand—flashes upon the minds of many of the people as astounding,” the newspaper claimed in the opening paragraphs, positioning itself as the voice of the mounting hostility toward Home as it declared: “The populace is rousing itself. On every side are heard mutterings that mean nothing short of final extermination for such a reeking hell hole as that at Home.”
At first it appeared that Mc-Kinley might survive, but after an almost weeklong rally, he suddenly succumbed to infection and died, on September 14. On the same day that the Daily Ledger printed President McKinley’s last words—“Goodbye, all, goodbye. It is God’s way. His will be done”—it also joined in the attack on Home, posing the question: what was to be done with a settlement of outlaws clearly sympathetic to the assassin? The only option appeared to be removal. “There surely must be legal methods of reaching these filthy things. There is more than one charge on which they may be proceeded against. If the government of the United States has no method of reaching the traitors, the government of Pierce County is not helpless. The vile can be driven hence,” the newspaper stated. “They constitute an insult to every proper instinct, and there is no reason why they should be tolerated. They despise the Constitution and thus have thrust themselves outside the pale of the Constitution. They are not citizens, but excrescences, and in the effort to purify itself Pierce County must drive them away.”
On the night of McKinley’s death, a group of silver-haired fighting men nearly eighty-five strong, all members of the Grand Army of the Republic, gathered in the hall of the Custer post. They closed ranks around the memory of their fallen compatriot, William McKinley, who had achieved fame during the Civil War, delivering hot meals to soldiers returning from battle. Once again, duty called upon them to defend the Union. Through a resolution, they formed the Loyal League of North America. The Daily Ledger stated its sole objective: “The extermination of anarchy in all its various forms, by legal means, if possible, and if not by other means which will be equally effective.”
Over the next week, the Loyal League considered chartering a boat and sending an investigative party to Home. But other voices spoke against such a drastic measure, and argued instead in favor of proceedings against the colony for those known to practice free love. This would include most of the colony, it was believed, and the members left would quickly scatter. The committee opened its membership to the public on September 19, the same day that ten thousand people filled an auditorium to attend a memorial for McKinley. Men could sign up at McDonald’s Cigar Store, and by noon the list contained a hundred names, many of them belonging to prominent citizens of Tacoma.
Over the past century, various journalists, writers, and scholars have recounted the aborted Loyal League raid, and certain common elements always appear in the different versions. In Tacoma, there is always a crowd of enraged, armed men—often described as three hundred strong—bent on wiping out the anarchist colony. And in Home, there is a clutch of brave, nonviolent colonists who learn of the planned raid and prepare to calmly submit themselves to their fate. At the last minute, disaster is averted when some intermediary—a Confederate soldier who lived in Home, or a Tacoma minister—mollifies the Loyal League. But the best stories always involve Ed Lorenz, captain of the steamer that regularly called at Home.
Sylvia Retherford, granddaughter of one of the couples who founded Home, recounts in her 1982 memoir, Home at Home, the most dramatic depiction of the event, one whose images I cherish but whose veracity I doubt:
The raiding party chartered the TYCONDA on a Sunday in October to come to Home. Local people were forewarned and frightened, but they set up tables on the dock to greet their visitors with handshakes, food and flowers… This reception committee never did find it necessary to extend their hands across the tables as Captain Ed, having heard some of their fiery speeches before embarking, had a plan. He took the party aboard and steamed out into Commencement Bay where the boat developed “motor trouble” and sat quietly for several hours while the angry passengers calmed down. Then being too late for the trip, he returned them to Tacoma and refunded their fares.
None of the sources written at the time mention a possible raid, though residents of Home certainly feared one. Whatever happened, the stories reveal one fact: the colony might not have survived if land instead of water connected Tacoma to Home.
In late September, a steam-powered launch no one had seen before motored into Joe’s Bay and pulled up to the float. The passengers disembarked and quickly climbed the slope to the office of Discontent. There they found James Morton bent over a desk, working on the next issue. Deputy Marshal Crosby, with Postal Inspector Confucius Wayland beside him, told Morton that he had a warrant to arrest Charles Govan, James Larkin (Discontent’s former editor), and James Adams. A grand jury seated in Spokane, Washington, had indicted the men for the crime of writing, publishing, and mailing certain lewd, obscene, and lascivious material. Morton wondered why he was not included in the indictment; he was the editor, after all, and one of the most vilified among the residents of Home. But Marshal Crosby explained that the offending article, a criticism of monogamy and defense of free love titled “A Healthy Comparison,” had been published before Morton had arrived in Home. Crosby then asked Morton to identify the suspects and warned him against attempting to shield or protect them.
Morton gladly complied, and pointed out Govan among those in the office of Discontent. He then went to find Larkin and Adams, and half an hour later all three returned. “They did not evince any surprise when informed of the nature of the charge but expressed a willingness to accompany the officers to the city,” reported one newspaper. “They were allowed to go home and don their best clothes and prepare for the journey.” While they waited, Oliver Verity invited the officers into his home for lunch.
The three prisoners returned, dressed in their finest clothes. A crowd of men, women, and children gathered on the shoreline as the men walked down to the launch and climbed aboard. As the boat pulled into the bay and motored toward Carr Inlet, the crowd shouted, “Peace, harmony, and happiness go with you!” The hospitable reception made an impression on Crosby. “From their talk, and as far as I could see from their actions, the members of the colony with whom I came in contact appear to be living on a very high spiritual plane,” he told the Evening News upon his return to Tacoma. “They deplore McKinley’s assassination as deeply as anyone you would meet, and declare that murder is not the way to reform humanity and put it on a higher footing. They advocate free lovism, but with qualifications which they assert rob the theory of its degrading principles. They are emphatically the apostles of the gospel of nonresistance, and apparently their chief end in life is to live happily and peacefully together.”
On the same day that the Daily Ledger reported the arrest of the anarchists in Home—Wednesday, September 25, 1901—it gave updates on the fates of Leon Czolgosz and Emma Goldman. After a trial that lasted eight hours and twenty-six minutes, Czolgosz was found guilty. The defense presented no witnesses, and the jury delivered its verdict—guilty of murder in the first degree—in less than an hour. Two days later, Czolgosz was sentenced to death in the electric chair.
Goldman fared better. After two weeks in prison, she and her alleged coconspirators were released for lack of evidence of any plot. In the month that followed, she would try to explain the mentality of Czolgosz in such articles as “The Tragedy at Buffalo,” published in Free Society. She said she did not know him, nor could she even concede that he was an anarchist, but she felt sympathy nonetheless. “He was a soul in pain, a soul that could find no abode in this cruel world of ours, a soul ‘impractical,’ inexpedient, lacking in caution (according to the dictum of the wise); but daring just the same.”
As they waited for the evening train to Spokane, the anarchists were held in the Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Tacoma. Larkin, the youngest of the prisoners, did most of the talking. Govan remained quiet and withdrawn. Nearly deaf, Adams set his face in an unfailing grin, his long white beard hanging down to the stiff lapels of his suit. That evening they were escorted to a train, and by morning the dry sagebrush country east of the Cascades was rolling past their windows.
In Spokane, bail was set for each of the men at one thousand dollars, the case was scheduled for late winter of the following year, and the men were allowed to return to Tacoma, still in custody. They tapped friends and family for funds and were soon released.
The pages of Discontent began to rally support for the coming day in court before Judge C. H. Hanford. Morton trumpeted the threat to free speech: “Popular ignorance and prejudice are the great stumbling blocks to be met and overcome. Victory or defeat will be of the utmost significance to both the friends and enemies of freedom. It means the establishment of a precedent which will either strengthen or cripple the liberty of the press. Which shall it be? Your action or indifference may decide the matter.” Each issue carried a statement of the facts of the case, along with a listing of the contributions to the defense fund. With donations from organizations like the Manhattan Liberal Club and anonymous individuals all over the country, the fund began on November 27, 1901, with $95.50, and steadily grew.
As everyone awaited the trial, Home returned to its seasonal rhythms. For several autumn nights, the men held lanterns above the nearby creek and snagged salmon out of the current with gaff hooks. The bounty was smoked or canned and put up for the winter. Low gray clouds drew in from the Pacific, soaking the land with drizzle and downpours. The weekly routine of sending out Discontent continued as well. A group gathered around the warm office stove to wrap the papers. They were bundled and given to Mrs. Penhallow, who then sent them out on the local steamer to Tacoma. But Morton began getting letters from subscribers complaining that they weren’t receiving issues. Oliver Verity went to the Tacoma post office to find out the reason, and learned that the acting postal inspector in Spokane had ordered the paper held, pending an investigation. As Verity pressed the postmaster in Tacoma for answers, the man shrugged, unable to offer an explanation: somebody higher up had made the decision. With postage paid, the back issues sat in piles, going nowhere. In an article, Morton suggested that the officials wanted “to cripple the defence of our comrades, by depriving them of the assistance of Discontent at this critical juncture.” The issue of Discontent notifying everyone of the situation was sent out in a special wrapper. Without any explanation, this issue, along with those waylaid in Tacoma, were suddenly released, and filled subscribers’ mailboxes with over a month’s worth of Discontent. More and more contributions to the defense fund poured in, and by February it had reached the desired five hundred dollars, enough to cover legal expenses.
Postal Inspector Wayland was a busy man during the winter and spring of 1902. Keeping an eye on the publications coming out of Home, he wrote a series of detailed reports that he submitted to the grand jury seated in Spokane, all of them recommending some kind of action against the “obscene material.” Just days before the Discontent trial was to begin, the grand jury responded by issuing four indictments. The first was a revision of the original one against Larkin, Adams, and Govan, which they considered too loosely drawn; the new indictment dropped Govan, because he was only the typesetter, and honed in on Adams and Larkin as the responsible parties. The second was for a letter Adams had mailed. The third went after Mattie Penhallow, the postmistress, and Lois Waisbrooker, a seventy-five-year-old with angular features that one contemporary compared to Abraham Lincoln’s, for her article “The Awful Fate of Fallen Women” (published in her newspaper, Clothed with the Sun). The fourth nailed the whole community for spewing filth far and wide, claiming that “avowed anarchists and free lovers… [had] abused the privilege of the postoffice [sic] establishment and department” by sending out “matter calculated to corrupt and injure the members of the body politic.” It recommended closing the post office.
By the day of the trial, March 11, 1902, winter had loosened its grip. A haze of low clouds and city smoke hung outside the windows of the third floor of the Chamber of Commerce building, where the federal court was in session.
At the front of the courtroom sat the defendants, James Adams and James Larkin, and, beside them, their two lawyers. A small crowd, many of them residents of Home, murmured behind them. With the new indictments, few expected that the case would end in acquittal, and most were prepared for a protracted battle. As Morton later summed up, all the defendants felt that they “must gird up [their] loins for a long and severe struggle.”
Postal Inspector Wayland took the stand first in the Discontent case. He easily identified the issue containing the offending article when the prosecuting attorney submitted it as evidence, and recounted a conversation he’d had with Larkin and Adams that seemed a clear admission of responsibility for the article’s publication. When he stepped down, the defendants and their lawyers prepared for the slog ahead, but after a brief recess, Judge Hanford spoke from the bench. He said that he had carefully read the article in question over lunch and did not find it obscene or unmailable. The entire room was struck silent, and, for a moment, it was quiet enough to hear the ticking of radiators and the bells of passing streetcars. The defense attorney rose and quickly motioned for an acquittal. The prosecuting attorney, E. E. Cushman, vigorously opposed this move, railing against free love. Clutching a copy of Discontent, he read with sarcastic emphasis sections of the article in question, but Judge Hanford replied that the evidence did not support the allegations of obscenity.
Morton later summarized, in the pages of Discontent: “The passages which Mr. Cushman had read with such special emphasis contained no obscene implication. If such an article should be held to form a legitimate basis for indictment, a vast burden would be placed on courts in the future to select the small amount of mailable matter from the enormous quantity which was unmailable.” The judge sustained the motion for acquittal and instructed the jury to bring the verdict: not guilty. The next day, nearly the entire colony filled the Adams house to celebrate the victory for free speech.
Just forty-four days after President McKinley’s assassination, Czolgosz was strapped to the electric chair and executed. Within four hours, alienists performed an autopsy, examined his brain, and confirmed that he was sane. To ensure that no one would question their findings, the source for all future doubts was entirely erased, a precaution vividly described in the professional journal The Alienist and the Neurologist: “The remains of the murderer were buried and destroyed by means of a carboy of commercial sulphuric [sic] acid poured upon the body in the lowered coffin. Thus ended the legal retribution in oblivion and extinction of every physical vestige of our good President’s dastard destroyer and even his clothing and effects were burned.”
In the same issue of Discontent that described their victory, Morton picked up a little-noticed news item reported in the Boston Herald about the question of Czolgosz’s sanity. Two physicians, Dr. Channing and Dr. Briggs, had recently released the findings of an exhaustive investigation into the life of Czolgosz. Briggs collected a wealth of information about the man from numerous friends and family members, and Channing later collated and analyzed the facts and data. When their findings were presented to their colleagues, the doctors couldn’t agree on Czolgosz’s sanity. Yet one thing was certain: “Dr. Briggs said positively that there was no proof that Czolgosz was an Anarchist, beyond his own statements.”
The very reel of microfilm I’ve been using to piece together these events bears the mark of how temporary Home’s victory was. As the year 1902 rolls along, the issues space out more and more. February 5, February 19, March 19. Are the holes in the run of Discontent the result of haphazard collecting or faulty storage? Or are they evidence of the heavy hand of the tenacious Postal Inspector Wayland? He seemed to use everything in his bureaucratic power to keep this obscene matter from polluting the general populace.
The last issue on the reel, April 23, opens with an announcement titled “A New Infamy.”
Just as we are about to go to press, we learn that a dastardly blow has been struck against us, and through us, at the rights and liberties of the American people. The postmaster general, without even the semblance of an investigation, has issued a ukase robbing us of our post office!
The next issue is supposed to have a full account of the matter, and the closing of the post office was scheduled for April 30, 1902. On that day, the last issue of Discontent was mailed out, but somehow this issue didn’t make it onto the reel. After April 23, the reel returns to the near-black of exposed microfilm.
By the time of the trial of Lois Waisbrooker and Mattie Penhallow, the hopes of the colony were shaky. Still, a contingent twenty people strong rode the steamer from Home to sit in the stuffy courtroom on that July day in 1902. When the judge entered the room, Waisbrooker rose, leaning on her cane. Her cheeks were hollow, her brow wrinkled, but her eyes contained a sharp glint. She was determined to face yet another day in court. Penhallow stood beside her. In her forties, she could have been Waisbrooker’s daughter, but she didn’t have the old woman’s fortitude, and emotions played on her face as the women awaited their fate.
Jury selection took a while because so many people were already familiar with the case. Once the twelve men were selected, Postal Inspector Wayland appeared again as a witness, stating that he had subscribed to the newspaper and received the offending article. A postmaster from Ballard supported these claims. But a different judge was seated on the bench, and he didn’t deliver any surprises. The long, hot day wore on Waisbrooker, and she eventually fainted, fell to the floor, and had to be carried out. She was not well enough to hear the jury deliver its verdict: Penhallow acquitted, Waisbrooker guilty. The highest penalty was five thousand dollars, five years imprisonment, or both, and, perhaps reflecting his own ambivalence with the jury’s finding, the judge fined Waisbrooker one hundred dollars. Waisbrooker became the only person in Home convicted of a crime as a result of the McKinley assassination.
Residents of Home still send their mail from the Lakebay post office, but the walk is much shorter. In 1958, mail delivery by boat was phasing out, and the postal service decided to move the Lakebay post office to Home, for ease of access. Its name has been a touchy subject over the years. In the 1980s, Sylvia Retherford, who knew the history, led a group that argued for the post office’s name to be changed to “Home.” Petitions were signed, letters were published in the local paper, someone drew an editorial cartoon of a building labeled lakebay home lakebay home lakebay post office. Bureaucratic inertia seems to have won out, and the post office retained its Lakebay designation.
A steady stream of trucks and cars pulls in and out of the parking lot of the post office while I sit in my car with the postcards I want to mail to my wife and son in Tacoma. I’m conducting a little experiment to find out what outgoing zip code will be stamped on the cards. As I read what I’ve written, I feel a sudden impulse to skew the results and show my allegiance. On the top right corner of each card, next the stamp, I write: Mailed from Home. And down at the bottom, a postscript: Sent in honor of Lois Waisbrooker. At the counter inside, I pass the cards to a bearded postal worker. I watch him closely, hoping he will notice, but he just takes my mail and tosses it into a tote.
The Washington State legislature did not forget how powerless everyone felt after the McKinley assassination, and in February 1903 it overwhelmingly passed one of the most virulent laws against anarchism in the nation. The new statute defined criminal anarchy as “the doctrine that organized government should be overthrown by force or violence or by assassination of the executive head or of any of the executive officials of government,” and it became a felony offense to teach, spread, or advocate these “doctrines.”
A month or so later, in Home, James Morton started the Demonstrator, the newspaper that succeeded Discontent as the colony’s organ of propaganda for the next half decade. “The cause of free speech is the cause of man. A gagged mouth is worse than a shackled body,” Morton declared on the front page. “All true progress must come by the road of freedom of expression. Let us, therefore, build well for the millions who are pressing ahead that their course be not checked by stumbling blocks unworthy of an enlightened age.” But to get these words out of Home, someone had to lug the bundles of papers, carrying them by rowboat or trudging what would become a well-worn path, to the post office in Lakebay, the next town over.