Condemned for a crime he (probably) did not commit, Louis Lingg escaped the hangman’s noose when he chose to eat it. Literally. He blew a blasting cap in his mouth.
Lingg was one of the eight anarchists who were convicted for participation in the Haymarket Riot. On May 4, 1886, strikers and laborers gathered in protest and in solidarity of an eight-hour workday. An unknown assailant threw a bomb into the crowd. Seven cops died and eight anarchists were rounded up as conspirators in the bombing. Seven were sentenced to death. Of these, Lingg had the most unlikely plea of innocence: he was at home building bombs!
German-born Lingg was radicalized when his father was in a lumber mill accident. In The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, he is quoted as saying, “At this time I was thirteen and my sister seven years old, and at this age I received my first impressions of the prevailing unjust social institutions, i.e., the exploitation of men by men.” He apprenticed as a carpenter and took itinerant jobs in Switzerland to avoid mandatory German military service. Zurich police expelled him in 1885. His mother was able to cover expenses to move him to Chicago.
In the seven months before Haymarket, he became an organizer of the International Carpenters and Joiners Union and a delegate to the Central Labor Union. He stockpiled dynamite and built bombs in the name of self-defense. He expected a general strike or revolution and wanted to be prepared. Anyhow, his defense attorney Moses Salomon argued, “It may seem strange why he was manufacturing bombs. The answer to that is, he had a right to have his house full of dynamite.”
Lingg went into hiding after the Riot. Police found him on May 14. He brandished a revolver and fought with two cops. On June 21, he and the other anarchists were convicted and sentenced to hang. Lingg was scheduled to be hanged on November 11, 1887.
On November 6, police found four bombs that had been smuggled into his cell. They must not have found a blasting cap. At 9am on November 10, the anarchist stuck the cap in his mouth like a cigar and lit it. His lower jaw and a chunk of his face were blown away. Using his blood, he wrote “Hoch die anarchie! (Hooray for anarchy!)” in the cell. He died around 3pm in the afternoon.