The last GMiPTH described the uniquely practical brand of socialism that achieved unparalleled political success in Milwaukee in the early 1900s. The more radical brand of socialism that espoused violent revolution gained little purchase in the Greater Talossan Area, but did not leave it entirely untouched.
Just across the river to the south ofTalossa, a community of recent Italian immigrants took root in the neighborhood of Bay View during this period. Because many of these immigrants had fled persecution by agents of the monarchy in the “old country”, they were seriously disaffected when the United States allied with the Kingdom of Italy upon entering World War I in 1917.
these immigrants used to meet regularly in the back room of a bar on Wentworth & Russell in Bay View (now the Cactus Club) to discuss political issues and socialist theory. They called themselves the Francisco Ferrer Circle, after a Catalan anarchist teacher and writer who had been executed by the Spanish authorities in 1909. The Ferrer Circle was part of a loose network of Italian-American anarchist groups known as Galleanists—followers of anarcho-communist Luigi Galleani, publisher of the radical newspaper Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive Chronicle).
Meanwhile, in Milwaukee’s more established Italian-American community in the Third Ward (parts of Fiova and Maritiimi-Maxhestic, former Catholic priest Augusto Giuliani ran the Italian Evangelical Mission church, on Van Buren Street in what is now Fiova Province. His church worked to improve education and sanitary conditions in the Third Ward while also seeking to convert Catholic Italians to Protestantism. This provoked resentment among both devout Catholics and the anti-religious anarchists of the Ferrer Circle. On September 9, 1917, Giuliani and a group of his followers went down to Bay View, where they gathered on a street corner on Wentworth Avenue to sing patriotic American songs in Italian. Giuliani had done the same thing the previous two weeks, and knew to expect a strongly negative reaction from some of the locals. This time, he notified the Milwaukee Police Department of his intentions, which sent a few plainclothes police detectives to observe the situation. As expected, when Giuliani’s group began singing, the members of the Ferrer Circle marched over from their club a block south to confront him. They gathered on an opposite corner to jeer Giuliani’s group and sing anarchist songs.
As tempers rose, at some point a few members of the anarchist group produced revolvers, and gunfire broke out between them and the police detectives on the scene. When the smoke cleared, one of the anarchists lay dead, another mortally wounded, and two of the police had minor injuries. The surviving members of the Ferrer Circle were arrested and charged with armed assault with intent to murder.
On November 24, 1917 (on Monday, exactly 97 years ago!), the young daughter of a cleaning woman at the Italian Evangelican Mission Church found a strange package tucked between an exterior wall and fence on the side of the church. Her mother brought it into the church and gave it to Reverend Giuliani’s assistant, Maud Richter. Richter examined the package. It appeared to be a large dinner pail, wrapped in a coil of wire and a layer of brown paper. In the middle was glass tube filled with a brown liquid, the tube surrounded by some kind of powder.
Richter quite sensibly called the police at this point. But after an hour the police still had not arrived. So she asked the church’s teenage handyman, Sam Mazzone, to take the package to the police. Sam and a friend carefully carried it the several blocks to Milwaukee’s central police station, a block east of City Hall in Fiova Province. There he delivered it to the desk sergeant, Henry Deckert.
Deckert brought the package into the office of Lt. Robert Flood, who upon seeing it said: “Get that thing out of here. Don't fool around with anything like that! ” Deckert followed the first part of the instruction by taking the package out into the squad room, where a group of detectives proceeded to ignore the second part of the instruction by examining it. At 7:43pm, the bomb (for that is what the package was) exploded there on a table in the squad room.
Nine Milwaukee Police Department officers were killed in the blast: Paul Weiler, Albert Templin, Stephen Stecker, Edward Spindler, Charles Seehawer, Frank Caswin, Henry Deckert, Frederick Kaiser, David O’Brien. Catherine Walker, a civilian who happened to be at the police station to file a complaint, was also killed. The exact time of the explosion was determined by the stopped hands on Detective Kaiser’s watch. Two of the officers, Detectives Weiler and Templin, had been present at the Bay View riot in September (Templin was one of the two officers wounded in that incident). The nine police officers killed in the bombing would remain the worst mass casualty event in U.S. law enforcement history until the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001.
The Milwaukee police station bombing was never solved, but the leading theory is that it was planned by Galleanists Mario Buda and Carlo Valdinoci in retaliation for the arrest of the Ferrer Circle. The design of the bomb was consistent with Buda’s modus operandi. Earlier in 1917, Buda and Valdinoci had been living in Mexico with a small group of Galleanists (including the infamous Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti), avoiding the draft and planning for a revolution in Italy. After the arrest of the Ferrer Circle, they decided to return to the United States to pursue “propaganda of the deed” closer to home.
A follow-up attack on the Milwaukee government was probably thwarted in January, 1918, when 1 9-year-old anarchist Gabriella Antolini was caught in Chicago with a leather valise packed with 36 sticks of dynamite that Valdinoci had given her. Buda and Valdinoci turned to other targets. They were responsible for a wave of anarchist bombings across the United States in 1919. Valdinoci was killed during that campaign when a bomb he was placing at the New York City home of U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer exploded prematurely. The bomb also killed a night watchman and seriously damaged the home. Palmer and his family were unharmed, but a piece of Valdinoci’s body landed on the doorstep of Palmer’s neighbor across the street: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Buda, under the alias Mike Boda, shared a house with Sacco and Vanzetti (whom he would later describe as his best friends in America) near Boston along with a fourth Galleanist, Ferruccio Coacci. In September 1920, Sacco and Vanzetti were charged with two murders that occurred in the course of the robbery of a shoe factory in Braintree, Massachusetts. In retaliation, Buda is believed to planned the Wall Street Bombing five days later, which killed 38 people in front of the New York Stock Exchange. He returned to Italy shortly thereafter, where (ironically) he would become an informant for Mussolini’s OVRA (Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell'Antifascismo, or Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism) secret police, working to infiltrate anarchist cells in Italy and France.
But what happened to the Ferrer Circle? Their trial was held a mere four days after the police station bombing. Despite being ably defended by Milkwaukee lawyer William Rubin and legendary defense attorney Clarence Darrow, all eleven defendants were convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. But on appeal, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld this sentence only for the two defendants who were armed at the riot. The Court found that the evidence against the other defendants only supported minor assault charges at most, for which the time they had already served was sufficient punishment. The Court reversed the convictions of these nine defendants in its decision in the case of Bianchi v. State, 1 69 Wis. 75 (1919).