Hartmann in Omaha

Readers of the Omaha Daily Republican on August 25, 1881, must have been startled by the news that a man identified as “The Dynamite Fiend” had briefly visited Omaha and Council Bluffs. The “Fiend” was Russian socialist Leo Hartmann, whose unsuccessful attempt to blow up the train of Czar Alexander II in 1879, had given him an international reputation.

A reporter from the Republican interviewed Hartmann in Council Bluffs: “Leo Hartmann, the Russian Nihilist, socialist, fugitive from the czar’s imperial wrath, and the man whose name has occupied a more conspicuous place in the columns of the American press than any other foreigner because of his arrival and reported presence in this country, was in Council Bluffs and Omaha on Tuesday and yesterday. . . . While in Omaha he was quite secluded and appeared but little on the streets. In Council Bluffs, however, he went about openly and took no especial pains to disguise his identity.”

The twenty-nine-year-old Hartmann was described as “a man about six feet high, with rather loose figure and has a peculiar walk. His face indicates nothing in particular, being perfectly immobile. His forehead is high, hair dark, eyes blue, nose long and straight, cheek bones prominent; and mouth irregular. He talks brokenly and at times hesitatingly. His dress is black and plain.” Hartmann said that his principal purpose in visiting Omaha and Council Bluffs was to “obtain a personal knowledge of the country and the peoples, to become acquainted with the members of the socialist party and advise with them as to the best methods to pursue toward accomplishing our purpose.”

When asked by the reporter if there were many socialists in Omaha and Council Bluffs, Hartmann replied that “there are plenty of them, and more in sympathy.” However, the Russian refused to express opinions on purely local matters: “‘In Omaha I was asked about the brick layers strike. I favor it, as labor should command just what it can get. I was asked by a prominent liquor dealer what I thought of the Slocomb [Slocumb high-license liquor] law, but I know so little about it that I could not give an opinion.'” In conclusion, Hartmann said: “‘We are bound to win our cause in Russia. This czar will not live long, nor will any of his successors, if the people are not given their rights.”

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