When Uruguayan novelist Eduardo Galeano visited Chicago on a book tour in the mid-1980s, he only had one special request: that local friends take him to the Haymarket district, near the corner of Randolph and Desplaines.
Galeano, also a journalist and an internationally celebrated human rights activist, had just returned to his homeland after eight years in exile. He wanted to see the site of the Haymarket Square tragedy of May 4, 1886, when someone–unknown to this day–lobbed a bomb at police who were massed near the square to break up a peaceful meeting of workers, labor leaders, and anarchists. The meeting had been called to protest a police attack on striking workers (two of whom were killed) at the McCormick Reaper plant the day before, and to rally support for the eight-hour workday. The bombing–which marked the first time a dynamite bomb had ever been used in the U.S., according to Haymarket scholars–and the resulting riot of random police gunfire and clubbing eventually killed seven policemen and four bystanders and wounded dozens of others.
Martial law was declared, and homes and union halls were raided. Seven men associated with trade unions, ethnic community groups, and the labor press–some of whom weren’t even present at the time of the Haymarket riot–were rounded up; one turned himself in. The “Haymarket Eight” were convicted in what has been called one of the most grossly unjust trials in American history. Four of the men were hanged in November 1887, one committed suicide in his cell, and the other three, sentenced to prison, were pardoned by Governor John Peter Altgeld in June 1893–a move that outraged the city’s merchant princes and put an end to Altgeld’s political career.
But Galeano–not unlike scores of other people who have pilgrimaged to the site as if it were a mythic shrine–got much more, or much less, than he had expected. He wrote a story about his “fruitless exploration” of the area for some sort of historic marker. It’s called “Forgetting,” and it’s in his collection The Book of Embraces (Norton, 1991). “Chicago is full of factories,” he writes. “Chicago is full of workers.” But “no statue has been erected in memory of the martyrs of Chicago in the city of Chicago. Not a statue, not a monolith, not a bronze plaque. Nothing.”
Galeano laments that May 1–adopted as International Labor Day a few years after the Haymarket episode–is just a day like any other in the U.S., and that “no one, or almost no one, remembers that the rights of the working class did not spring whole from the ear of a goat, or from the hand of God or the boss.” Then he writes about going to a Chicago bookstore and finding a poster that seemed to be waiting just for him, a poster that summed up his failure to find a single marker at the Haymarket site. The poster displays an African proverb: “Until lions have their own historians, histories of the hunt will glorify the hunter.”
A century later, the lions still don’t have their own historians.
An ordinance adopted by the Chicago City Council on March 25, 1992, finally officially granted historic-landmark status to the area that was once Haymarket Square–the rather unremarkable one-block stretch of Desplaines between Lake and Randolph. These days there’s not much around this fringy, formerly industrial area, the site of what some consider the most significant event in American–and world–labor history.
“I do not believe it is an overstatement to say that probably no event has had such a profound influence on the American labor movement or on the history of Chicago [as] what happened near Haymarket Square in 1886,” writes William Adelman, professor emeritus of labor and industrial relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in his 1976 book Haymarket Revisited. “Through the association of the ‘Haymarket Affair’ and May Day the impact has been worldwide. Revolutions have taken place and many people’s lives have been changed by the events that began on Saturday, May 1, 1886. . . . The battle for social justice, freedom of speech and assembly and democracy in the work place that the Haymarket Martyrs fought is still the battle today.”
The City Council’s Historic Landmark Preservation Committee approved landmark status for the site without dissent, following statements in February 1992 by Alderman Ted Mazola, in whose ward the site lies, and representatives of the Chicago Landmarks Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, and the Illinois Labor History Society, a private, not-for-profit organization that encourages historic preservation and the study of labor history.
“I’ve been told that people have come to the site and simply broken down into tears when they found there was absolutely no demarcation there,” ILHS President Leslie Orear testified to the committee, adding that he often led foreign labor leaders to the unmarked area himself. “People come from all over the world to the site in awe, like it is a holy place.”
But a year and a half later there’s still no physical sign of the Haymarket area’s new status as a landmark. The City of Chicago is still waiting for a bronze plaque to mark the site, which a spokesman says is on order. Meanwhile the ILHS is dreaming of more.
“We like to envision a mini park, a vest-pocket park, where there’s an overgrown patch used as a parking lot now, an eyesore,” says Orear, a former union staff worker, in the comfortable but not exactly humming offices of the Illinois Labor History Society on the tenth floor of 28 E. Jackson. An affable, surprisingly spry octogenarian, Orear cofounded the ILHS in 1969 and has helped wage a 24-year campaign to permanently mark the Haymarket site. “The park could be created by the city or the Park District, and would be dedicated to the Haymarket martyrs as a reminder of this tragedy. But we need to get together with the alderman in an effort to initiate an agenda to bring this about. We’re beggars–we don’t have the money–so we’re still looking at all the options. We’ll keep agitating.”
Adds longtime union activist and ILHS secretary Mollie West: “We could put up a nice wall with a mural, and have a stone monument with the names of the people killed–the policemen on one side, and the workers on the other.”
“We drafted a proposal [for a park] and tried to get it through the Park District, oh, about five years ago, when Walter Netsch was on the board,” says Bill Adelman, ILHS vice-president. “But the park board said they didn’t have the money to buy the lot, and that it was too expensive.” It’s currently a privately owned parking area.
The lead story of the May 1992 “Illinois Labor History Society Reporter,” a monthly newsletter edited by Orear, features a photo of the Desplaines-Randolph street sign; it looks northwest to the site of the proposed park. “Not much to look at, but real possibilities!” reads the caption. “This is the now official designated site of the Haymarket Tragedy in Chicago.” The folks at the ILHS aren’t the only ones who have thought about sprucing up the site. Sometime in the late 1980s, according to Joan Pomeranz, a former Landmarks Commission staffer who researched the Haymarket site, “the [city] Planning Department was looking at the opportunity to enhance the appeal of the area, and one possibility was to create a public space with historic commemoration.” During the February 1992 hearings Mazola had testified in favor of upgrading and historicizing the area, re-creating the Haymarket era with quaint touches like gaslights and cobblestones to enhance tourism.
Currently, though, the city has “no plans afoot” to build anything, says Mazola. “They don’t have the moneys to do these types of monuments. The Landmarks Commission only looks at the [historic] designations. They don’t usually look at monuments or statues.” But he has no doubt that eventually there will be something there. “No good deed will go unpunished.”
What about the plaque?
Vince Michael, Chicago program director for the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, testified in favor of official designation in front of the City Council’s Historical Landmark Committee last year; he also wrote about Haymarket in the west-side section of the 1993 American Institute of Architects Guide to Chicago. Michael says that “the city designates five to ten historic landmarks a year, but they haven’t put out any plaques for seven or eight years. They’re supposed to be getting a number of plaques soon.” By 1991, according to one source, 35 sites awaited markers.
A Planning Department spokesperson who refuses to go on record says that [a few dozen] bronze, 18-by-18-inch Chicago Landmark plaques (including one for the Haymarket site) “are being processed now.” The city contracts with Wagner Brass Foundry, near Elston and Cortland; each plaque costs about $500, including installation. Budgetary constraints have played no role in the historic plaque backlog. “We do get the money,” he explains. “It’s a special allocation, a lump sum, every five years. It’s best to order in volume; it pays to order 20 to 30 at the same time. We’ve found that’s the most responsible way of dealing with these things.” For the Haymarket plaque, he says, the inscription on the plaque and its location have “yet to be determined.” Since historic designation plaques must be put on city-owned land, Michael, like Orear, assumes that the Haymarket plaque will be placed on a pedestal in the Randolph Street lane divider just west of Desplaines. (Randolph, at this point, is still one-way westbound; the divider separates the street from one of the many parking lots in the Haymarket area.)
While Orear doesn’t doubt that the “designation will eventually be made apparent to the public,” it doesn’t surprise him that the ILHS has been pursuing the issue for a quarter of a century; the group initially formed as the Haymarket Workers Memorial Committee in 1968. The city and the police, he thinks, have been overly sensitive about memorializing the eight workers who died. Orear points out that in May 1970, a year after the ILHS recommended to the State of Illinois that the Haymarket Square area be declared a state historical landmark, the Chicago Police Department’s Red Squad (which was disbanded in 1975) filmed the entire State Historical Society plaque unveiling ceremony. The plaque had been placed on the corner of the Catholic Charities Building at 126 N. Desplaines because the city wouldn’t approve a spot on its property. The plaque was pulled off the wall some months later, presumably by persons on the conservative right–or “friends of the police,” as Orear puts it. (You can still see the holes made by the missing plaque’s bolts on the southwest corner of Randolph and Desplaines.)
The ILHS first requested official city designation for the Haymarket area in 1970, when it presented a petition to the Landmarks Commission. A report was written in 1971, but nothing more happened. Adelman and Orear attended a series of Landmarks Commission meetings between 1988 and 1991 to make a renewed bid for designation; the Landmarks Commission had to approve it before the City Council could vote on it. “The police have always objected to a historic district [honoring the martyrs],” says Adelman. “I’ve gotten flak from them about it. The proposal kept disappearing. Each time, the City Council delayed discussion. Finally they took a year to decide to accept it.”
Pomeranz, who left the Landmarks Commission two years ago and is now a free-lance historic preservation consultant, paints a less Machiavellian picture of the approval procedure–but one nevertheless full of bureaucratic shilly-shallying. “When [the commission] decides to pursue designation, they have a staff member write a research report,” she says. Her 1988 report on the Haymarket site, she says, was basically a revision and expansion of the commission’s original 1971 report. “Then it’s evaluated as to whether or not to proceed with designation. Then they adopt a motion, a preliminary determination of eligibility, which triggers certain things. They go to the Planning Department and ask for an opinion, like how the designation fits in with their planning concerns in the area. They go to private owners. Then they decide to make a recommendation to the City Council, which takes the form of a lengthy document. When the council gets the proposed legislation, it’s given to the [Historical Landmark] Committee.” Once the proposed ordinance makes it to the City Council, says Pomeranz, there’s no deadline; they could conceivably sit on the recommendation for 20 years.
The delay in the case of the Haymarket site, she says, “didn’t have anything to do with subject matter. Other things came along that were more urgent. Part of it was my fault. I didn’t keep up with it. I could’ve moved faster. It was nothing deliberate.”
To Mazola, it “makes a lot of sense” to designate the Haymarket area a historic landmark. “Are we honoring one side versus the other? The answer is no. We don’t get into that. It’s part of our history. I don’t believe there is any controversy. If there was, the city wouldn’t have looked for historic designation.”
“Haymarket was a big, traumatic event in the history of Chicago, and it’s been a sore spot in the psyche of city officialdom and the business establishment,” says Orear, a former Chicago headquarters staffer of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen International AFL-CIO, and one of the original volunteer members of the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee of the CIO. “The business establishment has long forgotten it; it doesn’t give a rip anymore. It’s mostly been a problem of the city. . . . It’s all a part of a deliberate amnesia. Our story is that Haymarket was a police riot–nobody did a damn thing till the police came. Their story is that [the incident] saved the city from anarchist terrorism. Our position doesn’t dishonor the police. But I can see how the police might be sensitive about it, and the city doesn’t like to rock the boat.”
Adds Mollie West, also an executive board member of Typographical Union Local 16: “If we had a park with the police getting their fair shake, and if there was some quote-unquote ‘balance’–though that would be a hard act for us to attempt–then maybe (the police) would leave it alone.” Harold Washington declared May 1986 Labor History Month in Chicago and, according to Adelman, was set to provide funds for a park before he died. “We’re waiting for Mayor Washington to come back,” says West. “If he was here, this would’ve been done by now.”
Up until about 22 years ago, there was a statue in the area once known as Haymarket Square. The Haymarket Riot Monument was erected as a memorial to the seven policemen killed in the riot (one instantly by the bomb) and dedicated on Memorial Day 1889, a few weeks after the third anniversary of the explosion that blew the shorter-hour labor movement back a few decades. But just the base is there now, on the northeast corner of Randolph where it crosses the Kennedy. You’d barely give the ten-foot-high, stepped-stone monolith a second glance if you were driving to, say, one of the trendy dance clubs in the vicinity, like the Warehouse or Club Dread. The base is mostly forgotten now, filth-ridden and graffiti-scrawled, like a leftover urban relic that somehow never met the wrecking ball. It’s invariably littered with empty bottles and often serves as temporary home to a sprawling drunk or two. A Virgin Mary icon has been known to mysteriously appear and disappear from the top of the base (it’s there at this writing.) The statue itself–a life-size bronze figure of a 19th-century cop with an upraised arm–has been in the safe possession of the Chicago Police Department since early 1972.
Since the statue base doesn’t mention Haymarket at all, casual passersby unfamiliar with the location’s significance would be mystified by the pedestal’s inscriptions. On the front of it, facing Randolph, it says: “In the name of the people of Illinois I command peace.” These were the words supposedly spoken to the “rioters” by Captain Ward of the nearby Desplaines police station, moments before the bomb–thrown either by an agent provocateur or a radical anarchist–exploded. (Orear, however, says that Ward actually told the group “to disband in the name of the law.”) On the back of the base, facing the Kennedy, it says: “Dedicated by Chicago May 4th 1889 to her Defenders in the riot of May 4th 1886.”
The problem, say labor and Haymarket historians, isn’t so much the fact that this was a monument to a riot but the fact that the monument, or a monument, wasn’t dedicated to the Haymarket Eight or to workers’ rights. (A Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument was dedicated in suburban Forest Home Cemetery, on June 25, 1893–a day before Governor Altgeld pardoned the three men. Seven of the martyrs are buried here.)
“We have always felt that the police deserved a memorial,” says Adelman. “But we always felt that it didn’t belong in Haymarket Square. Over a hundred years later, there are still feelings on the part of the police that they were right in what they did at Haymarket.” Over the years, he says, labor groups and police groups often held different ceremonies at the same time by the old police statue. “But it was like we were fighting over two historical perspectives, between our way of looking at things and their way of looking at things.”
While Adelman maintains that the police have been resistant to the idea of a martyrs’ memorial, Dennis Bingham says he doesn’t know who they’ve been talking to. “I’ve been working here 15 years, and I never got that impression,” says Bingham, a member of the Chicago Police Department’s News Affairs Division who has researched the statue’s rough-and-tumble history. He points out, however, that he can’t speak for the entire police force.
“The statue hasn’t just come to symbolize the seven officers who died a hundred-some years ago; it wasn’t just a Haymarket memorial,” he says. “When an officer sees the statue, they see the symbol of 406 [Chicago Police] officers who have been killed in the line of duty. Most officers aren’t familiar with the incident and the labor ramifications, that’s the impression I get. It doesn’t even enter into their heads. If you interviewed 100 officers, the labor issue wouldn’t even come up. The average police officer wouldn’t even give it a thought. . . . Sure, it’s a sensitive subject, and it’s not like we’re trying to keep anything hidden or hurt the city’s efforts. I couldn’t see how that could be said.”
Nevertheless the statue of the cop commanding peace has had anything but a peaceful existence. The recent controversy surrounding the potential installation of a statue commemorating Puerto Rican independence movement hero Pedro Albizu Campos in Humboldt Park hasn’t got anything on the activity inspired by the police monument over the years. Repeatedly vandalized, moved five times, rammed by a runaway streetcar, blown up twice, and even guarded around the clock at one point during the Days of Rage riots, the statue was finally taken to the Central Police Headquarters in 1972 and then to the Chicago Police Training Center at 1300 W. Jackson in 1976. It’s still there, in the academy’s courtyard garden. You can view it by advance arrangement.
In the postfire 1880s Chicago was truly a city on the make, born of the prairie heartland and the Industrial Revolution. Flexing its big hog-butchering shoulders, it was the fastest-growing city in the world–an urban microcosm of rampant where’s-mine capitalism and hardscrabble racial conflict. It was a seething cauldron of poor white ethnic immigrant workers; since the 1840s the city had seen waves of Irish, German, and then Eastern European arrivals. Regarded by wealthy WASP settlers as inferior and easily exploited, these largely unassimilated groups fought among themselves for a piece of the American Dream. The glaring gulf between the city’s Respectables and its Rabble, mostly slum-living and often unemployed, served as a seedbed for minority trade unions and workers’-rights movements–all of which set the stage for many pitched labor-related battles.
“By the 1880s,” Adelman has written, “new machinery was destroying the jobs of even skilled workers, and with an ever increasing supply of surplus labor in Chicago there was always someone to take your place if you wouldn’t accept a wage cut or longer hours.”
Though the stereotype of the “bomb-throwing anarchist” arose largely as a result of the Haymarket affair, Adelman points out in his book that the 19th-century Chicago anarchists were really European-derived “syndicalists”–trade unionists who espoused worker control over industry. They saw government–and the increasing concentration of business wealth–in violation of American Revolution ideals. Concerned that the new machinery was replacing even the most skilled workmen, they believed in direct action and general strikes. And yes, some of them believed in bombs. Several of the Haymarket Eight–who represented a diverse sampling of the Chicago labor movement, running the gamut from conservative to radical–had talked of using dynamite as a defensive measure against attacking police. But it was newspaper editors and prominent businessmen of the day who first broached the idea of using dynamite against striking workers.
It’s hard to imagine what the original Haymarket Square looked like more than a century ago, before parts of it burned down, were razed for urban renewal, or were sliced up by a superhighway. The Haymarket wasn’t really a “square” at all, but rather a very wide stretch of Randolph Street (about twice as wide as it is today), from Desplaines to Halsted. It was once one of the busiest farmers’ markets in the city–a far cry from today’s near-west-side wholesale produce markets, or even from South Water Market. In her book So Big, Edna Ferber described the historic square as “a tangle of horses, carts, men . . . an unarmed army bringing food to feed a great city.” Braving the hubbub of buggies and streetcars, truck farmers came from all over the countryside to sell food to the poor at dirt-cheap prices.
But Haymarket Square served another purpose as well: its proximity to working-class neighborhoods made it a favorite public gathering place. It was chosen for the May 4 protest meeting because it could hold 20,000 people. (About 2,500, many of them striking McCormick Reaper plant workers, initially showed up at the hastily planned meeting; only 200 or so remained when the bomb was thrown a couple of hours later.)
Only one nearby building from the Haymarket era is still standing: the structure housing the Grand Stage Lighting Company, at 630 W. Lake. This building used to be Zepf’s Hall, the meeting place of the Lumbershovers’ Union. It was this lumberyard workers’ union that had asked August Spies to speak at their strike rally at the McCormick plant May 3. Spies, a dedicated Socialist and editor of the German-language workers’ paper Arbeiter-Zeitung, was the first labor activist to mount the speakers’ wagon at the Haymarket protest meeting the following evening. Like the second speaker, Socialist Labor Party and union leader Albert Parsons, Spies was later executed for his alleged involvement in the Haymarket affair. (Militant Methodist lay preacher Samuel Fielden was addressing the crowd when the bomb went off; he was arrested, convicted, and later pardoned.)
The third-floor meetinghall of the old Zepf’s Hall is still intact, though it’s now used to store stage lighting equipment. At one time the ILHS hoped to turn the building into a labor history museum. A 1988 effort to designate the building a Chicago historic landmark failed when the owner of the Grand Stage Lighting Company rejected the idea; conferring landmark status on the building would’ve put it under strict rehabilitation restrictions.
Part of “Crane’s Alley” is still there too, 30 or 40 feet north of Randolph on the east side of Desplaines. The speakers’ wagon had been set up a few feet north of the alley, near the front of the Crane Plumbing Company; the bomb came from a few feet south of the alley. The Crane Plumbing Company was one of the largest factories in Chicago at the time. Company owner Richard Crane, who opposed unions and shorter working hours and often hired strikebreakers during labor disputes, would later head the fund-raising committee for the police monument.
After the Crane factory burned down in the mid-80s, the ILHS had recommended to the Landmarks Commission that a small park bearing a monument to freedom of speech and assembly and to the struggle for the eight-hour day be erected on the site. But nothing ever came of that idea, either.
The Haymarket Eight aren’t entirely forgotten; their names are inscribed on a monument in a plaza in the town of Matehuala, Mexico. Diego Rivera painted a mural in Mexico City’s Palace of Justice showing scenes of the riot, the conspiracy trial, and the “Black Friday” execution.
In the city of Chicago? Only Paula’s Haymarket Restaurant and Saloon, on Randolph just east of Desplaines; the Haymarket Urban Mass Transportation Substation, on the southeast corner of Randolph and Desplaines; and the nearby Haymarket House social service center, 120 N. Sangamon, keep the memory alive.
Although Governor Altgeld and Chicago mayor Carter Harrison later criticized the police for cracking down on the assembled workers, as Adelman points out in Haymarket Revisited, public sympathy lay with the forces of law and order; the Chicago Tribune easily succeeded in its campaign to raise over $10,000 for a statue “to glorify the police action.” The so-called “Committee of Twenty-Five,” a group of Chicago businessmen headed by Richard Crane, were charged with overseeing the commission.
John Gelert, a 35-year-old sculptor who had studied in Copenhagen, Paris, and Rome, arrived in Chicago from his native Denmark in 1887–just in time to compete for the Haymarket Riot Monument design. (He would later do a bronze portrait of Hans Christian Andersen and a bust of Beethoven, both installed in Lincoln Park; the latter was stolen in 1970.) According to A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture by Ira J. Bach and Mary Lackritz Gray, Gelert wanted to portray the law as a female figure holding an open book over her head. But when the committee selected Gelert to execute the design in 1888, they insisted on the statue of a policeman with an upraised arm. Gelert modeled his life-size bronze, dressed in typical 19th-century uniform, after Thomas Birmingham, an officer he’d seen directing traffic outside the Union League Club, where he’d gone to pick up his commission. (As his project progressed, Gelert was forced to use other models as well, because Birmingham was often drunk and couldn’t hold his head up. Some years later Birmingham was thrown off the force for working with crooks and selling stolen goods. He became a skid-row denizen and petty thief and died at the county hospital in 1912.)
The committee members were horrified by the sculptor’s clay model: the statue looked Irish, and they wanted a Waspy cop. But Gelert refused to change it. The police monument was erected on a tall pedestal in the middle of Haymarket Square and dedicated on May 30, Memorial Day, 1889; 176 policemen–the same number that had massed near the square three years earlier–took part in the ceremony. Two thousand people watched as the 17-year-old son of Mathias Degan, the only policeman killed immediately by the bomb blast, unveiled the statue. Mayor DeWitt Cregier said: “May it stand here unblemished so long as the metropolis shall endure.”
Little did he know.
A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture reports that by 1900 the statue had become such a traffic hazard–it was smack-dab in the middle of Randolph Street–that it was moved west to Randolph and Ogden, in Union Park. In May 1903, the crests of the city and state were stolen from the statue’s base.
On May 4, 1927, the 41st anniversary of the Haymarket tragedy–and the first anniversary since the riot that the police survivors had failed to assemble at the statue (though there were still 23 alive)–a most curious thing happened. A speeding westbound streetcar carrying 20 passengers left the tracks and smashed into the monument, knocking the statue off its base. Two girls cut by flying glass were taken to the hospital. Some historical accounts of the accident say that the driver was named “O’Neil” and that he hit the statue on purpose because he said he was sick of seeing the policeman with his arm raised; a Tribune story about the wreck identified the motorman as William Schultz and reported that his air brakes had failed and that he had escaped with a broken ankle. It didn’t say anything about his not liking the statue.
The monument was repaired in 1928. It was moved around Union Park several times as streets were widened or moved, finally ending up on Jackson Boulevard; it remained there, apparently unmolested, for three decades. In 1957 the Haymarket Businessmen’s Association brought the statue back to the Haymarket district, hoping it would promote tourism in the area. The newly sandblasted statue was set atop a special platform built for it during construction of the Kennedy expressway, on the northeast corner of Randolph and the Kennedy (where the base remains).
On May 5, 1965, the City Council denominated the monument–and only the monument–a historic landmark. The original plaque listing the names of the seven dead policemen had been stolen or lost in transit, so the Haymarket Businessmen’s Association installed a rectangular plaque on the base when they rededicated the statue on May 4, 1966. This plaque would be stolen in the mid-1980s.
During the social and political upheavals of the late 60s and 70s, the Haymarket Riot Monument became a symbol for police oppression–and a frequent target, hard and soft, for a newer wave of radical protesters. Writes Adelman: “With the coming of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Marches of the 1960s, police brutality during the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, the ‘Chicago Eight Conspiracy Trial’ and Watergate, many people began to look again at the ‘Haymarket Affair’ and what it should have taught us.”
On May 4, 1968, the statue was defaced with black paint following an incident at the Civic Center, where Vietnam War demonstrators faced off with the police. On October 6, 1969, someone placed several sticks of dynamite between the bronze policeman’s legs, toppling the major part of the statue from its pedestal and throwing chunks of the legs onto the northbound lanes of the Kennedy. The blast also blew out about 100 windows in nearby buildings. (No one was injured.) Mayor Richard J. Daley called the bombing an “act of disrespect” toward the police and an “attack on all the citizens of Chicago.” Sergeant Richard Barrett, president of the Chicago Police Sergeants Association, blamed the bombing on leftist groups (a few days later the memorial would be the starting point of a march to Grant Park by the Students for a Democratic Society), and said that it was now a matter of “kill or be killed” for the police. “The blowing up of the only police monument in the United States . . . is an obvious declaration of war between the police and the SDS and other anarchist groups,” Barrett said. Police Superintendent James Conlisk, however, said that Barrett wasn’t speaking for the Police Department when he declared all-out war. Barrett’s statement, said Conlisk, was “irrational, irresponsible, and not condoned by this department. Nor does it reflect the attitude of the men of this department.”
The bombing was investigated in connection with several bomb threats made to the Dirksen federal building, where the Chicago Eight were on trial for conspiracy to incite riots during the Democratic National Convention. (Coincidentally, the August ’68 riot had occurred in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel’s Haymarket Bar.)
Mayor Daley vowed to replace the statue. WGN radio announcer Wally Phillips led the restoration drive, eventually raising $5,500 from private individuals, police associations, and the city. On May 4, 1970 (the same day National Guardsmen killed four student protesters at Kent State), Daley unveiled the newly repaired statue, telling an audience of about 500 people, many of them Chicago and suburban cops: “This is the only statue of a policeman in the world. The policeman is not perfect, but he is as fine an individual as any other citizen. Let the younger generation know that the policeman is their friend, and to those who want to take law into their own hands, let them know that we won’t tolerate it.” The mayor also said: “Violence begets violence. This statue was destroyed by violence and parts of it landed on the expressway named in honor of a president who died by violence.”
On October 6, 1970–exactly one year after the first bombing–the statue was bombed again. The next day federal authorities released a letter purported to have been written by members of the Youth International Party’s Weathermen faction. Part of the letter, which had a Chicago postmark, read: “A year ago we blew away the Haymarket pig statue. Last night we destroyed the pig again. This time it begins a fall offensive of youth resistance.” The letter went on to say: “We are not just ‘attacking targets’–we are bringing a pitiful helpless giant to its knees.” The missive was signed by Bernardine Dohrn, Jeff Jones, and Bill Ayers, who were then sought by police on a variety of bombing charges.
When the statue was restored again, Mayor Daley ordered a 24-hour police guard that cost the city $67,440 a year. (Nothing ever came of somewhat fanciful proposals to put a plastic dome over the memorial or to fashion a series of replaceable fiberglass statues.) The ILHS then suggested to the mayor, in a letter, that the statue be moved to “a more fitting and secure location.” In February 1972, the statue was quietly removed from its base and placed in the Central Police Station at 11th and State streets. The statue remained in the police headquarters lobby until October 1976, when it was finally moved to the newly built Chicago Police Training Center. Installed along with the statue was a new base and a replica of the 1966 plaque bearing the names of the seven dead policemen; the other one had been left behind at the old base.
During the first weekend of May 1986, on the 100th anniversary of the Haymarket bombing, Chicago served as the stage for both the Haymarket ’86 Anarchists Gathering and commemorative events organized by the city-sanctioned Haymarket Centennial Committee. Five hundred anarchists from 28 groups around the world took part in what one participant called “the most significant anarchist event held in America in years.” Predictably, the weekend was not without its confrontations and acts of civil disobedience.
On Friday, May 2, a hundred or so anarchists gathered behind a large black flag. According to newspaper accounts, they began at the Dirksen federal building, marched through the financial district, paused at the IBM building, then wended their way to the Tribune Tower and the South African consulate before heading north along the Magnificent Mile. Splinter groups stopped at Neiman-Marcus, Gucci (where they chanted “Eat the rich, feed the poor”), and Water Tower Place, where they were barred by police (and locked doors) from entering. Somebody burned an American flag. Thirty-eight marchers–12 women, 25 men, and a young girl–were arrested on charges of mob action and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors. Police said that most of them refused to be fingerprinted, and 29 refused to give their names.
Early Sunday afternoon, several hundred people gathered for a Haymarket Centennial Committee event in Pioneer Court, outside the Tribune Tower. There were three hours of speeches and songs to commemorate the Haymarket affair and to show solidarity for three production unions that had then been striking against the Tribune for about ten months. After the rally, the group–with a handful of anarchists holding up the rear–marched to the old Haymarket Square for a 4 PM ceremony.
Earlier in the day, there’d been a confrontation between an ILHS-organized contingent and a few dozen anarchists at Forest Home Cemetery. “They’d been there since the morning and were sitting all over the place,” Les Orear recalls. “They had draped the [Haymarket Martyrs] monument with a black flag and claimed it for their own. Our people started gathering in the afternoon. When it came time for our ceremony, we asked them to take down the flag. But they said no. I asked to talk to their leader. They said, ‘We don’t have a leader.'” When Orear tried to pull the flag off the statue, he was headlocked and pulled away, injuring his back. “Anyway, we went ahead with our meeting. They just wanted a place to speak, and we said they could have all the meetings they wanted after ours.”
The ILHS and modern-day anarchists have some of the same goals: a wider recognition of the worker martyrs and of the cause for which they were executed and incarcerated. “The difference really is that they like to claim the monument for their anarchist philosophy, and they’re interested in preserving the memory of the anarchists martyred,” says Orear. “Their general line is that we don’t give the [1880s] anarchists enough credit. We choose to emphasize that the martyrs were trade union leaders, and their leadership in the demand for an eight-hour day. We claim Haymarket for the eight-hour-day movement. They claim Haymarket for the anarchist movement.”
That’s why Adelman’s book Haymarket Revisited–despite its unabashed progressive, prolabor slant–is anathema to some contemporary anarchists: they view it as an example of the organized labor movement co-opting late-19th-century anarchist beliefs. Adelman, who was one of Haymarket Centennial Committee’s main organizers, says his life was threatened a few months before the anniversary weekend. “A small group of these people who called themselves real true anarchists but appeared to be skinheads” harassed him at a downtown restaurant in February, saying, “We’re gonna get you in May!” Bodyguards were provided for him during the May 4 ceremonies, but nothing came of the threat. Adelman says the group that threatened him objected to the fact that his committee had chosen to work with the “establishment”–church groups, the mayor’s office, the governor. “They said that I was doing it the wrong way,” he recalls. “They said we should storm city hall and hold the mayor’s office hostage.”
He adds, “I really want to stress that it was only a small faction of these people who caused all the trouble. We’ve worked in the past with anarchist groups, anarchists in the tradition of the Haymarket martyrs. We did everything we could to compromise with them, because we wanted [the Haymarket Centennial Committee] to be representative of all groups, from the middle of the road to the far left. But because of my book and the fact that I was active on many [committees], I became the focal point and someone they criticized.”
Also in 1986, Adelman says, he happened to mention to a church group that he knew what happened to the 1966 plaque listing the names of the seven dead policemen, which had been stolen from the police-monument base a year or so before: it was now enshrined at a community center in Nicaragua. (It still is, presumably.)
“Anyway, somebody wrote a letter to the police, or something,” he says. “A plainclothesman came to my university office and questioned me about it. I said, ‘It’s not true I took it.’ He started laughing, and said, ‘Well, we have to investigate these things.'”
The Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument in Forest Home Cemetery is less a publicly accessible historical monument than a decorative grave obelisk. The cemetery, formerly known as German Waldheim Cemetery, is right off the Eisenhower Expressway in Forest Park. When the monument, by sculptor Albert Weinert, was dedicated in June 1893, more than 8,000 people were present, many of them foreign visitors attending the Columbian Exposition who took special trains to the event. There were speeches in English, German, Bohemian, and Polish. The monument shows the female figure of Justice marching toward the future, one hand on her sword, the other placing a laurel wreath on the head of a fallen worker hero. The inscription is taken from “La Marseillaise,” France’s national anthem, which Albert Parsons had sung on his way to the gallows: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.”
Seven of the eight Haymarket martyrs are buried beside the monument: August Spies, Albert Parsons, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer, all put to death November 11, 1887; Louis Lingg, who committed suicide (some say he was murdered) via a dynamite cap in his cell while awaiting trial; and Michael Schwab and Oscar Neebe, two of the three men pardoned by Governor Altgeld a day after the Martyrs’ Monument was dedicated. Samuel Fielden, the last of the eight to die, in 1922, was also pardoned. He’s said to be buried at his former ranch in Colorado.
The Martyrs’ Monument, held in trust by the ILHS, was rededicated in a centennial observance this past June 26. The main speaker was Heinrich Nuhn, author of a popular biography of August Spies recently published in Germany. In his speech, Nuhn compared the racist xenophobia prevalent in the U.S. toward German immigrants in 1886 to the recent neofascist hate crimes against Turks and other foreigners in Germany. The ceremony concluded with the laying of flowers at the monument.
“The monument,” proclaims ILHS literature made available at the ceremony, “can be seen as a reminder that a great movement for a more humane workplace was also strangled with the Martyrs. When we gather in its presence, we also recall the untold millions of working men and women whose unremitting toil and suffering was prolonged for more than 40 years by the Tragedy of the Haymarket.”
There’s also a statue of John Peter Altgeld (1847-1902) in Chicago. It’s in Lincoln Park, south of Diversey and just west of Lake Shore Drive. The sculpture–which shows the governor protecting the crouching figures of a man, woman, and child, representing labor–was created by Gutzon Borglum (of Mount Rushmore fame) and dedicated on Labor Day in 1915.
Altgeld was elected with strong labor and farm backing in 1892. The first Democratic governor of Illinois since the Civil War, he sacrificed his political career in the name of Haymarket justice. Though Jane Addams, William Jennings Bryan, and Altgeld’s onetime law partner Clarence Darrow later eulogized him as a man who championed the rights of Illinois workers, Altgeld was vilified by the press and the establishment as an un-American anarchist and German-born radical when he freed the three men convicted at the Haymarket trial. “Although he promoted social reform legislation,” says A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture, “his declaration that the Haymarket ‘rioters’ had not received a fair trial . . . aroused such public wrath that he was not reelected and died impoverished and forgotten in 1902.”
The story goes that a local municipal art commission had objected to the Altgeld statue’s content and aesthetics, even though a model had been displayed at the Art Institute for a year prior to its installation in the park. Labor leaders blamed the commission for being part of the same conservative cabal that had condemned Altgeld as an anarchist. Mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson settled the matter by sacking the commission he himself had appointed. “The statue looks good to me,” he said, “and the commission doesn’t.” The dedication took place on time.
While it’s suggested that you call ahead to the Chicago Police Department’s News Affairs Division to make an appointment to see the Haymarket Riot Monument at the Police Training Center, there’s an off chance you can see it if you just walk in off the street–like I did not long ago. There’s also a full-size plaster replica of the statue at the American Police Center and Museum, at 1717 S. State.) The information-desk staffers directed me to a woman across the hall, who turned out to be helpful but a tad wary. Despite my apprehensions, I wasn’t frisked, visitor-ID-tagged, or walked through a metal detector–though my eventual police escort, who didn’t want her name used, did dart her eyes when I reached, perhaps too quickly, into my back pocket for a notepad.
“This is, after all, a police facility,” she said, leading me down the hall to the left of the main entrance, “and you’re not allowed to just walk right through here. You can’t just walk around the Central Police Station, either. But we haven’t had any problems. We’ve had classrooms in here, and not long ago, an ancestor of one of the policemen who got killed came in and laid some flowers on the statue. If it stays here, it’s taken care of. Let’s face it: you and I both know that if it was still [in the Haymarket area] it would be covered with graffiti, and whatever else.”
She opened a door, and there it was.
The monument is situated in the center of the academy’s courtyard garden, a shady rectangular space that holds trees, shrubs, flowers, and picnic tables. The garden is surrounded on three sides by office windows. The courtyard, my escort explained, is used for graduations and awards ceremonies: cops have their pictures taken with the bluish green statue in the background. It stands about ten feet high including its marble base and looks south. The mustached policeman is attired in characteristic late-19th-century full-dress uniform, with helmet and knee-length coat. In person, the statue yields sculptural details not apparent in photo reproductions, such as the “CCP”–City of Chicago Police–on the belt buckle and the ornately carved billy-club handle. A few of the coat’s buttons are unbuttoned. Here’s the sculptor’s signature, on the side: “J. Gelert 1888.” The cop’s slightly raised gaze is solemn and steady, not that of a man engaged in the saber-rattling heat of battle; his calm eyes, stance, and mouth lend the statue a noble character–less menacing than I had been led to believe. Though the monument has suffered through decades of trial and tribulation and has been repaired numerous times, it doesn’t look much worse for the wear. It has survived.
The plaque at the foot of the statue reads: “Standing in memory of seven Chicago Police officers martyred in the anarchist riot of May 4, 1886. Mathias Degan. Timothy Flavin. John J. Barrett. Michael Sheehan. George M. Miller. Nels Hansen. Thomas Redden.”
The matter of just who was martyred and why is likely to be debated for years, if not decades, to come. And if Eduardo Galeano comes back to Randolph and Desplaines in a couple years, it’s hoped he’ll see that this city of factories and workers hasn’t forgotten.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Mike Tappin.