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Ghosts Of The Haymarket Riots

 

Ghosts of the Haymarket Massacre
by Barek Halfhand

 The Carter Harrison (Sr.) administration saw it’s share of turmoil during his stint as Chicago mayor…The nation’s first prolific serial killer; H.H. Holmes prowled the periphery of the 1893 Columbian Exposition (White City) to prey upon tourists, urban transplants and transients…ironically Mayor Harrison would be murdered by a political anarchist in the foyer of his Ashland Avenue mansion mere days before he was to address the festival crowd during the closing ceremony of the fair and a few months after the three remaining Haymarket anarchists/activists were officially granted a gubernatorial pardon…

 The Columbian Exposition Fair that was a gargantuan undertaking of a project, fraught with engineering flaws, architectural adversity, political stalemates, labor deputes and uncompromising deadlines that many doubted could be met concurrent with the scheduled grand opening …Sadly while the unmatched success of the fair was collectively viewed by many as a symbolic epoch in the industrial evolution and a cultural renaissance unilaterally, the social unrest, political upheaval and labor relations tumult that so divided the city and ended his first term a mere 7 years earlier revisited the mayor one last time by way of a lone gunman on Oct 28th 1893 abruptly ending his second term and life at the age of 68… His son; Harrison Carter Jr., would be later elected 1911 for a single four year run…

The old adage about “history repeating itself” while cliche to some, is often a poignant reminder of how current events can so closely parallel those of over a century ago… 2011 saw the “Occupy America” movement and with it the rhetoric that often included references to anarchy, socialist ideology, civil disobedience, economic reform, political unrest and allegations of police brutality. While the Haymarket Riot/Affair/Massacre incident ultimately changed the popular perception of protest organizers to many, a case of simple mis-communication and poor editorial judgement by organizers became the focal point of prosecutorial evidence intended to vilify the labor organizers following the Haymarket disaster  ….a single word (revenge!) that was later cited as incendiary was inadvertently printed in bold at the top of number of flyers circulated to announce the organized protest/meeting at Haymarket Square …it was later alleged that this may have inspired the premeditated assembly of pipe bombs and generally served as the catalyst to the violence that transpired on that infamous day in Chicago history and union solidarity…

Mayor Carter Harrison attended the planned “Haymarket Meeting” on Tuesday May 4, 1886 with the implied intention of quelling any resurgent violence in the wake of the McCormick’s Reaper Works factory incident…a volatile clash between striking workers and replacement “scabs”at the company that would later be renamed “International Harvester” erupted in violence with police intervening leaving one worker dead and several injured…Mayor Harrison hoped his presence would help to mitigate the growing animosity between organized labor and the police in the wake of the previous day’s debacle and perhaps even help to usage the growing polarization between organized labor and what they collectively viewed as tyrannical, autocratic local business leaders insensitive to the plight of the common working man and blinded by thier own elitism ans overt avarice…Outspoken  Businessmen and entrepreneurs such as Cyrus McCormick and Marshall Field, both staunchly sacrosanct industrialists, were diametrically opposed to what they perceived as these labor activists being little more than mob mentality trouble makers and subversives. The pragmatic and at times hubristic Mayor Harrison steadfastly believed his innate predilection for mediation and arbitration may be able to minimize tensions on both sides of the table and in the instance of Haymarket, he overestimated the calming effect his mere presence would have at this potentially volatile meeting  …A standardized 8 hour workday would not finally be adopted nationally until 1939 but the 10-12 hour mandatory workdays in hot factories and absence of healthcare benefits was primarily at the root of the worker objections and the basis for the strike at the Reaper Works plant …

If a single imprudently printed word “REVENGE!” boldly effacing the 25,000 flyers that were distributed  heralding the Haymarket Meeting was to blame for the chaos that ensued that fateful May evening is still the subject of speculation and protracted debate…The labor activist/anarchist; August Spies who drafted the flyer, 2 publishers of the IWPA newsprint (International Working People’s Association) and five others would find themselves co defendants in one of the most celebrated civil disobedience court cases of the late 19th century …The May 5th assembly on Des Plaines Ave. drew a crowd of close to 1500-2000 attendees despite the inclement cold and rainy weather …original estimates projected possible crowd in excess of 20,000 strong and few seem to be able to agree on how the meeting may have played out had the weather been more hospitable…

The crowd was relatively sedate during the scheduled speeches but tempers flared when the a phalanx of police began to mobilize and disperse the crowd and in defiance of Mayor Harrison’s directives issued to the police chief in the interest of defusing another potentially volatile situation, the police were reportedly more aggressive and surly than necessary …witnesses describe a wide arching trajectory object with a telltale smoke trail flying in the direction of the police where the improvisational pipe-bomb explosive detonated with a “crack” sending a diameter of shredding shrapnel into in to the advancing police unit…while it is unclear if any of the 7 police casualties were the direct result of the bomb, the stunned police unit immediately opened fire in the general direction of the crowd which in the end resulted in the death of seven police officers, four attendees/civilians and the injury of 60 or more others…most if not all of the 7 police fatalities are theorized to be resultant of confused, misdirected shooting from other police officers firing indiscriminately into the crowd…

An period of over-reactionary panic ensued and hundreds were said to be arrested, detained, beaten, interrogated and coerced into confessions…at first there was an element of public outrage against the “anarchists” in the weeks following the Haymarket incident as the police officials and newspapers labeled the labor activists as seditious union agitators, subversives and even revolutionary terrorists intent on destabilizing the entire capitalist infrastructure … In all, 8 were eventually charged with conspiring to commit murder and inciting a riot based on what is today unilaterally agreed to be completely fabricated evidence…7 were convicted, 4 were hanged, one committed suicide in Cook County Jail’s Death-Row and 3 were eventually pardoned by Governor Altgeld in an act of clemency that irreparably damaged his political career and questionably labeled him as “anarchist friendly”…

The trial itself was a celebrated media circus and public attitudes started to swing in the favor of the defendants even elevating them to rock-star popularity and some, ultimately martyrdom in the eyes of the working class  …One of the four that was hung; August Spies (the evening’s first speaker at Haymarket) even cultivated a romantic courtship with an admirer with whom he corresponded and married in prison before his execution in 1887…Another of the Haymarket Meetings’ scheduled speakers; Albert Parsons a member of the labor/socialist party and one of the two publishers on trial responsible for the infamous incendiary “revenge!” flyer turned himself in by walking into the courtroom after returning from Wisconsin where pre-extradition laws insulated him from a prosecution many felt was unjust…Parsons waived petitioning and appealing to the rubric of then Governor Oglesby to request commuting his sentence despite the pleas of many for him to do so and instead insisted on sharing the fate of his colleagues…He is still commemorated today by many for his noble act of self sacrifice in what he viewed as in the best interest of the common working man for which he fought so tirelessly…Albeit a Socialist ideologue Parsons earned his name on “The Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument” in near west suburban Forest Park in the historic and scenic Forest Home Cemetery…His name is etched in the rear of the edifice along with August Spies,  Adolf Fischer (Haymarket organizer), George Engel (labor leader who also refused to plea for a commuted sentence) and Louis Lingg (radical activist connected to the bomb making, but did not attend the Haymarket meeting)  …  

The Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument was the first stop on this dual location excursion …So many times in the past I would be sitting on the traffic choked Eisenhower Expressway, (the “Ike”) one of the main arteries into the city, gazing absent-mindedly into the gothic old cemetery grounds that is literally bordered by the shoulder of the highway and a chainlink fence…The front gate is unremarkable but actually has a monument showroom attached to the front office left of the entrance of in the manicured expanse of the cemetery ground beyond there looked to be an even seeming balance of both modest markers and elaborately confected memorials…the unmistakable trumpeting of horns immediately caught my attention and rolling down my window to pinpoint the source, I noticed a crowd congregating in the southwest corner and giving care not to disrupt the proceedings it didn’t take long to determine this was a Mexican funeral in progress …the 4-5 uniformed Mariachi band members stood off to the rear of the assembled semicircle of mourners and the festive, upbeat tempo of the music seemed to be anything but mournful… in retrospection I was intrigued by the celebratory atmosphere of the interment proceedings, most cultures and popular religions seem to view death as transitory, or spiritually gradient in some capacity (depending on the individual) so why not treat death as a graduation ceremony as opposed to a ritual of termination and life cessation? …

The Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument itself almost has a menacing aesthetic from a distance with it’s shrouded entity with an incapacitated man at her feet…The reaper-esque looking figure was crafted to represent the female incarnation of “Justice” and the fallen figure a worker …the front base of the monument displays the final words shouted by August Spies before they dropped the trapdoor   The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today”…an impromptu syllogism that in many ways came to fruition …Assorted union and “on strike” buttons
are placed at the base on both sides…the monument was assigned the distinction of a national historic marker in 1997

The Forest Home cemetery property was purchased from the Pottawatomie Native Americans near the end of the Black Hawk War and is rich with history and legend …accounts of Native Americans returning to the site to visit burial mounds uncovered by archeologists at the site around the turn of century are unconfirmed but nonetheless intriguing…A jail even stood on property prior to expansion endeavors and a narrow wooden bridge over the Des Plaines River connects the original cemetery from the later acquired annex …the statues and markers close to the expressway on the north side all seem to have a tarnished discoloration likely the result of years of soot and pollution rolling off the “Ike”…the row of crypts embedded in a grass topped mound towards the center of the main grounds are all either boarded up or devoid of windows at this point and but the 19th century designs and encircling red-brick road segregating them from the rest of the cemetery are surprisingly well preserved …Forest Home Cemetery is beguiling in its’ stunning beauty and historic significance but it also rife with ominous energies and fleeting phantasms…geographically this area is kind of a threshold between the sedate, predominately safe, bedroom community suburbs and the often mercurial demographic of the near west border towns…census data confirms that there are in fact, more dead people residing in Forest Park Illinois than living …

As planned, I have been plotting more articles featuring sites from downtown Chicago (stay tuned for another couple of haunted hotels and other locations in “The Loop”)…years of working downtown in the past has created a subconscious aversion to making the relatively short trip especially with the implementation of new parking meter rates and surreptitiously placed “red light cameras”…the early afternoon, light weekend traffic made for a pleasant ride save for the sports radio commentary chronicling yet another Bears loss…the Haymarket area is right off the I-90 so I deprived myself of the scenic Lake Shore Drive skyline in favor of convenient accessibility…the low hanging, overcast cloud cover obscured the taller of skyscrapers leaving a little under half of Sears Tower visible nearby…

I felt a sense of nostalgia for these cold Chicago morning/afternoons when as a season ticket holder, many a fall and early winter Sundays were spent at Soldier Field…I quickly shook myself from the reminiscent fugue when I saw my exit rapidly rolling up on the right…city driving is can be tricky but it’s an art once mastered seldom goes extinct by way of disuse and I quickly found myself joyfully tearing around the city blocks with reckless abandon like a seasoned cabbie once again …the site of the riot is almost unrecognizable today but turning the corner under the elevated railway tracks of Lake Street, you can still see some of the original buildings amid those newer and renovated …the Haymarket memorial came into focus and I stopped for a few photos then promptly retreating to my ride before a notorious “parking enforcement official” left an early Christmas card under my windshield wiper…the 2-3 lone pedestrians/joggers/dog-walkers and the limited intermittent pack of cars that rolled by while I was standing near the memorial made it hard to imagine such a large assembly on this spot and the chaos that ensued …Local artist Mary Brogger crafted the bronze impressionistic artwork which depicts a number of featureless effigies supporting a platform on which 3-4 other figures are performing various activities related to labor, activism, enterprise, civil service and the periodic turmoil in between ..the memorial was commissioned by the City of Chicago, The Illinois Federation of Labor History, Chicago FOP and the Chicago Dept. of
Transportation in 2004…it sits on the precise spot where the wagon was parked that served as a platform for the Haymarket speakers to address the crowd…

I considered stopping by the Jane Addams Hull House which was close by but elected to save that for another time when I could devote my entire focus on the location it so rightfully deserves..I heard the distinct click-clack of horse shoes on pavement as I settled into my vehicle but it abruptly stopped when I stepped back out to look for a novelty carriage or mounted police officer that would be generally be  unusual to see this far west and spotting neither…I also dismissed loud “bang” I heard as a car backfiring ….

Here’s the related YouTube video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ-gejsrH1g

 

Here are the (compressed to 1MB) photos…some have been slightly sharpened or color enhanced (12-2011) 94 total….b
http://s473.photobucket.com/albums/rr97/BarekHalfhand/The%20Haymarket%20Riot/

 

Comments (2)
  1. Reap / Reply December 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Hey what part of Chicago are you in? I have friends there I go to visit every summer. We should do lunch. I have some friends in Joliet too, they’ve never heard of you though :(

  2. NeonKraze / Reply January 3, 2012 at 6:37 am

    well damn son! I love great stories! if you have any that have personally happened to you can you help out by posting them on one of my websites http://www.paranormalgathering.com ? It would be great :) it’s a forum and there aren;t any ads!




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