May Day Mecca

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Print

By JOHN RICE

It's the Statue of Liberty for workers around the world," Larry Spivack said, describing the Haymarket Martyrs Monument in Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park. Spivack, an Oak Park resident, is president of the Illinois Labor History Society. The society is hosting a ceremony at the memorial on May 1, at 1 p.m., to observe the 125th anniversary of the Haymarket tragedy. The ceremony will also celebrate the monument's restoration and the release of a booklet containing biographies of those buried alongside it.

The traditional May Day observance on behalf of workers' rights can be traced back to May 1, 1886, when 80,000 workers marched down Michigan Avenue, demanding the workday be shortened to eight hours. Albert and Lucy Parsons organized the demonstration. Two days later, 35,000 workers demonstrated at the McCormick Reaper Plant. Chicago Police fired on them. To protest the killings, Albert scheduled a rally at Haymarket Square, where 2,500 attended the peaceful meeting on May 4. Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden addressed the crowd from a wagon. Mayor Carter Henry Harrison attended the rally. Seeing no trouble, he turned his horse toward home. Only 200 protesters were left standing in the cold rain when 176 police officers armed with rifles marched into the square.

A dynamite bomb was suddenly tossed into the police ranks. In the wild shooting that followed, police bullets killed six officers and four workers were also slain. A single officer died from wounds from the bomb.

The bomber was never identified but eight members of the labor movement were arrested for conspiracy to incite violence. At the conclusion of a notorious trial, four of the defendants were hanged on Nov. 11, 1887. The only cemetery that would accept their remains was in Forest Park.

Two years after their burial, at labor's 2nd International in Paris, May 1st was set aside as International Labor Day in memory of the Haymarket martyrs. Labor Day is still celebrated on May 1st in every country save the United States.

Following the hangings, Lucy Parsons started the Pioneer Aid and Support Organization to help the widows and orphans. The organization also commissioned sculptor Albert Weinert to create a monument to the martyrs. Weinert designed the work based on a verse from the final song sung by the martyrs, the "Marseillaise." He gave his female figure of Justice the face of Marianne, the symbol of the French Revolution.

The monument was dedicated on June 25, 1893. The next day, Governor Peter Altgeld pardoned the surviving Haymarket defendants. The words of his courageous ruling are preserved on a bronze plaque on the back of the monument.

On May 2, 1971, the last surviving member of the Pioneer Aid Society, Irwin Abrams, presented the deed to the monument to the Illinois Labor History Society (ILHS), an organization co-founded by renowned author Studs Terkel and Oak Park resident William Adelman.

Through the years, the site served as labor's most sacred soil, while the memorial became the only cemetery sculpture to be designated a National Historic Landmark. However, the years were not kind to the monument. A bronze floral piece was stolen from the base and a bronze plaque unbolted from the back. Graffiti marred the granite and green streaks made the statue of Justice appear more forbidding than formidable.

The ILHS decided to raise $100,000 for the monument's restoration. They contracted with world-renowned conservator, Andrzej Dajnowski, whose workshop was located only a few hundred yards from the monument.

Dajnowski found the work to be a challenge. "The bronze sculpture had been cleaned very aggressively," he said, "leaving behind green streaks of oxidation." Graffiti and stains also had to be removed from the granite. Well-meaning visitors, who left behind bouquets of flowers and metal buttons, had caused the marks. The most challenging task was to replace the missing floral piece.

The conservator was greatly aided in his task by Forest Park resident Mark Rogovin, who found a foot-long section of the floral piece in the bushes near the grave of one of the martyr's widows. Dajnowksi used this piece, along with vintage photographs, to guide him in crafting a replacement. The piece was detailed and complex. Dajnowski and his crew labored through 11 stages of development before the piece was finally cast in bronze.

Meanwhile, Rogovin was updating his booklet, "The Day Will Come," honoring the martyrs and those who chose its shadow for their final resting place. He moved to Forest Park in 1985 and Forest Home Cemetery quickly became his favorite haunt. He was especially struck by its connection to the labor movement, with large sections containing the graves of union workers.

1n 1992, Rogovin teamed with Joe Powers, an Oak Park resident, to complete the first edition of "The Day Will Come."

"It was a treasure hunt to make the connections and find the graves related to the Haymarket martyrs," Rogovin recalled. The hunt took two years, and the booklet also includes biographies of those who have their ashes scattered at the site.

As the restoration proceeded and the anniversary approached, Rogovin spent a year updating the booklet. He expects many relatives of the radicals he profiled to attend the ceremony, May 1, and plans to offer some remarks.

"I'll talk about the significance of May Day and Haymarket," Rogovin said, "and its connection to present day labor struggles."

At the forefront of today's labor battles, Spivack serves as regional director for the American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees (AFSME). He believes there is a great deal of ignorance about unions and the gains they have made for the American worker. He's hoping the Haymarket anniversary will raise awareness about the benefits labor has won, such as the eight-hour day, workmen's compensation and pensions. It will also reveal to local residents a historic treasure they may have overlooked.

The May 1 ceremony is among a number of anniversary activities the ILHS is hosting. These include a panel discussion at the Haymarket Brewery & Pub, a re-enactment at Haymarket Square and a Special May Day Concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Folk music will also be heard at Forest Home Cemetery, including a rendition of the "Marseillaise."

Spivack illustrated the international importance of the Haymarket Martyrs Monument with a brief story. He recently met with two trade unionists from South America who had just survived a brutal strike. They immediately asked to visit the monument. Having fled Columbia, it was the first place outside their country that they wanted to see.

The title of the booklet "The Day Will Come" comes from the inscription at the base of the Haymarket Martyrs Monument: "The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today." These were the last words spoken by August Spies from the gallows. Spies is among the five Haymarket Martyrs who are buried at the monument.

The most prominent martyr was Albert R. Parsons, a printer who came to Chicago with his wife Lucy in 1873. Parsons was an active member of two unions and edited an anarchist newspaper, "The Alarm." When police rounded up his fellow defendants, Parsons fled to Wisconsin. His lawyer later persuaded Parsons to turn himself in. Parsons' final address to the court consumed eight hours. At the end, he recounted how he willingly left the safety of Wisconsin to surrender. His last sentence was "I have nothing, not even now, to regret."

George Engel opened a toy store in Chicago in 1876. He became active in the anarchist movement and a supporter of the eight-hour day movement. He was not at the Haymarket meeting but attended two labor meetings prior to the Haymarket rally. His last words to the court were, "As to my conviction, brought about as it was, through capitalistic influence, I have not one word to say."

Samuel Fielden was a native of England who spent his childhood working in a textile plant. He became active in the labor movement in Chicago and also led the city's largest atheist group. Fielden had not intended to speak at the Haymarket, but was a last-minute substitute. When Fielden received his life sentence, he said that he regretted he wasn't going to be hanged with the others. Governor Altgeld pardoned him in 1893. He is the only Haymarket defendant not buried in Forest Home cemetery.

Adolph Fischer was a German immigrant who worked for the anarchist daily Arbeiter-Zeitung, edited by August Spies. He helped plan the Haymarket gathering but was not present when the bomb went off. In his final address to the court, he said, "You will find it impossible to kill a principle, although you may take the life of men who confess these principles."

Louis Lingg was only 23 years old when he died from a mysterious explosion in his cell the night before he was to be hanged. Lingg had worked as an organizer for the carpenters' union and was clubbed by police at the McCormick Reaper protest. His last words to the judicial authorities were "I despise you. I despise your order; your laws; your force-propped authority. Hang me for it!"

Reader Comments

No Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Facebook Connect