“Lady Labor” was shining in newly restored glory at Forest Home Cemetery, Wednesday morning, as visitors placed roses, buttons, coins and signs on the Haymarket Martyrs Monument to commemorate May Day, celebrated worldwide (except in the United States) as the Day of the Worker.
Visiting from Chicago were a group of Haymarket pilgrims, making a stop at the 1893 monument before attending the May Day Immigration Rally in Chicago at the monument at Randolph and Des Plaines.
“We have are few friends who come by every year,” said one man, who declined to give his name.
A black anarchist flag, emblazoned with a circled A, was placed in the monument’s arms, and visitors decorated the base of the monument with signs.
Flowers, coins, candles and trinkets were placed by the monument, including buttons representing the Teamsters, University of Illinois Local 6456, the National Education Association and one that simply read, “Stop Sweatshops.”
Last year the monument and the nearby gravestone of Emma Goldman were vandalized with sharpies by groups of young visitors whom police identified as spillovers from the May Chicago NATO demonstrations.
By this year, the stone and bronze had been power-washed.
Still, visitors had some harsh words for the plaque listing the monument on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This plaque and their relationship to the U.S. government is what desecrates this monument,” said a visitor, giving his name as “Fred the Red.”
“The U.S. government is killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan and the people buried here would never have supported that,” he added.
Illinois labor historian and Forest Park resident Mark Rogovin said the Illinois Labor History Society has established an agreement with Forest Park’s Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio Inc., a restoration company, to maintain the monument and make sure graffiti is removed.
“Conservation of Sculpture did a masterful job of putting a graffiti guard coating both on the stone and on the bronze,” Rogovin said.
Two years ago, for the monument’s 125th anniversary, the ILHS unveiled the renovated monument. A bronze laurel wreath at the monument’s foot was replaced after being stolen by scrap metal thieves.
Also visiting Wednesday was Ted Pearson, of Chicago, who said he had been coming to the monument yearly for 45 years. Pearson and a female companion laid red carnations on all of the headstones in “Radical Row.” Pearson, a member of the Communist Party for years, said he especially visited the grave of Civil Rights Congress pioneer William Patterson, whose headstone is near Goldman’s monument.
“Patterson was an early leader in the American Civil Rights Movement during the Great Depression,” Pearson said.
The monument honors the Haymarket Martyrs, eight men who were charged with murder after a May 6, 1886 protest in Chicago that turned violent. The demonstration had followed a May 1 protest in support of the eight-hour workday. Eight men identified as “anarchists” were arrested and charged. Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Albert Parsons and August Spies were hanged on Nov. 11, 1887 and Louie Lingg was found in his cell mortally injured by an exploded dynamite cap.
In June of 1893, Governor John P. Altgeld pardoned the three men still alive.
Picnicking nearby, Kate and Karen, who declined to give last names, said they had taken the train from Chicago to visit the monument before the downtown rally.
“It’s a beautiful space for all of these visionaries and leaders for their final resting place,” said Kate. Karen said she was surprised to have recently learned that the linking of May 1st with the labor movement was because of the Chicago Haymarket events of 1886.
“I always thought May Day started in Spain,” she said.