Pre-emptive preservation: The Illinois Labor Historical Society is raising money to create a mold of a brass plaque on the Haymarket Martyrs Monument in case it falls prey to cemetery bronze thieves. (Courtesy Mark Rogovin)

The Haymarket Martyrs monument in Forest Home Cemetery brings international visitors every year on May 1. But, like many monuments in local cemeteries, it is also a magnet for another type of visitor: bronze thieves.  

Local cemeteries in the area have been plagued for years by metal thieves who pry off plaques, bronze vases and other ornamentation from cemetery monuments and sell them to scrap metal dealers. 

Local labor historian Mark Rogovin has started an Indiegogo online fundraising campaign to create a mold of a bronze plaque on the monument so it can be replaced for a fraction of the cost if it is stolen. 

In the 1980s, the Haymarket memorial was hit by thieves who removed the decorative draping bronze laurels in front of the statue. In 2011, the Illinois Labor History Society refurbished the monument. They hired Forest Park conservator Andrzej Dajnowski to recreate the bronze foliage from photographs of the monument. The cost of  replacement: $55,000.

But Dajnowski now has a rubber mold to recreate the laurels if thieves strike again. Replacing the laurels with a mold would cost one-tenth the price.

“Were a mold of the wreaths to have existed prior to the theft, the replacement cost would have been $6,000,” Rogovin said.

Now the society is worried the plaque on the back of the monument may be stripped off at any time by bronze thieves. It would cost a fortune to replace, Rogovin said.

The plaque, bordered by intricate sunburst, leaf motifs and chains is an 1893 statement from Illinois Governor John P. Altgeld that the 1887 trial of the six Haymarket was “not fair” and pardoning three men still living who had been convicted in the trial.

The online money-raising campaign is seeking $5,400 to create a mold of the plaque.

“We need a mold to insure the affordable replacement of this plaque,” Rogovin said. 

 The tax-deductible campaign had reached $1,715 by Monday and had 48 days left. It will end June 22. 

“The monument stands as a shrine to free speech and the right to assemble as guaranteed by the first amendment,” Rogovin said. 

The campaign hopes to “preserve the integrity of the Haymarket monument for generations to come so that it can be enjoyed by all,” he added.

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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