The Haymarket Martyrs' Monument as a Labor Icon
by Robin Bachin
The National Park Service
(NPS) Theme Study in American Labor History offered the Newberry Library a unique
opportunity to negotiate the terrain between preservation, memory, and labor
history. The process of determining national significance and finding extant
sites for labor history has raised important questions about the relationship
and compatibility of preservation and labor history.
Challenging the Labor History
Theme Study is the need to merge the NPS criteria for preservation with recent
scholarship on labor history, and make labor history visible through landmark
preservation. The attempt to find a suitable site for recognizing the national
significance of the 1886 Haymarket incident in Chicago offers an interesting
example of the difficulties in achieving this goal, but also in how doing so
might help us broaden our understanding of memory, history, and authenticity.
Historians consider Haymarket
one of the seminal events in the history of American labor. On May 1, 1886,
close to 300,000 strikers nationwide and 40,000 in Chicago took part in demonstrations
for the eight-hour day. This movement was part of an international struggle
for workers' rights, and the heart of the movement was in Chicago, where the
anarchist International Working Peoples' Association (IWPA) played a central
role in organizing the May Day strikes. On May 4, members of the IWPA organized
a rally at Haymarket Square to protest police brutality against striking workers
on the South Side. As the last speaker finished his remarks, police marched
in and demanded an end to the gathering. Then an unknown assailant threw a bomb
into the crowd, killing and wounding several police officers and protesters.
Police apprehended eight anarchists on charges of conspiracy to commit murder.
The trial and subsequent execution of four of the men--Albert Parsons, August
Spies, Adolf Fischer, and George Engel--has served as enduring symbol of labor's
struggles for justice.
The importance of recognizing
Haymarket's national significance for labor history forced us to select a suitable
site to preserve as a National Landmark. The site of the Haymarket meeting and
bombing, in Haymarket Square on the corner of Des Plaines Avenue and Randolph
Street, lacks physical integrity, as a result of the construction of the Kennedy
Expressway in the 1950s. We selected the Haymarket Martyrs monument and surrounding
grave sites at Forest Home Cemetery (originally part of German Waldheim Cementery)
in Forest Park, Illinois, to serve as the physical reminder of the importance
of Haymarket. Yet,it is not only because the monument is extant and Haymarket
Square is not that we chose to nominate the monument. Rather, the monument itself
has be come an icon of the labor movement that has taken on international historical
significance beyond its role in commemorating the events of 1886.
The Haymarket Martyrs'
Monument was dedicated on June 23, 1893 by the Pioneer Aid and Support Association,
a group organized to support the families of the accused. The monument consists
of a sixteen-foot-high granite shaft atop a two-stepped base, on which stand
two bronze figures. The predominant figure is a woman who is standing over the
other figure, a bearded male worker. The sculpture represents Justice placing
a wreath on the head of a fallen worker. As Emma Goldman later explained, "The
monument served as an embodiment of the ideals for which the men had died,
a visible symbol of their works and their deeds."
The dedication ceremony
was accompanied by huge festivities. Over 3,000 people marched from downtown
Chicago to Waldheim Cemetery. Included in the parade were trade unionists, members
of German Turns, musical groups, and others who were in Chicago for the World's
Colombian Exposition and were curious about the spectacle. Organizers of the
dedication presented speeches in English, German, Bohemian, and Polish, and
the monument was garnished with flowers and banners sent from throughout the
world. [Robin Bachin is correct, except that the folks took a series of
special trains from the Polk Street Station in downtown Chicago to the cemetery
in suburban Forest Park. - L Orear.]
Chicago's labor community
has held annual meetings at the monument since the time of its dedication. Tributes
to the martyrs have taken the form of rallies, parades, speeches, and wreath
laying. Labor leaders visiting the monument and speaking of its symbolism have
included Lucy Parsons, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs,
and Irving S. Abram. Prominent writers and poets, including Carl Sandburg, Vachell
Lindsay, Ralph Chaplin, and Edgar Lee Masters commemorated the monument in their
Perhaps the greatest testimony
to the enduring legacy of the Haymarket incident is the continued desire of
those associated with the labor movement to be buried alongside the Haymarket
martyrs. Among those buried here are Joe Hill (1882-1915), William Haywood (1869-1928),
Lucy Parsons (1859-1942), Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964), William Z. Foster
(1881-1966), Emma Goldman (1869-1940), and Ralph Helstein (1908-1985).
The Haymarket Martyrs'
Monument has provided a symbol through which various groups have been able to
create a usable past and share pride in radical heritage. While the site where
the Haymarket incident took place may be more "authentic" in its relationship
to the event itself, the monument and cemetery symbolize the process of creating
cultural heritage through a poignant, enduring legacy of collective identity.
The Haymarket Monument's historical significance lies in its ability to promote
Haymarket's legacy, to structure social memory, and to link present-day struggles
to the past.
More info about the Haymarket Affair...