Haymarket Riot


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On May 1, 1886 (on May Day), labor unions organized a strike for an eight-hour work day in Chicago, Illinois, United States. Working conditions in the city were miserable, with most workers working 6 days a week, twelve hours a day, under dangerous conditions. On May 3, workers who were striking for an eight hour day were meeting near the McCormick plant. The police attacked the strikers without any warning whatsoever, killing six and mauling several others.

The following night, several thousand protesters, outraged by the murderous attack, turned out for a rally at the Haymarket, west of today's Loop. One flier alleged that the police had murdered the strikers on behalf of the businesses--called for workers to seek justice for the murdered strikers and to fight back with weapons: "To arms, we call you, to arms!"

Despite continued police attacks, the rally was held. At the rally, one of the anarchist leaders, August Spies, vowed that he was not there to incite anyone. The rally, however, remained peaceful, so much so that Mayor Carter Harrison, Sr., who had stopped by to observe, walked home early.

Violence escalated on May 4 when a protest meeting began in Haymarket Square. During this meeting to denounce the events of the previous days, the police began to disperse the crowd when someone threw a bomb, killing twelve people. Policeman Mathias J. Degan was killed almost instantly and seven other policemen later succumbed to injuries. The police opened fire on the crowd, injuring and killing many. The death toll could never be determined.

Although nobody ever identified the bomb-thrower, eight men connected directly or indirectly with the rallies were charged with Degan's murder. These were August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden, and Oscar Neebe. Five of the defendants Spies, Fischer, Engel, Lingg, and Schwab were German immigrants, while a sixth Neebe was of German descent. In a trial presided over by Judge Joseph Gary, the prosecution failed to present credible evidence connecting any of the defendants with the bombing itself. Rather, it relied on the argument that the man who had thrown the bomb was simply acting upon the ideas that the defendants had advocated, and consequently, the defendants were equally guilty of murder. The jury returned verdicts of guilty on all eight defendants, fixing a sentence of death for seven of them. The eighth - Neebe, who seemed almost forgotten by the prosecution in their presentation of the case - received a sentence of 15 years in prison. The sentencing sparked outrage in international labor circles, resulting in protests all around the world.

After the defendant's appeals had been exhausted, Illinois Governor Richard James Oglesby commuted Fielden's and Schwab's sentences to life in prison. On the eve of his scheduled execution, Lingg committed suicide in his cell using a smuggled stick of dynamite to effectively behead himself. Then, on November 11, 1887, Spies, Parsons, Fischer, and Engel were hanged. August Spies is widely quoted as having said at his execution: "The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today."

On June 26, 1893, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld signed a pardon for Fielden, Neebe, and Schwab. Altgeld's pardon not only freed the three remaining men, it also signaled his own political demise, less for the pardon itself than for the message that accompanied it. This made clear Altgeld's view that eight innocent men had been convicted by a "packed" jury before a malicious and prejudiced judge who could not or would not grant them a fair trial.

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Waldheim Cemetery, Chicago, 100 years later, May 1986
Following the executions Lingg, Spies, Fischer, Engel and Parsons were buried in Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago. Schwab and Neebe are also buried there. In 1893 the Haymarket Martyrs Monument by sculptor Albert Weinert was raised at Waldheim cemetery. It was later named a National Historic Monument by the Department of the Interior, the only cemetery memorial to receive that distinction.

In 1889, a 9-foot bronze statue of a Chicago policeman by sculptor Johannes Gelert was erected near the site of the riot. The statue was long a subject of debate and scorn. A year after it was set up the first attempt to blow it up occurred, so it was moved. On May 4, 1927 (oddly enough, the anniversary of the Riot), a street car jumped its tracks and crashed into the monument, which was moved again. After being moved from its original location, it was blown up at least twice more, in October 1969 and again a year later, reportedly by the Weather Underground. Mayor Richard J. Daley then placed a 24-hour police guard around the statue for the ensuing two years, before it was moved to the lobby of police headquarters in 1972. The statue's empty pedestal can still be found in Chicago.

The site was marked by a bronze plaque about two feet square set into the sidewalk, reading:

"A decade of strife between labor and industry culminated here in a confrontation that resulted in the tragic death of both workers and policemen. On May 4, 1886, spectators at a labor rally had gathered around the mouth of Crane's Alley. A contingent of police approaching on Des Plaines Street were met by a bomb thrown from just south of the alley. The resultant trial of eight activists gained worldwide attention for the labor movement, and initiated the tradition of "May Day" labor rallies in many cities."
Designated on March 25, 1992
Richard M. Daley, Mayor
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Activist Michael K at the statueless pedestal of the Policemen Monument, Chicago IL. MK took to his grave whatever he knew about the 1969 and 1970 bombings

Related articles


  • Bach, Ira and Mary Lackritz Gray, Chicago's Public Sculpture, University of Chicago Press, Chicago IL 1983
  • Hucke, Matt and Ursula Bielski, Graveyards of Chicago, Lake Claremont Press, Chicago Il 1999
  • Kvaran, Einar Einarsson, Haymarket -A Century Later, unpublished manuscript
  • Riedy, James L, Chicago Sculpture University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL 1981

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