Haymarket affair in Chicago
The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) was a demonstration and unrest that took place on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a rally in support of striking workers. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they dispersed the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of eight police officers, mostly from friendly fire, and an unknown number of civilians. The Haymarket Martyrs' Monument in nearby Forest Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark on February 18, 1997.
Strife and confrontation
May Day parade and strikes
In October 1884, a convention held by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions unanimously set May 1, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard. As the chosen date approached, U.S. labor unions prepared for a general strike in support of the eight-hour day.
On Saturday, May 1, rallies were held throughout the United States. There were an estimated 10,000 demonstrators in New York City and 11,000 in Detroit. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, some 10,000 workers turned out. Albert Parsons was an anarchist and founder of the International Working People's Association (IWPA). Parsons, with his wife Lucy and their children, led a march of 80,000 people down Michigan Avenue. Estimates of the number of striking workers across the U.S. range from 300,000
Outraged by this act of police violence, local anarchists quickly printed and distributed fliers calling for a rally the following day at Haymarket Square (also called the Haymarket), which was then a bustling commercial center near the corner of Randolph Street and Desplaines Street. Printed in German and English, the fliers alleged police had murdered the strikers on behalf of business interests and urged workers to seek justice. The first batch of fliers contain the words Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force! When Spies saw the line, he said he would not speak at the rally unless the words were removed from the flier. All but a few hundred of the fliers were destroyed, and new fliers were printed without the offending words. More than 20,000 copies of the revised flier were distributed.
Rally at Haymarket Square
The rally began peacefully under a light rain on the evening of May 4. August Spies spoke to the large crowd while standing in an open wagon on Des Plaines Street while a large number of on-duty police officers watched from nearby. The police immediately opened fire. Some workers were armed, but accounts vary widely as to how many shot back. The incident lasted less than five minutes.
Aside from Degan, several police officers appear to have been injured by the bomb, but most of the police casualties were caused by bullets, largely from friendly fire. In his report on the incident, John Bonfield wrote that he "gave the order to cease firing, fearing that some of our men, in the darkness might fire into each other". An anonymous police official told the Chicago Tribune, "A very large number of the police were wounded by each other's revolvers. ... It was every man for himself, and while some got two or three squares away, the rest emptied their revolvers, mainly into each other."
About 60 officers were wounded in the incident, along with an unknown number of civilians. In all, eight policemen and at least four workers were killed, including one policeman who died more than two years after the incident from injuries received that day. It is unclear how many civilians were wounded since many were afraid to seek medical attention, fearing arrest. Police captain Michael Schaack wrote the number of wounded workers was "largely in excess of that on the side of the police". The Chicago Herald described a scene of "wild carnage" and estimated at least fifty dead or wounded civilians lay in the streets.
Trial, executions, and pardons
Eight people connected directly or indirectly with the rally and its anarchist organizers were arrested afterward and charged with Degan's murder: August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe. Five (Spies, Fischer, Engel, Lingg and Schwab) were German immigrants and a sixth, Neebe, was a U.S. citizen of German descent. The other men, Parsons and Fielden, were born in the U.S. and England, respectively. Two other individuals, William Seliger and Rudolph Schnaubelt, were indicted, but never brought to trial. Seliger turned state's evidence and testified for the prosecution, and Schnaubelt fled the country before he could be brought to trial.
The trial started on June 21 and was presided over by Judge Joseph Gary. The defense counsel included Sigmund Zeisler, William Perkins Black, William Foster, and Moses Salomon. The prosecution, led by Julius Grinnell, did not offer credible evidence connecting the defendants with the bombing but argued that the person who had thrown the bomb was not discouraged to do so by the defendants, who as conspirators were therefore equally responsible. Albert Parsons' brother claimed there was evidence linking the Pinkertons to the bomb.
The jury returned guilty verdicts for all eight defendants death sentences for seven of the men, and a sentence of 15 years in prison for Neebe. The sentencing sparked outrage from budding labor and workers' movements, resulted in protests around the world, and elevated the defendants as international political celebrities and heroes within labor and radical political circles. Meanwhile the press published often sensationalized accounts and opinions about the Haymarket affair, which polarized public reaction. In an article titled "Anarchy’s Red Hand", The New York Times described the incident as the "bloody fruit" of "the villainous teachings of the Anarchists." The Chicago Times described the defendants as "arch counselors of riot, pillage, incendiarism and murder"; other reporters described them as "bloody brutes", "red ruffians", "dynamarchists", "bloody monsters", "cowards", "cutthroats", "thieves", "assassins", and "fiends". The journalist George Frederic Parsons wrote a piece for The Atlantic Monthly in which he identified the fears of middle-class Americans concerning labor radicalism, and asserted that the workers had only themselves to blame for their troubles. Edward Aveling, Karl Marx's son-in-law, remarked, "If these men are ultimately hanged, it will be the Chicago Tribune that has done it."
The case was appealed in 1887 to the Supreme Court of Illinois, then to the United States Supreme Court where the defendants were represented by John Randolph Tucker, Roger Atkinson Pryor, General Benjamin F. Butler and William P. Black. The petition for certiorari was denied.
After the appeals had been exhausted, Illinois Governor Richard James Oglesby commuted Fielden's and Schwab's sentences to life in prison on November 10, 1887. On the eve of his scheduled execution, Lingg committed suicide in his cell with a smuggled dynamite cap which he reportedly held in his mouth like a cigar (the blast blew off half his face and he survived in agony for six hours).
The next day (November 11, 1887) Spies, Parsons, Fischer and Engel were taken to the gallows in white robes and hoods. They sang the Marseillaise, then the anthem of the international revolutionary movement. Family members including Lucy Parsons, who attempted to see them for the last time, were arrested and searched for bombs (none were found). According to witnesses, in the moments before the men were hanged, Spies shouted, "The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!" Witnesses reported that the condemned men did not die immediately when they dropped, but strangled to death slowly, a sight which left the spectators visibly shaken.
A secondary purpose behind the adoption of the resolution by the Second International was to honor the memory of the Haymarket martyrs and other workers who had been killed in association with the strikes on May 1, 1886. Historian Philip Foner writes "[t]here is little doubt that everyone associated with the resolution passed by the Paris Congress knew of the May 1st demonstrations and strikes for the eight-hour day in 1886 in the United States ... and the events associated with the Haymarket tragedy." Others whose commitment to anarchism crystallized as a result of the Haymarket affair included Voltairine de Cleyre and "Big Bill" Haywood, a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World. On May 4, 1927, the 41st anniversary of the Haymarket affair, a streetcar jumped its tracks and crashed into the monument. The motorman said he was "sick of seeing that policeman with his arm raised". During the 1950s, construction of the Kennedy Expressway erased about half of the old, run-down market square, and in 1956, the statue was moved to a special platform built for it overlooking the freeway, near its original location. On October 6, 1969, shortly before the "Days of Rage" protests, the statue was destroyed when a bomb was placed between its legs. Weatherman took credit for the blast, which broke nearly 100 windows in the neighborhood and scattered pieces of the statue onto the Kennedy Expressway below. The statue was rebuilt and unveiled on May 4, 1970, then blown up again by Weathermen on October 6, 1970.<ref name=Adelman40/><ref name=Avrich431/> The statue was again rebuilt, and Mayor Richard J. Daley posted a 24-hour police guard at the statue.<ref name=Avrich431/> In 1972 it was moved to the lobby of the Central Police Headquarters, and in 1976 to the enclosed courtyard of the Chicago police academy.<ref name=Adelman40/> For another three decades the statue's empty, graffiti-marked pedestal stood on its platform in the run-down remains of Haymarket Square where it was known as an anarchist landmark.<ref name=Adelman40/> On June 1, 2007 the statue was rededicated at Chicago Police Headquarters with a new pedestal, unveiled by Geraldine Doceka, Officer Mathias Degan's great-granddaughter.<ref name="CPDweblog"/>
During the late 20th century, scholars doing research into the Haymarket affair were surprised to learn that much of the primary source documentation relating to the incident (beside materials concerning the trial) was not in Chicago, but had been transferred to then-communist East Berlin.
In 1992, the site of the speakers' wagon was marked by a bronze plaque 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
On September 14, 2004, Daley and union leaders—including the president of Chicago's police union—unveiled a monument by Chicago artist Mary Brogger, a fifteen-foot speakers' wagon sculpture echoing the wagon on which the labor leaders stood in Haymarket Square to champion the eight-hour day. The bronze sculpture, intended to be the centerpiece of a proposed "Labor Park", is meant to symbolize both the rally at Haymarket and free speech. The planned site was to include an international commemoration wall, sidewalk plaques, a cultural pylon, a seating area, and banners, but as of 2007 construction had not yet begun.
The plaques on the monument read as follows:
SITE OF THE HAYMARKET TRAGEDY
On the evening of May 4th, 1886, a tragedy of international significance unfolded on this site in Chicago's Haymarket produce district. An outdoor meeting had been hastily organized by anarchist activists to protest the violent death of workers during a labor lockout the previous day in another area of the city. Spectators gathered in the street as speakers addressed political, social, and labor issues from atop a wagon that stood at the location of this monument. When approximately 175 policemen approached with an order to disperse the meeting, a dynamite bomb was thrown into their ranks.
The identity and affiliation of the person who threw the bomb have never been determined, but this anonymous act had many victims. From the blast and panic that followed, seven policemen and at least four civilian bystanders lost their lives, but victims of the incident were not limited to those who died as a result of the bombing. In the aftermath, the people who organized and spoke at the meeting, and others who held unpopular political viewpoints were arrested and unfairly tried, even though none could be tied to the bombing itself.
Meeting organizers George Engle and Adolph Fischer, along with speakers August Spies and Albert Parsons were put to death by hanging. Activist Louis Lingg died violently in jail prior to his scheduled execution. Meeting speaker Samuel Fielden, and activists Oscar Neebe and Michael Schwab were sentenced to prison, but later pardoned in 1893 by Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld, citing the injustices of their trial.
Over the years, the site of the Haymarket bombing has become a powerful symbol for a diverse cross-section of people, ideals and movements. Its significance touches on the issues of free speech, the right of public assembly, organized labor, the fight for the eight-hour work day, law enforcement, justice, anarchy, and the right of every human being to pursue an equitable and prosperous life. For all, it is a poignant lesson in the rewards and consequences in such human pursuits.
- Bay View Massacre (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 5, 1886)
- Days of Rage
- Dyer Lum, close associate of the defendants who wrote an account of the case in 1891.
- First Red Scare of 1917-1920
- May Day Riots of 1894
- May Day Riots of 1919
- Palmer Raids of 1919
- Sacco and Vanzetti
- Wall Street Bombing of 1920
- List of massacres in Illinois
Notes and references
- Haymarket Affair Digital Collection, Chicago Historical Society
- The Dramas of Haymarket, Chicago Historical Society
- The Haymarket Riot Trial, Famous Trials, University of Missouri–Kansas City Law School
- The Haymarket Affair (1886), Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930, Northwestern University
- The Haymarket Massacre Archive, Anarchy Archives
- Chicago Anarchists on Trial: Evidence from the Haymarket Affair 1886-1887, American Memory, Library of Congress
- 1886: The Haymarket Martyrs and Mayday, Libcom
- Haymarket affair texts at the Kate Sharpley Library
- The Haymarket Martyrs, Illinois Labor History Society
- The Haymarket Tragedy, Illinois Labor History Society
- Haymarket Martyrs' Monument, Graveyards of Chicago
Encyclopedia of Chicago
- Haymarket and May Day
- Haymarket Riot Monument, 1889
- Haymarket Monument, Waldheim Cemetery
- Haymarket Memorial, 2005