Thursday, May 4, 2017

Today is the 131st anniversary...

...of the Haymarket Affair so we decided to hike over to the site of the actual riot at Desplaines and Randolph in the West Loop.

It was probably our biggest group ever -- me, Dele, Michael, John, Jack, Tim, Peter, Eric and Alan -- and we left 1212 W. Flournoy at five o'clock.

Our initial destination was the French Market, above, in the Ogilvie Transportation Center.

But first we had to walk through the West Loop to get there. Zigzagging with the traffic lights, we mostly went east down Madison Street, which has become quite the bustling commercial district. Dele, who is fairly new to Chicago, asked me if the neighborhood had changed at all in recent years. "Ha!," I laughed out loud. I then recalled admonishing my niece, who had just moved here herself around the year 2000: "Don't go west of Greektown!" The implication, of course, was that the neighborhood was not safe. (I later had to change that warning to newly-minted college graduates to: "Don't go west of Greektown -- you can't afford it!") Now the area is positively full of yuppies rushing to and from work downtown in between young mothers pushing strollers, worrying over whether or not they can get their kids into Skinner Elementary School someday.

As my father once told me, the Near West Side, including the area around what is now the United Center, "was never nice." A less charitable description might be "Skid Row." I remember back in the '90s a friend from work took me to the Palace Grill, on Madison and Loomis, for breakfast. In those days you would take a cab directly there and directly back; it was not a part of town in which you would loiter. (Who really "loiters" anyway?) Back then the "restaurant" was only a tiny greasy spoon with about eight or ten stools perched at a counter. And I think it was a one-man operation, too: you ordered and later paid the same guy who turned around and prepared your ham and eggs while you watched. The Palace Grill has since expanded and is now a popular spot before Bulls and Blackhawks games. It even has tables and waitresses now. How times have changed!

The French Market is a mile or so from 1212 and we arrived there about half an hour later. It can be a little overwhelming if you've never been; it's kind of like a high-end food court, with over "30 individual specialty vendors," according to its website. The good news, however, is there's something for everyone. I opted for a steak burrito, which was delicious, and a guy sang a pretty fair rendition of Elvis Costello's "Alison" as we ate. I had my back to him, though, and the guys all got a kick out of the fact that I didn't realize the music was live, not piped in over a loudspeaker. (A senior moment?)

After our sumptuous dinner it was time to see the actual site of the Haymarket Square Riot a couple of blocks away.

According to Wikipedia, the Haymarket Affair of 1886:

...began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day and in reaction to the killing of several workers the previous day by the police. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded.

In the internationally publicized legal proceedings that followed, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy. The evidence was that one of the defendants may have built the bomb, but none of those on trial had thrown it. Seven were sentenced to death and one to a term of 15 years in prison. 

The Haymarket affair is generally considered significant as the origin of international May Day observances for workers. The site of the incident was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1992, and a public sculpture was dedicated there in 2004.

The event has particular significance for me as my great-grandfather, John Joseph Duffy, a Chicago cop, was present at the riot.

As an aside, over the years my family has been on both sides of the law. Duffy's son and my great-uncle, "Red" Tom, was a small-time bootlegger who was shot and killed by Al Capone's gang during the height of Prohibition in 1926. "Red" Tom's death was only notable because he was killed with two others, one of whom was Assistant State Prosecutor William McSwiggin. (A public official in Chicago involved in illegal activity? Scandalous!) The three were gunned down by a passing car (the first drive-by shooting?) and many claim that Scarface Al pulled the trigger himself.

Historians have asserted that the real targets may have been William "Klondike" O'Donnell and his brother Myles, who had been encroaching on the Capone gang's beer distribution. (In business school we had a term for that sort of thing: "high barriers to entry.") Klondike and Myles hit the ground, though, and got away from the shooting unscathed.

I prefer this explanation because it allows me to think more highly of my ancestors. (I'm sure "Red" Tom Duffy just "fell in with a bad crowd," as my grandmother used to say.) In any event, from that day forward, with the possible exception of my dad, who once got a ticket for jaywalking -- I kid you not! -- all of my family members have chosen to "go straight"; it has a better risk/reward ratio. (Another b-school term.)

The famous memorial to the Haymarket Square Riot by Chicago artist Mary Brogger was unveiled at the corner of Desplaines and Randolph by then-Mayor Daley and union leaders -- including the president of Chicago's police union -- in 2004. A fifteen-foot bronze sculpture marks the precise location where the speakers' wagon stood and where the historic events occurred.

The monument has been temporarily moved, however, to Union Park about a mile away to make way for construction of a high-rise. So our intrepid band of hikers walked west on Randolph to its current location at Ogden and Warren.

Although Union Park sounds like an appropriate place for a monument to workers, the name was actually chosen in 1853 in reference to the federal union of the United States. The surrounding neighborhood is coincidentally home to many of the city's labor union offices, including the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, the Teamsters and over a dozen others.

After taking a few pictures, and shedding a few hikers, we walked down Ashland and turned left (east) into the Jackson Boulevard Historic District. Built between 1879 and 1893 by various architects, the district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two other points of interest, First Baptist Congregational Church and the Church of the Epiphany, both on Ashland Avenue. The former was designed by architect Gurdon P. Randall and completed in 1871. The second structure, designed by Francis M. Whitehouse in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, was built in 1885. Both churches are on the National Register of Historic Places.)

Flanking Jackson on both sides is Whitney Young, which opened in 1975 as the city's first public magnet high school. Named after a prominent civil rights leader, it's also the alma mater of Michelle Obama.

Peter then hopped on the Blue Line at Racine, Tim found his car on Loomis, Jack and John turned down Flournoy for 1212, and I headed back for home on Lexington.

Next week is the 123rd anniversary of the Pullman Strike (you probably think I'm some sort of labor activist by now), so I was hoping to take the guys down to Big Marsh (the newest Chicago park, not my brother-in-law Ed Marsh), which is actually in South Deering, just east of the Pullman neighborhood. Those are two of the 77 community areas in Chicago we have yet to visit so it should be interesting. We'll probably need to take two cars and leave 1212 at five o'clock sharp. See you then!

No comments: