From the Road: More Undead History

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A few more pictures from the hundreds I almost compulsively shot over the past week. After I go back to work this afternoon, the pictures will turn into a long-term photo editing project that I'll never quite get to. The shot above is from the Haymarket martyrs' memorial in Forest Home Cemetery (originally Waldheim, and when you see all the Germans buried there, you know why) in Forest Park, on Chicago's western boundary.

If you grow up around Chicago, at some point you encounter Haymarket in a history lesson. It seems long ago and far away, and of course in one sense it is: The events surrounding Haymarket began unfolding in 1886. But as I observed last week at the Little Bighorn battlefield, our history is too new to be settled, or at least much of it is, and forces are still contending to define or even own some chapters. Haymarket is one of those episodes that's still the object of curiosity for many and for a few at least a living symbol of the struggle for workers' rights.

We headed out there on an outing with my dad on Sunday. We had visited about four and a half years ago, and I still remembered how to get to the cemetery and find the memorial without asking. Our rounds went like this: first the Dairy Queen on Irving Park Road, near Central Avenue; then Mount Olive Cemetery, where my dad's parents and many other family members are buried; then the house my dad grew up in, on Nashville Avenue, and the neighborhood school he attended, Joseph Lovett Elementary. At that point, he said he wanted to go out to Harlem Avenue. OK — I could do that. With no destination in mind, I suggested stopping by Forest Home.

haymarket060511f.jpg I'm still surprised to find that the monument, and the nearby grave of Emma Goldman, still draw visitors who leave flowers and other tributes (I found the same at Mother Jones's grave in Mount Olive, Illinois; and just last week, when we visited the Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, I saw that folks are leaving flowers and other small remembrances for Wild Bill Hickok and Martha Jane Burke (Calamity Jane) and Seth Bullock–all notable characters on a recent HBO series. People do feel attached to these figures from the past–though for now it's best not to digress into the quality of the attachment).

Of course, not all the latter-day feeling that modern visitors develop for the Haymarket memorial is necessarily very smart. On the back of the memorial, some clever lads–why do I think the perpetrators were male?–have gone to work with markers of some kind and added the legends in the photo above ("We are the birds of the coming storm" is a quote from August Spies, an anarchist who was among those hanged after the 1886 Haymarket bombing).

Why the impulse to do something so lame? Of course, that's been the question ever since teen-agers started chiseling smart-ass hieroglyphics into Egyptian tombs way back in the day. I suppose you could make the argument that it's better to be actively engaged with the history the monument represents–you know, jumping in and joining in the dialectic–than treating the space as sacred, sterile, and dead. Had the guys with the markers showed up while I was there, I think we'd haveour own lively dialectical exploration. (Click images for larger versions.)

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6 Comments

Filed under Chicago, History, Travel

6 Responses to From the Road: More Undead History

  1. Rob

    I worked with an Adolph Fischer for almost 20 years. Also, the area of Bush I live in was formerly called Waldheim. Still Waldheim to the older locals. Pretty cool, Dan. Fischer with a C, according to him, made him of German descent. Fisher, according to him, was Jewish. The lengths people will go are amazing, aren’t they?

  2. Ari

    Until someone stole the plaque off of the monument, it said “We are the birds of the coming storm.” The marker is simply replacing what someone else stole.

  3. Dan

    Ari, thanks for the clarification. A rap on the head for the thief, then.

  4. Pete Hansen

    I saw that monument this summer and was moved by the quote (We are the Birds…), the setting, and the union pins scattered on the grave marker. Inspirational really.

  5. Dan

    Pete, thanks for the comment, and: I’m moved by this place, too. I’m surprised and pleased that the history endures, in whatever form that it endures.

  6. Dan

    And if you’re wandering Chicago again, here’s another site you might want to check out: The “Eagle Columns” sculpture on the North Side (not so far from Wrigley Field, as it happens):
    http://infospigot.typepad.com/infospigot_the_chronicles/2008/03/blog-billiards.html

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