On May 4, 1886 at about half past 7:00pm there was a planned rally of workingmen, predominantly of German descent, that met for speeches and “peaceful” protest of the Chicago Police Department’s response to the striking workers at the McCormick Harvester Works the day before. In that incident at least two but possibly six workers were shot and killed by police when a group of strikers rushed a group of picket line crossers at the end of the work day.
I placed “peaceful” in quotation marks because a couple of hundred fliers advertising the event included the line “Workingmen arm yourselves and appear in full force”. The German language flier used incendiary headlines such as “Revenge!” In all fairness , August Spies, one of the protesters arrested and executed was against violence and demanded that the fliers be edited to remove any call to violence although many slipped through the cracks.
Regardless, tensions were high on both sides and while the event seemed to be peaceful it was monitored closely by Captains Ward and Bonfield. Mayor Carter Harrison Sr. even made a point to stop by but was not impressed by the size or by the weather which was continuing to get worse.
Captain Bonfield had gotten word from one of his plain clothed police officers that the rhetoric was starting to take a more violent turn and at that Ward and Bonfield marched a group of approximately 180 men the short distance from the DesPlaines Avenue Police Station to Haymarket Square.
There seems to be some debate over which Captain (Ward or Bonfield) issued the command but the command was given to the protestors, “In the name of the people of the State of Illinois, I command this meeting immediately and peaceably to disperse!”
Within a few seconds a bomb with a lit fuse was thrown into the first line of police officers and exploded. Police Officer Mathias J. Degan was killed immediately and six other officers, John J. Barrett, George Miller, Timothy Flavin, Michael Sheehan, Thomas Redden and Nels Hansen eventually died of their wound. A seventh officer, Timothy Sullivan, died two years later from complications of the wounds he received.
Immediately after the bomb went off, police officers, and reportedly some in the crowd, opened fire with pistols. Bullets flew everywhere and by the end of the melee Haymarket Square was empty and quiet but for the cries of the many wounded and dying.
The estimates of police wounded were close to sixty and civilian wounded was estimated to be about equal but hard to count accurately since many did not seek medical attention for fear of being arrested.
Eight men were arrested in connection with the bombing. August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Adolph Fischer, Albert Parsons, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Louis Lingg (the alleged bomb-maker), an d Oscar Neebe.
The trial had its own problems with accusations of a rigged jury but ultimately all were convicted. Only Neebe was spared the sentence of death by being given a sentence of 15 years.
On November 10, 1887, Governor Oglesby commuted the sentences of Fielden and Schwab to life in prison and Louis Lingg committed suicide in his cell by exploding a smuggled blasting cap in his mouth. It ripped off half of his face and he suffered in anguish for six hours before dying.
On November 11, 1887, the remaining condemned, Engel, Fischer, Parsons and Spies were executed by hanging. On the platform in the twenty seconds before the trap was sprung the doomed made their final statements. August Spies stated, “Our Silence”, as the hood placed over his head muffled his voice. “Our silence will be more powerful than the voices they are going to strangle today.” Fischer and Engle yelled from beneath their hoods, “Hurrah for Anarchy!” Fischer then yelled, “This is the happiest moment of my life!” Parsons attempted to make a speech asking, “Shall I be allowed to speak?” The deputy sheriff moved off the platform and Parson’s words were cut off by the springing of the trap. “Let the voice of the people be heard–.” The four men strangled for about 10 minutes and were then pronounced dead.
On May 30, 1889, a statue was dedicated close to the site of the event to honor the police officers killed roughly three years earlier. It was erected in the middle of Randolph Street just west of Desplaines. The statue was designed by Frank Batchelder of St. Paul, MN who won a design contest and sculpted by Johannes Gelert of New York City. The statue is a nine-foot bronze statue of a Chicago policeman with his right hand raised in the air. One inscription on the base reads, “In the name of the People of Illinois, I command peace.”
The statue was presented to Mayor DeWitt Cregier by members of the Union League Club of Chicago who raised the $10,000 necessary for the monument. It was unveiled by Frank Degan, son of Police Officer Mathias Degan who was killed instantly by the bomb on May 4, 1886.
The statue’s history has been anything but peaceful.
The statue was placed too near the tracks to permit a fence around it and was the subject of vandalism forcing its move about one mile west to Randolph Street and Ogden Avenue near Union Park in 1900.
1903 (Seals are stolen)
In 1903 Vandals stole the State of Illinois Crest and City of Chicago Seal from the Monument. A letter was sent to the sculptor, Johannes Gelert, requesting the use of the original plaster casts to recreate the seals which were placed back on the monument.
1927 (Hit by Streetcar)
On May 4, 1927, the anniversary of the riot, motorman Willliam Schultz of 2250 West 21st Street ran his streetcar off the tracks and crashed into the monument. The base was wrecked and the statue toppled over but it survived. The statue was then moved into Union Park further from traffic. The motorman stated that his brakes failed but was reportedly heard stating later that he was sick of seeing that policeman with his arm raised.
1968 – 1970 (Blown up twice)
The statue was moved in 1957 to the north side of Randolph Stree about a block west of Desplaines just east of the Kennedy Expressway. On May 4, 1968, the statue was vandalized with black paint. On October 6, 1969, the statue was blown off of its base by members of the Weathermen by an explosive placed between the legs of the statue. Pieces of the legs fell on the Kennedy expressway below and about 100 windows were blown out. The statue was rebuilt and unveiled on May 4, 1970 only to be blown up again on October 6, 1970 by the same group. Mayor Richard J. Daley had the statue rebuilt again and placed on 24 hour police guard. The statue was then moved in 1972 to the State Street Police Headquarters Building.
1976 (Moved to Police Academy)
In 1976 the statue was moved to the Chicago Police Training Academy at 1300 West Jackson Street where the statue remained until 2007.
2007 to Present
The statue was moved to its current location at the rear of the Michigan Avenue Chicago Police Headquarters at 3501 South State Street in 2007. Geraldine Doceka, the great granddaughter of Officer Mathias Degan, unveiled it at its dedication ceremony.
I tell you, it is rough to be a statue in the city of Chicago!
A really cool website I came across while doing research for this blog is www.chicagocop.com . While being a resource for officers it is also rich with history of the Chicago P.D. and owned by a current Chicago Police Officer.
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Tags: Adolph Fischer, Albert Parsons, Anarchists, August Spies, George Engel, George Miller, Haymarket Affair, Haymarket Riot, John J. Barrett, Louis Lingg, Mathias J. Degan, May 4 1886, Michael Schwab, Michael Sheehan, Nels Hansen, Oscar Neebe, Samuel Fielden, Thomas Redden, Timothy Flavin, Timothy Sullivan