117 Years of Change and the Right to Protest

The Haymarket Square Incident occurred on May 4, 1886 when a bomb was thrown from a crowd of unionized laborers into a line of policemen. Eight men, now pardoned, were tried and convicted for the attack without tangible evidence against them. Four of these men were sentenced to death by hanging [1]. The event is shrouded in mystery, but the monuments erected clearly capture changing sentiments in police brutality and historical documentation. Erected in 1889, and officially removed from the public in 1970, the first monument depicts a policeman with his hand raised, dynamically capturing poise and valor. The second monument, dedicated in 2004, represents the laborers. Sculptor Mary Brogger utilized the speaker’s wagon as a tool on which faceless laborers stand to demand their rights. The 117-year gap between the two monuments, as well as the drastic subject change, signal a deep shift in conceptions about power, worker rights, and humanitarianism.

The original Haymarket Incident monument dedicated to a fallen policeman at its first location in Haymarket Square, 1889.

We mean to make things over;

we’re tired of toil for naught

But our wages are bare enough to live on; never an hour for thought.

We want to feel the sunshine;

we want to smell the flowers;

We’re sure that God has willed it, and we mean to have eight hours.

We’re summoning our forces from shipyard, shop, and mill:

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours

For what we will [2].

An interpretation of the Haymarket Incident at the moment the bomb was thrown into a line of policemen, May 4, 1886.

The demand for an 8-hour work day in Chicago began in 1864, when Civil War sentiments encouraged the oppressed to fight for their rights. In 1867, a law was put in place to satisfy demands, but contained a loophole that negated any efforts to sustain the 8-hour work day for laborers. Later that year in 1867, a citywide strike shut down Chicago’s economy for a week and with it took down the ineffective law. The demands died down, and over the course of the next fifteen years, exhausted laborers gathered again to demand less work and more leisure time [3].

Chicago laborers breaking for a few golden minutes during a long work day in the Gilded Age, 1880-1900.

Then, in May 1886, the movement united laborers and skilled workers from all backgrounds and mobilized during the three days preceding the Haymarket Square Incident on May 4. The influence of anarchist publications played an important role in labor strikes, and fueled officials fears of radical education. While mass production was good for sales and revenue, it was assumed that spare time encouraged men to educate and arm themselves with socialist propaganda that reviled capitalist institutions [4].

Newspapers such as the German language anarchist publication Arbeiter Zeitung, as well as the English language publication The Alarm advocated for workers to demand their rights at all costs, even taking up arms against their oppressors. Key writers for these papers, August Spies and Albert Parsons respectively, gave speeches on May 4, 1886. Their speeches, as well as their call to arms and inflammatory language in their writing ultimately sentenced them to the gallows [5].

The four men sentenced to hang, among them August Spies and Albert Parsons, represented the mass of workers and laborers who demanded change within the city. Their final remarks remain true to their anti-capitalist, anarchist sentiments. George Engel, another set to hang on November 11, 1886, harkened the influence of leaders in anti-slavery groups, who, like Engel himself, were sentenced to die for their cause. Engel, on October 8, 1886, noted “I found long ago, that the workingman had no more rights here than anywhere else in the world… and just as the man who agitated against slavery in this country had to ascend the gallows, so must we. He who speaks for the workingman today must hang.” [6]

The monument erected in 1889 after the hanging heralded a different side of the story. Officials and local papers pushed back against these men, their demands, and their assumed violent actions towards policemen [7]. While there was no evidence to convict these men of throwing the bomb, the hanging acted as a demonstration of power, a warning to those who desired to fight for their right to equal work and leisure time. The monument, placed in Haymarket Square, reminded passerby that the state was in control of laborers’ live, and would use force to ensure that the industrial economy within Chicago was maintained, even at the cost of laborer’s lives. Though there was shifts in labor laws, and many factories and work places began to roll back hours imposed on their workers, the people were continually reminded of their place within the power hierarchyas they had no choice but to participate in the system built against them. 

A busy Haymarket Square after the installation of the first monument, a reminder of laborers’ struggle for their rights, 1889.

The first Haymarket monument was a consistent object of vandalism.  It was moved to Randolph Street and Ogden Avenue in 1900. For 27 years the statue remained untouched, a grim reminder of what happened on May 4, 1886. In 1927, however, a streetcar purposefully crashed into the monument, knocking it over. The driver noted he was “sick of seeing that policeman with his arm raised” [9]. The monument became a symbol of police and citizen unrest. Each time there was a conflict between police and citizens, the monument suffered.

In 1969, civilians, reenacting the original event, placed a bomb between the statues legs and destroyed it a second time. The monument was quickly rebuilt to reinforce the sentiment of control and anti-anarchy it symbolized, but was bombed a second time in 1970 [10]. After the second bombing, it was clear that officials had completely lost the respect of the people concerning this incident, and that a social shift had taken place concerning the interaction of civilians and law officials. Increased police brutality and subsequent protest indicated that the monument must be removed from the public, and that it no longer held the same power over the people as it once had. The monument now is in the Chicago Police Training Academy [11].

Mary Brogger’s 2004 monument replacing the original Haymarket statue. This monument pays respects to the laborers fighting for a fair working day.

Taking its place is Mary Brogger’s monument to the anarchists and martyrs of the Haymarket incident [12]. Faceless and nameless in life, they are memorialized by abstract figures that represent their social position during the time of these strikes.

The first monument incited a sense of fear within passerby and anarchist alike. Brogger’s monument, however, is a symbol of persistence among people fighting for their rights. Between the dedication of the first monument in 1889 and the second in 2004 is 117 years in which Americans have fought for myriad rights and were met with the same backlash as the laborers at Haymarket Square. After over a century of police brutality and maintenance of a state-dominated status-quo, it is clear that the will of the people prevails in one way or another. Broggerr’s monument represents perseverance, and reminds Chicago of how far the country has come in terms of labor rights, and what is possible when citizens push back for their rights.

Katy Rose, Loyola University Chicago

[1] De Grazia, “The Haymarkey Bomb,” 310.

[2] De Grazia, “The Haymarkey Bomb,” 286-7.

[3] Jentz, “Eight Hour Movement.”

[4] De Grazia, “The Haymarkey Bomb,” 285.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lembcke and Howe, “Chicago Haymarket Centennial,” 96.

[7] De Grazia, “The Haymarkey Bomb,” 285.

[8] chicagocop.com, “Haymarket Memorial Statue.”

[9] chicagocop.com, “Haymarket Memorial Statue.”

[10] chicagocop.com, “Haymarket Memorial Statue.”

[11] City of Chicago, “The Haymarket Memorial,” https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_s_publicartthehaymarketmemorial.html.


De Grazia, Edward. “The Haymarket Bomb.” Law and Literature 18, no. 3 (2006): 283-322.

“Haymarket Memorial Statue.” ChicagoCop.com. Accessed November 18, 2020. https://www.chicagocop.com/history/memorials-monuments/haymarket-memorial-statue/.

Jentz, John B. “Eight Hour Movement .” Eight-Hour Movement, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/417.html.

Lembcke, Jerry, and Carolyn Howe. “Chicago Haymarket Centennial.” International Labor and Working-Class History, no. 31 (1987): 96-98.

Roediger, David R., and Philip S. Foner. Our Own Time: A History of American Labor and the Working Day. 1989.

“The Haymarket Memorial.” City of Chicago :: The Haymarket Memorial. Accessed November 19, 2020. https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_s_publicartthehaymarketmemorial.html.

Image sources (in order):

“Haymarket Memorial Statue.” ChicagoCop.com. Accessed November 18, 2020. https://www.chicagocop.com/history/memorials-monuments/haymarket-memorial-statue/.

“Labor Quote of the Day: August Spies.” Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO. Accessed November 20, 2020. http://www.dclabor.org/home/labor-quote-of-the-day-august-spies3880299.

Notable Labor Strikes of the Gilded Age. Accessed November 17, 2020. http://faculty.weber.edu/kmackay/notable_labor_strikes_of_the_gil.htm.

“Haymarket Memorial Statue.” ChicagoCop.com. Accessed November 18, 2020. https://www.chicagocop.com/history/memorials-monuments/haymarket-memorial-statue/.

Ugc. “Haymarket Square.” Atlas Obscura. Atlas Obscura, October 22, 2009. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/haymarket-square.


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